Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Just one big happy family. Not.:

Rachael Robertson led a diverse team to the world’s toughest workplace.
By Rachael Robertson
Date: November 16 2013
Editor Rating:

The Antarctic winter is harsh – temperatures hover around minus 35 degrees Celsius, constant blizzards, months of darkness, and you can’t get in or out of the place. Work becomes tedious and often relationships become strained, made worse by the knowledge that nothing will change until the re-supply ship arrives, a distant nine months away.

It sounds extreme. But the reality is the harsh environment was the easy part. Living with 18 strangers, with little privacy and no escape was much harder.

In Antarctica I used five tools to build a strong, resilient team that treated each other with respect. Since returning from Antarctica I have become a mother of one and step-mother of four and I have used these same insights with great results!

1.  No triangles

The practise of only having direct conversations built respect within my team. We had a simple rule that went ‘I don’t speak to you about him, or you don’t speak to me about her.’ No Triangles; go direct to the source. If you have something you’d like to say to someone then tell them – don’t take it to a third party.

It also shuts down “answer shopping” - people who keep asking the same question and go over people’s heads, or around people, until they get the answer they want.

Children will try this often, so the adults need to stand united.

2.  Manage your 'Bacon Wars'

A major dispute once threatened to shut down the station: Should the bacon be soft or crispy?

Every home or workplace has its Bacon Wars. They are seemingly small, irrelevant issues that grate on people but build up until they become distractions and affect morale. It may be dirty coffee cups; wet towels on the floor; people playing on phones while someone is speaking … they appear to be small offences but in reality they are usually a symptom of a deeper issue.

You must identify and probe your Bacon Wars. Find out what’s underneath and resolve it.

For us, it turned out the Bacon War was a manifestation of something deep and important: respect between two teams.

3.  Find a reason to celebrate

Recognise milestones and important moments. If you don’t have one readily apparent then create one. Find a reason.

In Antarctica we celebrated big events but also the smaller successes such as a month without a power blackout, significant scientific data collection or uninterrupted internet access with a fully functioning server.

Usually it was just a notice on the whiteboard in the dining hall but it was important to find the time to stop and celebrate. Because these moments create momentum. They give a sense of progress, moving forward and getting closer to our outcomes.

During long projects, such as exam periods, it’s critical to find a reason to stop and salute even small accomplishments. Whether it’s with an event, a reward or a simple thank you, the acknowledgement and recognition will reaffirm their purpose and demonstrate progress.

4.  Check-in on people

Take a moment to check-in on people and ask, “Are you OK?”  Not the project, not the tasks, but you – the person.

People respond with commitment and loyalty when they know both they and their contribution is valued. To show people they are valued, check how they are travelling. Make it spontaneous and often. These moments will create momentum. As Maya Angelou put it so succinctly “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

5.  Respect trumps harmony

My expedition team was the most diverse team I’ve ever worked with. I didn’t recruit them, I was handed them. “Make it work!” I was told.

We were from vastly different backgrounds, a mix of professional skills including scientists, engineers, IT, trades, pilots and weather specialists. The only generalist role was mine: Station Leader. With such a mix of people it was impractical to think we’d all get along with each other all the time.

The interpersonal pressure was intense and privacy was scarce. It would be unreasonable to expect total harmony, so I didn’t. Instead, we aimed for respect. Simple courtesy and respect.

I have the same philosophy with my stepchildren and we have a fantastic relationship where we speak openly about any concerns or challenges, always calmly and always respectfully.

Instead of harmony teams should aim for respect because “respect trumps harmony”, every time.


* * *

Rachael Robertson is author of ‘Leading on the Edge’ published by Wiley and available in bookstores across the country and through Rachael’s website

Share This Tweet This Email To Friend
Recent Comments
4 Total Comments
Gabby says: 2018 10 06

I told my kids we’d play after I found what I neeedd. Damnit.

Cassie says: 2018 10 26

The truth just shines thugroh your post tflrjbjbros [link=]fasjulygoc[/link]

Kaylin says: 2018 10 26

That’s really thinking at an imisserpve level

Latoya says: 2018 10 27

That’s an inventive answer to an inreiesttng question

View All Comments
Post a Comment
* your email address will not appear

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Post a Comment
* your email address will not appear

Please enter the word you see in the image below:33343

Your Comment has been posted
Related Articles
Workplace confrontation and conflict happen in every workplace, but there…
Read more
Tresillian Family Care Centre’s advice to help with the balancing…
Read more
Anita was feeling guilty enough; but then she learned she…
Read more
Cry babies

Dry your eyes!
The newest additions are on their way from the Babies who cry real tears!


Latest Tech Used In Shipping Containers
Read how the shipping industry has revolutionised

Motherpedia cover-2

Win 1 set of a 4-book hardcover illustrated boxed set
Barbara Murray’s new 4-book Sound Stories is perfect for parents and educators and could assist with NAPLAN results

Motherpedia cover (4)

Where to celebrate Oktoberfest Australia
Get ready for this celebration!

Motherpedia cover-4

A Fortnight of Foodie Experiences at East Village
A taste of East Village. What's in it for me?

Globber my too fix up cover

We Try: Globber My TOO Fix Up
A scooter that grows with your child

Throw a winning cricket pitch

3 Steps to a Winning Backyard Cricket Pitch
Ex-Adelaide Oval legend curator Les Burdett shares his tips for getting your backyard cricket pitch test match ready this summer

A bike that follows your kids life cycle - motherpedia - cover

A Bike That Follows Your Kids Life Cycle
Check out the Bunzi 2-in-1 gradual balance bike!

Moonlight lifestyle

Moonlight Cinema to bring…
Moonlight Cinema announces brand new Western Sydney venue

Screen shot 2019-11-26 at 8.29.12 am

Your Magical Christmas Wonderland…
Adventure park is about to light up the night sky with its "Christmas Festival of Lights"

Screen shot 2019-11-21 at 11.11.36 am

The Preston Market Gets…
It's time to feel pumped up for the holiday season!


Bunnings team members get…
Help raise funds by buying a snag or donating at your local store.