In this activity, your team will be able to analyze their current state and also identify areas they would like to improve. Using the metaphor of the four forces of flight, you can facilitate a conversation about how your team is doing and where they want to focus.
The Beginning of Human Flight
The idea of flight has long fascinated humans. I remember as a young child being convinced that if I willed it strong enough, I could fly. Fortunately, I learned the truth without any broken bones.
However, I wasn’t the only person to want to fly; the Wright brothers had that vision too. Orville and Will Wright were bicycle builders from Dayton, Ohio and they accomplished what many people deemed impossible.
On December 3, 1903 the New York Times wrote, “A man-carrying airplane will eventually be built, but only if mathematicians and engineers work steadily for the next ten million years.” At that time, many famous and brilliant men, including Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison had failed at getting an airplane to fly. But, just ten days after the New York Times printed that article, the Wright brothers made their first successful flight. History was made and the future of air travel changed forever.
The Four Forces of Flight
One concept that the Wright brothers figured out was the four forces of flight. In order for a bird or airplane to fly it must have lift, weight, drag and thrust. These forces must be balanced.
Here is a way to think of the Four Forces of Flight as it relates to teams:
Lift (Inspiration) – Things that uplift the team such as connection, humor, giving and/or receiving appreciation.
Weight (Burdens) – Tasks that weigh the team down. Tasks the team resents because they feel obligated to do them but gain little or no happiness or satisfaction from the process. Deadlines that are impossible to meet. Lack of adequate resources or information.
Drag (Annoyances) – Assignments that slow the team’s progress. Things that frustrate, annoy or are boring. Needless bureaucracy or cumbersome rules.
Thrust (Energy) – Things that propel the team, provide urgency and momentum. Actions that support, growth and development, and encourage engagement and fulfillment.
Below are instructions for the “Fly Your Team to New Heights” exercise. While it is written as a team exercise, it could also be used from an individual perspective.
- Tell the story of Orville and Will Wright (see above).
- Explain the Four Forces of Flight (see above - Lift, Weight, Drag and Thrust)
- Label a chart “LIFT” and ask the team to list things that “lift” up the team.
- Label a second chart “WEIGHT” and ask the team to list things that “weigh” the down.
- Label a third chart “DRAG” and ask the team to list things that slow their progress.
- Label a fourth chart “THRUST” and ask the team to list things that energize them.
- Facilitate a discussion to determine 2-3 behaviors the team would like to focus on to help them fly to new heights. Be sure to get very specific and find ways to measure this behavior.
Ways to Adapt this Activity
Use your imagination and facilitate this in a way that will engage your team. For example, if your team is large, you might divide them into sub-teams and ask each to work on one force. Or you might ask them to work on this individually and then combine the responses.
Another fun idea would be to make paper airplanes and have a contest to see whose airplane goes the furthest. Or, take your team to lunch at an airport restaurant where you can watch planes taking off and landing.
About the Author: Leigh Ann Rodgers, Founder of Better Teams and Forward, is an IAF Certified Professional Facilitator with 20 years of experience in the human development field. Leigh Ann is a skilled meeting facilitator, trainer, and coach working across the globe to help leaders cultivate teams that are happy and high-performing.
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