What is your teams burning platform?

Image Credit: http://www.businessleaners.com

The concept of ‘The Burning Platform’ was first introduced by Daryl Conner who used the metaphor of an Oil Rig worker who had to leap into the water to save himself when the platform of the rig was burning. In this situation if the worker did not jump there was certain death as he would have got burned on the platform and jumping into the heated water with debris was possible death if he was not rescued within 20 mts. So he took the call based on the odds of saving his life although both options he had had a high risk of death. What he essentially tries to say is that sometimes we need to take a call in a hopeless situation such as a burning platform and such a call can ignite and motivate us to unite as a team and do the impossible.


Therefore counties unify when there is a burning platform. A historic example is Japan after world war 2. Similarly there are many examples of people uniting when there had been a suicide bomb attack, sports teams uniting after a heavy defeat, companies uniting when competitors launch a game changing product etc.


However the concept of burning platforms, if taken literally can be misunderstood to mean that a team needs a disaster to unite. There are 4 Types of burning platforms as shown in the following matrix.

burning platforms_001








Lets examine each of these burning platforms;

  1. The Platform is burning: This is a problem faced by the team in the present. This means we are in trouble and need to take immediate action. Examples of this situation are; competitor has launched a game changing product, one of our factories have been destroyed by fire, A quality issue that has put us in the danger of loosing our biggest customer, trailing 0 – 2 in a soccer game, civil commotion affecting the supply of vital raw materiel etc.


The leadership response: In this situation the leader needs to gather the entire team and collect information regarding the situation from all team members, asses the crisis quickly, show the team how it can affect each member and the team, collect ideas on how to deal with the situation, formulate a plan and assign team members to take action. Given the situation and its personal impact, the team will [at least temporarily] put aside their differences and work together to deal with the situation. This process can bring diverse team members together, generate creativity, ignite the passion and create synergy. Teams coming out of such situations are generally stronger and are geared to achieve greater results. In this situation the leaders challenge is to convert fear and confusion into confidence and hope.

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How great is your team?

You have just boarded a plane which is already 4 hours late after being given hope that it was going to take off earlier many times resulting in multiple visits to the boarding gate and back to the waiting lounge. Then you sit in the air craft for one more hour without the air conditioning working and no proper explanation from the crew for the reason for the delay. After one hour you are asked to de-plane as there is a technical problem in the aircraft. A further 3 hours wait biting into a sandwich provided by the airline with no clear apology for the delay. Attempts to find out about connecting flights falling on deaf years of annoyed ground staff. Back on the plane that thank fully moves. But it stops again. Pilot announces that we are waiting behind 7 other aircrafts to take off as we had missed our original slot. And finally the plane takes off after a 9 hour delay.

How some people think of teams
Image Credit: http://www.dilbert.com


In this situation why do you think things went wrong? Who could have fixed it? Check-in manager? Pilot? head of Engineering? The CEO? Perhaps not anyone of them! Could it be all of them, if they had worked as one team? There could be individual hero’s who would have tried to make the passengers comfortable, speed up the boarding process etc. but it takes a team to make the difference.


Therefore it is clear we need teams when it is difficult for a group of people together to deliver a goal.

If you see similarities of the above situation in your workplace, perhaps you need to assess the quality of team work. Given below are the qualities of a great team. Rate your team against each of these qualities on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being poor to 5 being excellent.

  1. We have burning Platforms that unifies team. Rating: _____

A burning platform is a critical task that needs to get done before a crucial dead line that requires real teamwork. EG: Getting the ERP system running before the beginning of the next financial year. Getting the new product into the market before the heavy buying season. John F Kennedy created a burning platform when he said lets get a man on the moon safely in a decade from now!

  1. There is clarity about our critical goals. Rating: _____

If our goals are clear we know what we should do and should not do. When the British rowing team was preparing for the Olympics and had to make a decision they asked the question, ‘will this make the board go faster?’ This helped them to turned down dinner invitations and even attend the opening ceremony.

  1. We have clearly agreed ways of working: _____

There are 4 possible ways of working based on the responsibilities and roles of the team. These levels include strategic, tactical, operational and interactive. It is important for the team to have clarity and alignment regarding this and to know which other related teams operates in which way with clarity of the interface relationships.

Continue reading “How great is your team?”