What the eclipse taught me about team collaboration

by | May 22, 2024

Background: My family and I planned for the April 2024 eclipse for at least six months. When I say “planned,” I mean that in every sense of the word. My older daughter K spent hours researching Air BnB’s in locations that were close enough for three parties to travel to by car within a day, far enough apart to take the weather of different regions into consideration, be outside the path (to allow for better mobility), and had a total refundable cancelation policy.

As a group, five people (operating as three units) narrowed down choices, thanks to an extensive Google Sheet with distances to each option, distance from the center line, and conditional formatting.

We met again to narrow down our choices to three Air BnB’s: one in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania, and one in New York.

As it got closer to the actual eclipse day, we continued to meet multiple times using Zoom and group texts to discuss weather predictions, weather patterns (it’s an El Niño year), items to bring, meal planning, and the like.

We decided upon the New York location as it was farther away from water (and lake-effect weather), and the farthest north. With the El Niño pattern, the farther south was likely to cloud up, with the northern climes more likely to be clear with cooler temperatures.

So, our plan was for all three units to descend on the New York Air BnB Sunday, and then mosey on into the Rochester area the next day for the midafternoon eclipse.

Ah, but as Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Our original plan quickly became moot as the weather was worse to the west and south, BUT the cloudy weather was also moving east and north.

As K and I went to the grocery store, Mark and K’s significant other G scoured the road atlas (old technology!) overlaid with the eclipse path and came up with options. When K and I returned, and my younger daughter A arrived, we had another group meeting where we discussed the options:

  1. keep to the original plan to go to Rochester and possibly miss the eclipse;
  2. drive to Burlington, Vermont, where the cloud cover was predicted to be not as thick, but would still probably move east; or
  3. drive even farther east and north to a small dot on the map called Enosubrgh, Vermont, with what seemed to have the best chance of seeing the eclipse.

No one loved the idea of traveling even more the next day, as we all had had to drive 5-6 hours that day to get to the Air BnB. We went around as a group and stated our priorities. Four out five stated their #1 priority was to see the total solar eclipse, and two out five priorities were to be together as a family. (One option was that two different groups could go two different places.)

The one we settled upon: Enosburgh, Vermont, taking into account the least amount of cloud cover and possibly less traffic congestion that probably would have surrounded Burlington.

As a result, we decided to get up at 5:30am the next day. After a cramped two in front and three in back, 7-hour drive on rural roads, we arrived half an hour before first contact. After the eclipse ended, we then drove back to the Air BnB (another 6 hours), arriving at 12:30am, engaging in a quick, celebratory toast before falling into bed.

Was it worth it? You betcha!

Even more so, I was deeply impressed by how we all functioned together, very healthily through all facets of this endeavor.

We had to function as a group, as a team, toward a single goal: see the total solar eclipse.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this total solar eclipse experience, especially as it relates to functional team collaboration.

  • Logistics and planning: I don’t think we could have done what we did without all the planning in place. We had 3 Air BnB’s booked in January, and we didn’t have to scramble for lodging as April drew closer, as so many others did.
  • Check in constantly with each other: Of course, with the planning, we needed to check in, but I’m proudest of the night before the eclipse around the fire pit (maybe a new team collaboration tool?!) where we all stated what was most important to us.
  • Keep the goal in mind: Once we decided that the goal was to see the total solar eclipse and that we were going to Vermont, it made everything else easier. We didn’t have any resentments or conflicts arising from some people wanted to do this, while others wanted to this other thing.
  • Re-assess the goal as needed: As variables changed (as they are wont to do), we had to revisit the goal. Knowing we would have another 12-13 hours of driving the next day, was the goal still the same goal? (In this case, yes, but we still had to go through the exercise to make sure we were all on the same page.)
  • As a result, re-assess the plan: Since the goal posts changed (pun intended), how did we then need to change our methods to reach the goal? We did this as needed with reminders as necessary. (Take the back roads because everyone and their dog will be on the interstates.)
  • Be flexible: We obviously had to be flexible with the variables and changing plans. But because we were all on the same page, it was much easier to be flexible.
  • Be aware of each others’ personalities: Part of that flexibility was being aware of differences in personalities. For example, I knew I would not have the patience to do the research to find another spot from which to view the eclipse. All the round-and-round would drive me crazy. Another example, K has a need to know every detail, so she wanted to understand why Mark and G chose the travel route they did. Instead of being annoyed, we answered her questions.
  • Assign tasks according to people’s strengths: K loved doing all the research and putting together the Google Sheet. Now, I love me a great spreadsheet, but I’m not a fan of research. I would have found three Air BnB’s in about 10 minutes and put that out to the group. Not the route that would have had the best results! (Because in 10 minutes, I could not allow for all the variables that, in the end, mattered.)
  • Debrief after: And, of course, being the corporate consultant that I am, while we were at dinner on our way back to the Air BnB, I asked the following questions: “What was your favorite part?” and “What could/should we have done differently a la the movie Groundhog Day?”

Some of these 9 lessons are reminders; for example, we always recommend to our clients to use the strengths of their people. Others are great fodder for thought that we will bring into our consulting and training as we can. Whether for personal or business use, team collaboration makes a huge impact in your organization’s productivity, efficiency, and even culture.

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