When I left the house this morning Alice was dressed as a Dalmatian to celebrate completing her first 101 days of grade prep. This day has been marked in bright purple highlighter on the family calendar that lives on the fridge since we found out about it a month ago. Alice has been so excited and was up at 5.45am this morning asking to get her black nose and whiskers painted on ready for the day of celebrations.

I would say that this is one of the first times that Alice has really felt like she is part of a tribe. She’ll be joining the other 30 or so pups this morning and celebrating the only way 5 and 6 year olds know how, with sausage rolls and tomato sauce, or should I say tomato sauce with sausage rolls. 

I’m so excited for her. Not just because she makes an adorable dalmatian pup but because she feels part of something bigger than herself. Little kids are self centred little beings. If you chuck a bunch of 3 year olds together they are more likely to play their own game while sitting next to each other rather than play a game together.

I’m no scientist but I’d say primary school is one of the first times the collective shared experience starts to create strong (sometimes lifelong) bonds with your pairs. This is the beginning of the rest of her life. If she’s lucky then she’ll pretty much flow from one collective experience to another as her life unfolds before her. 

There is a rhythm to the collective experience. We’re tribal beings and when we share our lives with others in a meaningful way we form deep relationships. If I look back at my life, it’s a series of events I shared with others… primary and secondary school, sports teams, my first job after-school job (packing knives and forks into plastic bags for McDonald's hotcakes), University, my first real job, the second, third and fourth one. Regardless of the task at hand, doing it with others created friendships and connections that I still have to this day. Shit, starting a family is one of the biggest team projects there is, you’re essentially creating your own mini tribe. Regardless of the dynamics, humans like to be in sync with each other.

If you're walking down the street with someone, it doesn’t take long for both parties to naturally sync strides. When I ran this morning, the only reason I didn’t stop was because my running buddy was keeping the pace and I just locked into that. The military is a great example of synchronised movement and singing to form cohesion within the group. Some evolutionary biologists believe that music itself may have emerged as a way of coordinating  large groups of tribal warriors. 

We all want to feel like we’re part of a team and when we are, we perform better. At 3am this morning I was reading How Big Things Get Done: Lessons from the World's Top Project Manager by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner. One of the case studies written about was the building of Terminal 5 (T5) at Heathrow Airport which opened in 2008. T5 would be the largest freestanding building in the UK, would add 53 more gates and had a footprint of 3.8 million square feet. Projects of this scale are notoriously bad for going over budget and over time but T5 has gone down as one of the most successful builds in history for three main reasons. 

Firstly they planned. They built the entire building over and over again using digital simulations until they ironed out any foreseeable problems and before anyone had lifted a tool. The digital workflow enabled the second part of the plan, and the part I love, which was offsite construction. The timeline was tight and they couldn’t disturb any of the existing airport traffic so the solution was prefab. T5 wasn’t a building site, but an assembly site. 

The third key to the success of T5 was the people. T5 invested heavily in building the right team around them. On a project of this scale there are literally thousands of people involved - so many contractors and subbies. From day one T5 told everyone ‘to forget how things are usually done on big projects. Your team is not your company. Here, your team is T5. We are one team.’

Instead of hiring cheap contractors they got people who had worked together before. They had posters on the walls of people with light bulbs going on saying ‘I get it. I work for T5’. Identity first then purpose. Soon there were posters comparing the T5 construction to other great projects like the Eiffel Tower saying ‘We’re making history too”. When milestones were met more posters went up with text like ‘One day, you’ll be proud to say I built the T5’.

The whole philosophy was to share the culture through the organisation, top to bottom. They didn’t just use posters but invested heavily in the facilities for workers. Top notch toilets, showers and canteens were the best anyone had ever seen. There was even an onsite shop for gear so if your gloves got wet you could just go get a new pair, free of charge. They consulted workers regularly and went out of their way to make sure that everyone was happy.

T5 became a tribe that collectively worked together to create one of the biggest buildings on earth, on time and on budget. The best evidence of the successful team environment was workers proudly wore their T5 gear to the pub after work. People were proud to be working on the project and I’m sure that many of the people involved with the project will look back on it as an important and meaningful part of their life. 

We like to be in sync (not nsync) with others. When I looked at Alice this morning, dressed as a dalmatian, I was so happy for her. Being part of something bigger and more meaningful than yourself makes us better humans. Sometimes being your best human self is done dressed as a dog.

Video of the week
Ian Dury and The Blockheads – Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick (Official HD Video)
Podcast of the week
Bang on: #259 Matildas, Before Smartphones, Only Murders
Font of the week
Louche: Font of the week by Domicile Foundry

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