Theseus’ Paradox, Leadership and Team Building

 

 

Time to go back in time to my days at Laurier University circa 1986, for a little Philosophy 101 debate!

Professor Rocky Jacobsen stared out at a room full of first year freshman, similar to the way Donald Sutherland looked upon his class in the cult classic movie, Animal House. Like the class in Animal House, most of us were hungover.  A Friday morning Philosophy 101 session was considered a bird class. The only real challenge was waking up and getting to class. After that, your mere presence pretty well guaranteed you a passing grade.

How would Rocky connect with the class?  How would he engage us and capture our interest? He shared a story about Theseus.

Theseus is remembered in Greek mythology as the slayer of the Minotaur.  For years, the Athenians had been sending sacrifices to be given to the Minotaur, a half-man, half-bull beast who inhabited the labyrinth of Knossos.  One year, Theseus braved the labyrinth, and killed the Minotaur.   The ship in which he returned was long preserved. As parts of the ship needed repair, it was rebuilt plank by plank.

“If Theseus sails his ship from port A to port B and has every piece of the ship replaced en route is it the same ship?”

This was all part of his introducing the ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’ Paradox.  We would learn that it is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object, which has had all of its components replaced, remains fundamentally the same object. 

Well, the classroom lit up and the healthy debate began.  Is it the same ship? Yes?  No?  Maybe so?  Why?  Professor Jacobsen played the role of traffic cop in the middle of a jammed roundabout as the back and forth picked up energy!

Some built an argument around the physics and how no two items are exactly the same.  Some went with it has to be based on the fact that the ship was named and therefore retains its identity.  Back and forth the argument would go like a tennis match being played at warp speed. 

I watched the energy rise from the periphery because I was both hungover and struck by the story but from a completely different angle.  A team building angle. I imagined the ship’s captain calling his crew together to explain their mission.

“Lads, listen up. Can I have your attention?   So, we are going to set sail and before we hit land, I want us to replace every piece of the ship.   The journey is perilous but I think we can do it! Are you with me?   Yes or no?”

Wow, what type of pregame speech did he have in his treasure chest to convince his crew to sign on for this adventure?  How prepared would he have to be when asked the inevitable what, when, where, who, why and how questions?

How did Theseus get his team to buy in?  There had to have been a history of trust, transparency, communication and collaboration for everyone to buy in.  There had to have been a record of success forged from previous challenging situations within the group.

When the captain declares that the entire ship needs to be replaced en route, is the response, “We can’t do that…I would rather drown in a tavern than at sea!” or is it “Okay, I am kind of digging your idea but I need more info?”. It may be, “Sure..whatever you say Captain!”, which is quite dangerous. 

Roles and expectations will change and trusting that everyone will strive to achieve a high degree of competency, no matter the role will be key.  Becoming adaptable in the face of crisis will be a requirement.

I didn’t care if it was the same boat or not.  I cared about what it would take to keep the boat afloat and I would have to trust everyone on the ship before I signed on. 

Which leads me to what I would do if I was the captain. My leadership approach would rest upon 4 elements.

Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, Compete to Conquer 

 

Connect is the first step in the process because it allows you to set the tone in terms of how the relationship will begin and what direction it will take. First impressions are everything.  Getting off on the right foot is key.  Be authentic. 

Communicate is step number two.  Let’s lay our cards on the table and begin a dialogue.  We may not like everything we hear but we need to hear it so you can build a convincing strategy that will answer everyone’s questions. By communicating, everyone can get a real sense of investment.

Collaborate is an opportunity for the team to address and hopefully answer some questions that the captain does not have an answer for.  This is the problem solving stage.  It the “I am okay with sailing with you but I think I can bring something to the plan that will help the entire group succeed.  Collaboration leads to consensus which is a pillar in team building.

Collaboration leads to the Compete phase.  A plan is in place.  The plan is not etched in stone because there are unpredictable variables that are in play.  What if it rains?  What if we get attacked by a pirate ship?  What if the crew suffers from scurvy?  The mission stays in place but the mapping is open to change.  If you anticipate a journey that takes you on a straight line from point A to point B…you are kidding yourself. 

The process of communicating and collaborating will continue until the goal is reached. Like the sea…there will be an ebb and flow to the journey.  It may mean going back to the drawing board and re-working the problems.  It may mean creating a plan B, C or D.  Being married to a plan has been the Achilles heel for so many teams. Don’t let ego get in the way of evolution!  Being married to the goal and willing to work the plan is the key to any teams success.

Share the what, when, where, who and why and I may sail with you! The Paradox isn’t would you sail with me. It is, what can I say to convince you to sail with me!


Ken Evraire is a quintessential team player who loves coaching, team building and talking leadership!  He is grateful for the opportunity to work with a roster of fantastic clients ranging from the government sector, not for profit agencies, start ups, Fortune 500 companies and elite sports teams.

He is father to 3 precocious children, a former professional football player that has since donated his brain. He has run 3x marathons (Honolulu 2x + Barcelona), done stand up comedy and believes the old school coach was wrong…there is indeed an “i” in Team! 

Check Ken out on the following social media pages…

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/ken-evraire-leadership/

Twitter https://twitter.com/kevraire17   

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kenevrairedotcom/ 

 

 

 

 

 

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