by Ryan Krzykowski
If you’ve never seen a starling murmuration, you might want to check this out. It is beautifully fascinating to watch hundreds of these birds move as a single unit. How is it even possible for so many distinct creatures to coordinate their actions so quickly and precisely? It’s like a perfectly executed play, in which each member of the team handles their responsibility just right, down to the smallest detail. Except in this particular play the birds haven’t practiced, can’t use words, and are flying around in the air at high speeds. It’s absolutely incredible.
I became aware of starlings and their flock formations while reading The Culture Code by Dan Coyle. Coyle writes of a 2007 study from the University of Rome that demonstrates how the birds do what they do.
Basically, each starling tracks the six or seven birds closest to it, sending and receiving cues of direction, speed, acceleration and distance. That shared habit of intensive, up-close watching, amplified through the flock, allows the group to behave as one.
Coyle connects this idea to human behavior and performance — suggesting that effective environments consistently, repeatedly provide group members with “small, vivid signals” that serve as “the two simple locators that every navigation process requires: Here is where we are and Here is where we want to go.” When this type of ongoing communication is woven into the fabric of a group or team, when collective goals or ideals are continually emphasized and prioritized, people tend to respond. We want to do our part to help the group achieve the goals we’ve established together. As Joe Ehrmann puts it, we need each other and we affect each other.
I know this much — the next team I coach is going to watch some starling video and we’ll talk about what we can learn from the birds that will make us better teammates and coaches.
Let’s Coach With Purpose…