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  • 2024

Tragedy, miracle, and high-performance teams

Vinicius Buso | Director of Culture iN 

About three months ago, I watched the movie "Society of the Snow" on Netflix, which tells the true story of the Uruguayan Air Force flight 571 that, in 1972, departed from Montevideo to Santiago, Chile, with 50 people on board. Among the passengers, there was a group of young men from a rugby team who planned a memorable trip to play and, above all, have fun in a new country. An apparently routine flight of about 3 hours was brutally interrupted by a disaster when it was sucked into the Andes Mountains. Only 29 people survived after being completely isolated in the snow for 72 days.

This mythical and heroic story has inhabited my imagination since childhood. I remember the TV advertisements in the 80s for the movie "Survive!" (1976), which brought a dramatic yet fascinating tone to this episode. But since I was very young, my parents wouldn't let me watch it.

When I heard about the release of the new production, it sparked enormous curiosity in me. If a movie about this story attracted me 40 years ago, imagine today, with the current technologies and production quality. The movie would certainly be super interesting. And it really is.

A tragedy or a miracle?

É com esta frase que o filme começa.

This is how the film begins. Depending on the viewer's perspective, the film can evoke horror and sadness with its scenes of desperation and suffering, but it is also possible to see the beauty of solidarity and compassion that develops among people completely abandoned to their fate in extreme conditions of hunger and cold. I connect much more with the latter perspective.

The name "Society of the Snow" makes perfect sense. Because there, in the middle of nowhere, on the brink of death, the rules, beliefs, standards, assumptions, and institutions that govern society and our daily interactions could or could not remain valid. That would depend on how people behaved and how situations unfolded.

But what was seen, over more than two months of daily struggle for survival, was a strong spirit of cooperation and unity. From the first day, when they recovered the few supplies available and shared them equally among everyone there.

For me, as a professional who has been studying organizations for over 15 years, supporting the development of teams and leadership, the big question at the end of the film was: How and why did this group choose the path of cooperation, cohesion, and collective interest instead of the path of brutality and the fight for survival and individual interests? Especially when we talk about SURVIVAL, where primitive and violent instincts tend to surface?

That's when I remembered a very brief scene, right in the first three minutes of the film, which probably goes unnoticed but is a fundamental ingredient in the outcome of this story for me. The scenes show the team playing a rugby game, with the players making a play and communicating on the field, and then the same group in the locker room, discussing the result of the match and organizing for the upcoming trip.

For me, this reveals the key that largely explains the decisive factors for the success of that group. In fact, what is observed there are some elements that characterize a high level of maturity, typical of a high-performance team.

The first is the existence of clear leadership, recognized and shared by everyone. Immediately after the accident, the rugby team's coach assumed the role of group leader, with the recognition and trust of everyone.

Second, the existence of a clear and common goal or purpose. It seems obvious that the goal of everyone there was to survive and find a way to be rescued. But keeping this flame of hope alive when everything is hanging by a thread is no easy task.

Another important element is that there seemed to be open communication and a safe environment for everyone in the group to express themselves frankly, even when there were differences. Crucial decisions were made considering different points of view and respecting the different beliefs of those present.

Lastly, the group's ability to establish agreements and cooperate frequently, setting clear roles where each person took accountability for their tasks. This was evident in both the daily routines of cleaning, maintaining the facilities, and caring for each other, as well as in the more decisive moments when they risked excursions into the mountains in search of rescue.

There is a phrase mentioned throughout the film that says, "Hay que regresar al pasado sabiendo que el pasado es lo que más cambia" ("We must return to the past knowing that the past is what changes the most").

For me, this is a fundamental clue to understanding the film. Because it is this past, of a cohesive and mature group, forged by sport, that ensures the conditions for these people to achieve an extraordinary feat. Typical of a high-performance team.

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