Star Trek: TNG – 10 Extraterrestrial Team Management Tips
Space… the final frontier of team management?!
March 2020, the UK went into lockdown. To stay (relatively) sane, while working from home, I blocked out an hour for my daily lunch break. For 178 of those lunches I watched Star Trek – The Next Generation, and my goodness, what a fantastic 178 lunches they turned out to be.
For an hour a day I would find myself traversing the galaxy, encountering new planets, races, technologies, and natural phenomena.
Through it all I noticed one thing in particular – the starship Enterprise runs like clockwork.
The ship’s crew consists of over 900 people, all from different backgrounds, races, creeds and specialities. But all aligned for one purpose – working harmoniously together to get the job done.
It dawned on me that whilst this is a fictional team of people from the 24th century. Travelling through space, faster than the speed of light. We could learn something from them and their approach to team management.
So here goes – could these values be translated to a team in the 21st century? Having almost 200 hours of Star Trek under my belt (including the movies). I have compiled my top ten tips from this brilliant series and its excellent approach to team management and dynamics.
# 1 – Lead from the front – Team Management 101
Inspire others by behaving in a way you’d like them to behave. Captain Jean-Luc Picard always steps forward to put his life on the line to defend his crew. He will fearlessly explore dangerous new worlds, make first contact with unknown beings, and even battle with Klingons.
Picard inspires others to act in the same way as he would by setting a good example. In doing so he gains the respect of his crew.
Leading by example inspires your team to work towards a common goal. You may not be battling Klingons or negotiating with a new race of beings, but all industries and professions will require their own moments of bravery.
Leading from the front will solidify the ideals you encourage. It will give your leadership more gravity, and will inspire the team members around you. And to quote a past team leader of mine; “By inspiring others; we earn our place”.
# 2 – Good mental health is vital
“Confidence is faith in oneself. It can’t easily be given by another.” – Deanna Troi
Deanna Troi, the ship’s counsellor, sits on the left hand side of the Captain. Her position shows just how important her role is when running a team. She plays a vital role in the overall mental health of the crew as their counsellor and therapist.
By ensuring everyone is supported mentally, Deanna keeps the crew running smoothly and harmoniously. Her effective communication means conflicts are resolved, and by offering social support both on the ship and on away missions.
This aspect of team dynamics can quickly be forgotten. Deanna’s close relationship with the Captain throughout the program is a testament to how important her role is.
Deanna Troi sitting next to Picard shows that they aren’t paying lip service to mental health. It is a fundamental area that needs constant work and care. This year more than any other, it’s clear just how important focusing on mental health needs to be. Thoughtful and holistic team management cannot be truly successful without proper care of mental health.
# 3 – Earn respect, don’t expect it – Not all management styles are good
“Respect is earned, not bestowed.” – Deanna Troi
In the 135th episode; “Chain of Command, Part 1,” Captain Picard is sent on a secret mission, the success of which depends on the crew believing he has left for good. Captain Jellico takes command of the Enterprise and immediately starts making dramatic changes, much to the dismay of the crew.
Jellico made so many demands on the crew so soon that they resented him and pushed back on his management style. Commander Riker in particular fell out with him so badly that he was relieved from duty and replaced.
Jellico didn’t listen to anyone, treated the crew with little respect, yet expected them to respect him as Captain. This clearly demonstrates the need to earn respect before you can do effective team management.
Is your boss more Jellico than Picard? Check out this blog on managing your manager for tips on how to help them see the light.
# 4 – Protect your team so they can do their job
Tell your team what they need to know, shield them from things that will only scare/hurt them.
When Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher discovers that the ship is infected with an unknown virus that de-evolves living creatures and will eventually kill all the crew, she keeps the details to herself. This action enables the team to discover the source of the virus and how to get rid of it.
While the crew needed to know enough about the virus to track its origin and try and deal with it, the gory details of their almost certain deaths were not required. Knowing those intense details would, almost certainly, have put them off doing what they needed to do, to get their job done.
To give this a 21st century spin; when a team has a deadline to hit, or a particularly important piece of work to get done, a good team leader or scrum master, using effective communication, can steer the team while batting off any potential distractions.
