Chilean Miners Know What We’ve Forgotten

The collapse of the mine in Chile has provided an interesting example of teamwork under the direst circumstances. When the news came out that the 33 trapped miners had been reached and rescue was imminent, I was struck by the conversations I heard when reporters indicated that there had been arguments about the order in which the miners would be rescued. The assumption was that the miners were arguing over who would get out first—now it appears, they were arguing about who would come out last.

How likely would that scenario be if the miners were Americans? Unfortunately, I believe, highly unlikely.

Forbes Blogger Lacey Rose wrote on Tuesday about the intense pressure these miners and their families will face as journalists jockey for position hoping to be the first to get an interview. The amounts of money being bandied about as potential fees for movie rights to their story—up to $500K—must be staggering for men who have made their living doing difficult, manual labor.

With the prospect of what must seem like unimaginable wealth dangling in front of them, what will happen to their team solidarity?

There, too, they surprise us. According to Fiona Govan of the Telegraph Media Group, the Chilean miners have drawn up a legally binding contract to stop any one individual from profiting at the expense of the group. All proceeds will be shared equally.

Well, you could argue that being in a life-or-death circumstance naturally results in a strong sense of team. Certainly it highlights the risks/benefits of interdependence.

However, it has been reported that in the early days there was a schism between the majority and a breakaway group of subcontractors who were treated as second class citizens. Somehow they were able to overcome that division, keep anyone from being marginalized and develop into a cohesive unit able to make strategic decisions about very emotional things—like who will be the first one rescued. According to their wives, the men have vowed never to talk about exactly what went on during those first few weeks before they were found.

Too bad, that’s a story that would benefit us all.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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