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The RNLI and Breakthrough Teams

December 12, 2011

The RNLI has saved more than 139,000 lives since its foundation in 1824.  The charity was founded, with royal patronage, as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwrecks after an appeal made by Sir William Hillary. Hillary lived in Douglas on the Isle of Man, and had witnessed the wrecking of dozens of ships from his home. The name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in 1854, and cork lifejackets were first issued to crew members in the same year. In 1891, the first RNLI street collection was held in Manchester. The C20th saw the RNLI continue to save lives through two world wars. The lifeboats moved from sail and oar power to petrol and diesel, and the first women joined their crews.

This weekend has seen the poignant 125th anniversary of the Mexico disaster in the Ribble Estuary, off the Lancashire coast, where 27 volunteer lifeboat crewmen lost their lives. It’s the worse disaster in the 187-year history of the RNLI.

On the night of 9 December 1886, the German barque Mexico was wrecked at the mouth of the Ribble during a gale. Three lifeboats from Lytham, Southport and St Annes put out to attempt to rescue the crew. The Lytham Lifeboat launched first and rescued the 12 men on board the stricken vessel. They landed them safely back at Lytham at 03:15 GMT on 10 December to loud cheering from a large crowd gathered on the beach

The Southport Lifeboat was taken along the beach to a suitable launching site and put to sea. Washed ashore, it reached a position close to the Mexico and was about to go alongside when it was capsized by a large wave. Fourteen members of the 16 crew members drowned

The St Annes Lifeboat headed out and was not seen again until it was found upturned on Southport beach the following day. Its entire crew of 13 drowned.

Memorial services were held this weekend at both Lytham and Southport.

Without doubt, the bravery, performance and contribution of the teams of voluntary lifeboat men can give us clear learning points to take into our business thinking about team work. One of dna people’s thought leadership pieces of research concerns RNLI teams – achieving extraordinary results by fusing talented individuals into a Breakthrough Team.

At the heart of a great organisational success, you will often find an inspired team of individuals who have united to make something remarkable happen – a revolutionary, high performance team that is energised, producing outstanding and innovative results by harnessing the individual talents to achieve the team goals. The team is transformed from a collection of individuals into a single entity with a shared identity – team members become a plurality with a single-minded focus and purpose. This team achieves a breakthrough – a ground breaking result, a unique achievement never realised before, and then goes on to make its mark with further notable performances and impacts. The RNLI Breakthrough Teams differ from traditional teams along every dimension, from the way they recruit members to the way they enforce their processes, their culture and values, and from the expectations they hold to the results they produce.

The headlines from our research shows that Breakthrough Teams are fundamentally different from ordinary groups that most organisations have in several ways:

  • Their working style has an unforgiving, frenetic rhythm and set of expectations
  • The team emanates a discernible energy and focus
  • They are utterly unique in the ambitions of their goals, the intensity of their conversations about their objectives, and their focus on results
  • Intense and intimate, they work best when forced to work under strict time constraints, but retain a focus on the welfare of colleagues
  • Team members put a great premium on collaboration, there is authentic team-working
  • They focus on thinking correctly under pressure
  • Each team member has a personal credo of it’s down to me to make a difference

We’ve identified the dna of Breakthrough Teams, producing outstanding and innovative results in all areas of human achievement – in business, the arts, sport and in other day-to-day challenges like the emergency services. We’d like to share our insights with you and how to play to the standards of some of the greatest uncompromising, creative and catalytic teams of our times. Find out how these teams set out to revolutionise their worlds, and how you can build a Breakthrough Team of your own. Contact us for a copy of this research.

But back to the RNLI. My favourite lifeboat station is that based at Moelfre, on the east coast of Anglesey. I spent many happy summer holidays there as a child, sat on the pebbles eating fish & chips and watching the lifeboat launch time and time again. The cohesion of the team, the vibrancy from their single-mindedness, and the cammaraderie was always evident. There is something both uplifting and extremely sad about seeing a lifeboat crew arrive at the station and launch into the sea. As a young boy it’s the spectacle, as an adult its appreciation of the bravery and fear as to what the result of their actions will be. Here’s a team where the results are genuinely a matter of life and death. Checking their web site, they’ve launched three times this weekend –http://www.btinternet.com/~coxmoelfrelifeboat/

The RNLI is an independent charity, funded entirely by voluntary donations. Quite shamefully, they receive no Government funding. I’ve been a longstanding donator, they could not save lives at sea without public support. So in return for a copy of my research, why not make a donation to the RNLI, or a visit over the Christmas break to a nearby lifeboat station – all manned 24 hours a day by unpaid volunteers, or attend their Lifeboat Day, an annual fund raising event? Some 7000 people attended Moelfre Lifeboat Day in 2011, it’s scheduled for August 18 in 2012. Go along and support a Breakthrough Team that makes a difference to the safety of our coastline.

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