# 5 – Encourage a learning culture
“Things are only impossible until they are not.” – Captain Jean Luc Picard
Many episodes of TNG revolve around some sort of Research & Development project someone has developed that requires testing. On rare occasions this leads to catastrophe, with the crew battling to get back to some sort of status quo. More often than not the output is successful and benefits not only the ship, but whole worlds and civilizations.
While R&D can sometimes cause issues, giving precious time to learn and experiment ignites the passion and creativity of our teams. While it might not always benefit civilisations as a whole, it can often lead to unexpected improvements in products, processes, and more.
At ProdPad we’ve been using R&D time to experiment with AI – specifically how AI can aid a Product Manager in understanding and triaging their feedback backlog. With this valuable time to experiment we’ve been able to build useful and reactive features.
# 6 – Create safe spaces to talk freely and minimize unprofessional discussion
Captain Picard would often call someone to his ‘ready room’ for a private chat, out of earshot from the crew on the bridge, using these chats for advice on how to deal with a troublesome officer, or opinions on his plan to tackle a delicate situation. Most importantly, once the door had closed, Picard was able to speak freely.
Speaking in private creates opportunities for senior officers to figure out a suitable outcome. This would often mean the Captain would be more vulnerable with them than he would the rest of the crew.
Speaking candidly to someone who can help (a senior team member, for example) is useful in quickly finding a solution. However moaning without a point or suggested resolution can lose respect. There’s a time and a place for speaking openly. If you need to talk candidly and honestly, note who’s in the room.
# 7 – Trust your crew
Towards the end of the episode “Hollow Pursuits” the Enterprise mysteriously accelerates to dangerous warp speeds, exceeding design specifications, while the engineering team work furiously to discover and resolve the problem. The rest of the crew can only watch and wait as the ship counts down to hull breach and certain death.
The action is focused on La Forge and Barclay eliminating all possible causes of the problem and slowing the ship. However I can’t help but admire the composure of the crew on the bridge, their patience and trust in the engineers is incredible, staying out of the way so they can work, while they can do nothing but quickly hurtle towards doom.
Their composure allows the rest of the team to continue doing their job properly no matter what the circumstances.
It is integral that you trust your team to play their roles. Avoid micromanagement at any cost! While for many of us, our lives don’t depend on being trusted to do our jobs, the strength of a team comes from the trust we have for one another. We will be more successful if we trust those around us.
# 8 – Don’t talk down to anyone – Respect every member of your team
When Captain Picard talks one-to-one with the crew he would replicate them a cup of “tea, Earl Grey, hot”. An important act of respect before engaging them in conversation.
The Enterprise is structured by a strict and clear hierarchy, however the Captain talked to everyone as an equal, showing them respect no matter what their position.
Remember that it doesn’t matter where you’re at in your career, you’re no more or less important than anyone else. You’re all playing a required role and should treat everyone with the same respect you would expect from them.
# 9 – Question the Captain’s intentions and encourage debate
A heated back-and-forth between the Captain and Commander Riker would often feature in episodes of TNG. While this made for great television, from a team management standpoint it demonstrates a key feature in the Captain’s relationship with his team.
The Captain welcomed debate and professional criticisms, even though he was leading the ship, he understood the value of hearing out his team and making an informed decision based on different viewpoints.
Not only does discussion over someone’s intentions lead to better outcomes, it also allows communication of context around a decision and a chance to explain. From a scientific perspective, it is proven that people consider things from different angles when explaining them out loud and often leads to better decision making overall.
More importantly though, having a culture whereby anyone can (respectfully) question their leader’s intentions is incredibly healthy and important in allowing an open and safe culture of communication and harmonious team dynamics.
#10 – Lead from the front
See point 1. After considering all these other tips for great team management, the most important by far is to lead from the front, lead by example, and encourage others by acting in a way you wish the team to act.
Encouraging a team to follow principles like these only works if you start by encouraging yourself to follow them. Leaders should lead by example to solidify ideals amongst the team, and to inspire and earn the respect they require.
So there you have it. My 10 learnings on team management from all 178 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So, next time you sit down for your lunch break, why not chill out to a mind-blowingly awesome episode of TNG and observe the stellar team dynamics first hand!
In 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation aired for the first time. Written by Gene Roddenberry, it ran until 1994, spanning 178 episodes over seven seasons.