There was an old Country and Western song called ‘Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places.’  I am wondering if the federal government might just be following that logic as it seeks to address the challenges it is facing in the gulf.

Recently the Coast Guard released a request asking for solutions to address the problems of and created by the broken wellhead.  According to an article in Government Executive magazine,  “The broad agency announcement calls for the submission of white paper ideas on five distinct problem areas: tracking and detecting oil; controlling or shutting off the wellhead; developing traditional and alternative oil spill response technologies, damage assessments; and restoration.”

I think the Coast Guard and the government contractors identified some key symptoms that need to be addressed.  But a larger and broader question is whether the answer is not a technical one?

What if the first part is behavioral and the second part technical?

I wonder if the answer involves the very non-technical human-behavior based idea of creating a collaborative community to address the challenges of the Gulf.  A community with a shared language of innovation and leadership seeking to focus on what the problem is instead of only their ‘stovepiped’ solution.   What would happen if an interagency group combined with a small commercial group to address the problem?

Providing training to a group on proper team building and boundary spanning ideas, plus the ability to influence and coach will help them create a team ready to answer some hard questions.  I can foresee this group going through the challenges of team building, and because of training prior to joining the team, they can meld together faster and go through the cycle more quickly than a normal team.  The team then begins a series of norm-based discussions seeking to address the catastrophe that has occurred in the Gulf.

This high performance team dedicates itself to the success of every other member of their team.  With this in mind, they seek the answer to the challenges that face them in Gulf.  These answers may indeed be technical and extremely complex – yet if they do not take the time and energy to learn how to work together and share a common goal, any technical answer will be wasted.

Without this dedication and collaboration, without this boundary spanning, the team will not be able to create the interdependence that naturally reflects a high performance team.

One of my favorite examples of this is from the movie ‘Apollo 13,’ when the teams learn that ‘failure is not an option.’  That team of technicians shared a common goal and began working together, insuring the success of every member.  I am hoping that somewhere near the gulf, there is a team like that one, with all the pieces they have to work with on the floor, a team of government and commercial engineers, working to find the option to correct this failure.

But learning and practicing teamwork is not a technical solution, nor a short-term solution, so I wonder if the government is looking for love in all the wrong places.  Sometimes the answer requires three steps – first get people talking to each other, then get people talking about the answer.  Then making it happen.

~Clemson Turregano

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