Whenever I think of a coal mine, I can't help but start humming the song "Working in a Coal Mine," which was an old army song that was released on the radio in the 1960s. I am a product of the 1980s, so the Devo version pops into my head (typically followed by "Whip It").
With the news buzzing about the Chilean miners the past couple of weeks, that song has been on heavy rotation in my brain. I kept wondering if they might be humming this to pass the time, or simply cursing their choice of occupation.
Now you might think this sounds like a storyline from an episode of "The Office." But as the rescue of the Chilean miners was going on, I also kept thinking about what it would be like to be trapped with a bunch of coworkers for an extended period of time.
On the bright side, at least no one would be smelling up the kitchen with burnt microwave popcorn. No one would be asking why you were late to the meeting, or if you'd heard about the new TPS report cover sheets. And if you had jury duty, you'd have one steel-clad excuse for not showing up.
On the not-so-bright side, chances are you don't get along with everyone at work. Think of 32 of your coworkers. Likely there are a couple of people you probably wouldn't want to spend two months less than six feet away from at all times. In my case, it would probably be the popcorn-burners.
I'd like to think I'd stay calm and help everyone get through the ordeal. But let's be realistic. After even a few days in close quarters, something's bound to give. And as days turn into weeks, ties would be worn as headbands, and we'd probably go all "Lord of the Flies" on each other.
So what got the Chilean miners through? How did a bunch of miners with not much more in common than their matching coveralls and gloves survive more than two months trapped in a mine?
My answer: glue. No, not real glue. I'm talking about those people on a team who seem to find a way to help keep the team together and moving forward. While it's a bit of a vague designation, we all know a few people who are the glue of our organization.
It can be a manager, a leader, or even just a regular worker who has a knack for building positive relationships. Whatever the case, there must have been more than a few of these people down in that mine in Chile.
So there are a couple of things to take away from the story of the Chilean miners.
First, if you are thinking about a career in mining, dump your mistress before you go down.
Second, the next time you interview someone, it might be good to think about whether the person could provide some glue to keep your organization, team, or project going.
Retention is a big issue right now. More than likely, some of the glue in your organization is wearing thin (or thinking about leaving).
Keep that in mind as you ramp up your hiring. Right now we could all use a little more glue and a little more prosperity (along with perhaps a small raise). That, and a ban on microwave popcorn in the office.