Chilean Miracle

Oct 15, 2010 3 Comments by

Watching the Chilean miners being pulled up from a dark, hot hole nearly a half-mile underground made me think of a few lessons we can learn about teamwork:

  1. Take charge and sharpen your definition of success. For the miners it was simple: survive to be rescued.  For those at the surface it was simple: build a way to help them escape. The government took charge almost immediately and

    Take Charge and avoid wasting time and resources with in-fighting! Photos by - read a thorough summary of this entire amazing story at

    ran the whole operation like clockwork.  They sent sub-teams off to bore the tunnel, build the capsule and engineer the lifting platform.  The men below set about meaningful work to keep busy, healthy and organized. Teams of doctors and psychologists worked to create mental health programs for the men. When is the last time you heard a government praised for how elegantly and effectively they ran a huge operation?  A highly successful government-run project?!?! Sounds like an oxymoron, but Chile’s president Sebastian Pinera has been universally praised for the way he insisted that the men were alive and would be rescued, even after several days of initial silence. Some say he risked his political career by being so involved, but he made no apologies and that leadership surely contributed to the victory.

  2. Having a clear leader is incredibly important to a team – especially in crisis. I find it amazing how quickly the men mutually agreed to have one senior manager as their leader – even though 54-year-old Luis Alberto Urzua was relatively new to the company and had less time in that particular mine than most of his compatriots. He didn’t necessarily know the best thing to do in each situation, but he worked across the team to make decisions and execute their plans with a cool, elegant and effective rigor. Due in part to his leadership, the team wasted little time arguing over the strict rules he instituted or fighting over the meager rations available in the first hours and days of the crisis.
  3. Identify key roles on your team and do your best to fill them – even if there is no perfect person for a given role.  Just as importantly, everyone had a role.  The underground team named a spiritual leader, a fitness coordinator, and many other positions – then set about to establish a routine.  Just as importantly, everyone had a role.  These responsibilities gave the miners purpose and gave everyone a structure within which they could count on each other. None of these heroes held these role prior to the disaster – but look how clearly and successfully they executed those jobs when called upon! What hidden talents are we ignoring within our teams?
  4. Don’t be shy about celebrating your successes. As each miner emerged from the Fenix-2 capsule, they hugged their loved ones, pumped their fists in the air and sang songs of national pride.  It was especially beautiful to see how

    Celebrate your successes openly and joyfully! Photos by - read a thorough summary of this entire amazing story at

    consistently they celebrated!  The wild cheers and glowing faces were just as poignant for the 33rd miner as they were for the first, the 15th and the 22nd. We should all be so open with our joy when we make good things happen!

    …and finally:

  5. Being in the dark is no excuse for giving up! During the first 17 days before they were found, the miners shared the very few lights they had in a community fashion.  They even used the headlights of the vehicles trapped with them to simulate daylight and nighttime to maintain their sanity and sense of normalcy.  The lesson for us: We may have more resources at your disposal than we realize and those resources could be put to an incredibly important good use with a little creativity!

I’m sure there will be a thousand articles written about this awe-inspiring tale. There will be movies and interviews and follow-on drama… but in the moment it was beautiful and inspiring.  What an amazing set of sub-stories to an amazing overall story of heroism, diligence, teamwork and love.  I was thoroughly enthralled by the entire rescue process and hope you got to see a bit of it unfold.


Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

3 Responses to “Chilean Miracle”

  1. Allan Waugh says:

    Great Article Steve

    When you strip things back to a basic level, and when you are faced with challenges such as the ones presented – you sometimes see the best in people, it is amazing how creative people can be and how people gain strength from others in these situations.

    Sometime in business we make things too complicated – we can all draw lessons from the Chilean Miracle and your summary of events.

  2. Tony Lamb says:

    Excellent article, Steve! I wonder what organizational behaviors developed in the vacuum of the cave.

  3. Forrest says:

    You did a great job netting out the importance of team work from the amazing Chilean Mine Rescue. This is the type of teamwork is needed in businesses; however, in my opinion, our current business management system does not encourage this type behavior. Our current financial crisis is an example of the unintended consequences that can occur as a result of our current out-dated business-management system.

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