Lessons from Aircraft Carriers

If you watch a movie involving aircraft carriers, you may have noticed this. On the carrier, the crew are wearing different colored jackets. Some of the crew are wearing blue, others yellow, others gray. Watching more closely, you’ll notice that each crew member interacts almost exclusively with other crew members wearing the same colored jacket as himself.

Each crew member has a given piece of responsibility. She must trust the rest of the crew to do their jobs properly, just as they must trust her to do her job properly. Somewhere further up in the hierarchy, there’s one person in charge, who knows what each person is doing. On the deck, however, each person has tunnel vision, focused on their own tasks, and trusting that other people are doing their tasks.

A business is like this too. At the top of the chain is one person who knows what’s happening in the company. Smaller tasks get delegated down the chain, until they end up in the hands of the person who is going to do the work. Each worker must focus on their own tasks, and trust the people around them to do their tasks.

What should you not be doing? Unless you’re the person at the top, you shouldn’t be trying to oversee every piece of work being done around you. While there are certainly many successful people who do manage every aspect of their businesses, it does not foster strong businesses.

That’s not to say you should turn a blind eye to what’s happening in your business. But if you give someone a task, to some extent, you need to trust them to do their job, while they trust you to do yours.