Lesson from a Dinosaur Fossil

Teamwork Principles from Old Bones

How many millions of years old is this dinosaur bone fragment?

The Backstory

One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that the older I get the more I appreciate and am fascinated by history and the story behind places.

My wife has traveled to many places outside and inside the United States. As a trip leader one year, she traveled to Canada with a group of middle school aged kids where, during her travels, she collected a few souvenirs to bring home. One of the greatest souvenirs she got was one formed millions of years ago and is extremely common in the valley she was touring…

The Object

… a real dinosaur fossil. Apparently, the valley she was visiting is full of crumbling rock from cliff layers that were once a giant graveyard for dinosaurs.

Just think about that… tons of broken dinosaur fossils piling up at the bottom of a canyon! So many broken bits of petrified bone that are ripe with history lessons.

At the time my wife visited, she was allowed to take a small piece as a souvenir, because the fossils weren’t worth anything, and the area was fully studied. Seriously?! Well, I suppose they are so common and ordinary to the folks that live there. I’m not sure if that policy is still in play, but if it is, everyone should be able to have a piece of history and give it the respect that it deserves.

Up close with a dinosaur fossil fragment from Canada.

It is about the size of my fist and is a lot heavier than it looks too! The level of detail that is preserved is remarkable, with the smooth area of the bone and the marrow pores on the inside proving that life once existed during a time in which we can only imagine. It is hard to believe they are gone. When will it be our own species turn? This fossil encouraged me to think deeper and in a more abstract way about what it could teach us.

The Lesson

The fossil was a fraction of what once existed, and it was found in a large, preserved spot with perhaps thousands of other skeletons. What was it about this area that allowed these bones to survive for so long? Yes, there’s a scientific reason, but my thought process involved a more philosophical approach using the lens of an organization’s “bones”… the TEAM. The PEOPLE. What does it take for a team of people to survive?

The one thought I’d like to share is this… create guiding principles (or reasons for existence) for your team, and they will drive ownership, accountability, and ultimately, team-driven success. Principles serve as the guard rails to keep everyone moving forward, including the organization. Start thinking about what your team’s principles should be.

Here’s a starter pack of guiding principles:

  • Respect the past, but reject the status quo. Constantly change, refine, and improve processes and systems.
  • Think how we can, not why we can’t. Complaining and blaming doesn’t lead to results. Offer solutions not roadblocks.
  • Policies and procedures are not excuses to getting the job done.
  • What is ordinary and simple to one person is not to another.
  • Suck it up and embrace change.

We all should realize that nothing stays the same. This dinosaur had no idea that it would be giving a few guiding principle tips to humans millions of years later about teamwork and individual leadership. It changed. So can you. It is an honor to display this artifact in my office, as an honor to the species that once ruled the Earth.

Written by Shaun Holloway.