Teamwork is well worth the effort

As a coal mine supervisor, I saw and treated a number of accidents. In the event of an accident with injury to one or more miners, all animosity was put aside. Never have I seen such teamwork come together so quickly.

One day as my roof bolters, Tom and Ray, were installing permanent supports in a recently mined area, the roof shifted, knocking out the support posts and allowing a large piece of stone to land on Tom. The scoop car man who was preparing to supply the bolting machine alerted the crew immediately. We put a splint on Tom’s broken leg, and loaded him onto a stretcher. Then six of us began jogging several hundred feet toward the elevator with the injured man. Luckily, we were on a high top section because running while carrying a stretcher in low top would have been impossible. While four men were each on one end of the stretcher, one ran along each side and periodically spelled the miner who appeared to be getting tired.

I had been a little lenient on Tom and Ray because they were so fast and experienced. The temporary support posts were not set according to state and federal law. I had spoken to them a few minutes before the accident about setting the posts according to law, but they insisted they knew what they were doing. Since we had experienced a turbulent relationship, which had recently improved, I wanted to keep things smooth and I didn’t force immediate compliance. I was in a difficult position since I had bolted with both of these men when I was in the union. At times, I had committed the same negligence and they reminded me of my past actions.

After the accident, as I tended to Tom, I noticed the infraction had not been corrected. I met a federal inspector at the top of the elevator on his way in to investigate the accident site. I was sure that my mining certification would be revoked. When I returned to the section, the inspector said everything looked OK. Ray had remained on the section to set additional posts in the work area, thereby eliminating a potentially nasty situation for Tom, himself, and me.

When Tom was injured, all his crew members stopped what they were doing and prepared to help him. There was no dissension, just pure, smooth teamwork because the entire crew had a clear, common goal.

This teamwork was less apparent at other times. I didn’t know how to get the crew on the same page regarding the day-to-day work duties. Today, I teach leaders to create dialogue about expectations going in all directions. This process almost always improves the consensus around consistent work processes. It takes some time and resources but it is well worth the effort.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of “The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success,” visit his Web site, or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.