I have been following the Chile miners rescue very closely and felt there were many lessons to learn from how the entire program was executed and communicated.
To begin, it was one of the world’s most successful operations to get miners out from the longest underground entrapment in history. The meticulous planning, the pace at which the government moved to locate the group, get help when needed, include necessary safeguards, keep their families united above ground and the media informed all showcased the key role of communication, both internal and external.
Here are some of the elements of the entire operation that got me thinking in relation to internal communications within organizations.
During the first few days while efforts were on to establish if the miners could be rescued or not the country promptly took steps to gain the confidence of their people by sacking those responsible for the mine’s safety. The first step after establishing contact was to send in supplies to get their digestive systems functioning before sharing solid food. Rescue teams also sent oxygen down to where they were trapped. To me establishing the ‘basics’ is crucial for stability and give employees confidence in the ability of their leaders and organizations.
With limited resources and technology infrastructure Chile reached out to NASA for help and sought support of their satellites and experts. NASA sent its team to consult on the rescue mission but also got involved in supporting how the miners were treated and looked after (based on their experiences with space station astronauts). Experts from the Chile Navy were called in to help design the rescue capsule.Establishing the right team and equipping them with the right tools enables consistent communication and accurate results.
A communications system was installed through which each of the men spoke and reported their feeling to doctors and psychologists on the top. Then a systematic plan was created to keep the miners informed and busy. According to media reports NASA experts were invited to share their expertise of helping people cope with long periods of solitude.
A conscious effort made to build trust by sharing appropriate news and set expectations ensured the miners were all on the same page. The miners were kept occupied with games and were made to get into a routine so that time was broken into chunks. The rescue team also reviewed communication that was exchanged between families and miners below so that wrong messages weren’t communicated. Building robust internal communication networks is essential to keeping employees focused on the goals; in this case – coming out safely and getting united with their families.
They also thought of ways to involve them in problem solving and plan for how they would cope after they came up to the surface, since there were fears of information overload and from separation from the real world. They were also instructed to wear eye shades so as to avoid vision concerns when they get rescued. Besides their immediate physical needs the team above ground prepared psychiatric counseling for all miners. To begin, they helped the group establish a leader with the help of a questionnaire.Involving and empowering employees during a crisis and getting them to chart their own success are crucial for organizational alignment.
There were rumors of the forming of splinter groups frustrated by the delayed operations and periodic communication (through videos, photos, notes and even watching a soccer match!) and a seasoned leader (their foreman) kept them on track. Established leadership code of conduct to ensure communication flows smoothly and employees know how to focus on the end outcome.
Finally it was phenomenal to see how the President of the country personally oversaw the operation with the Mining Minister and greeted each miner as they emerged to share messages for their families. Not sure how many other countries came as much for their people. This example reinforced the message. October 13, the day they were all rescued is also now a permanent holiday in Chile. Rallying a country just on hope is itself awe inspiring.