No Triangles

Peter Cramer

At a recent conference I listened to a presentation by Rachael Robertson – an adventurous  young lady who applied for and got the role of leading the 58th expedition to the Antartica for a 12 months period and where they knew they  were ‘stuck’ for many months as it was impossible due to ice and snow and weather to enable anyone or anything to be shipped in or out.

She was their leader and had to work though strategies to keep them all working toward their common cause – and not go mad and kill each other!

Rachael shared some interesting insights and stories of her time there.  I particularly liked two points:

  1. Respect trumps harmony, every time
  2. No triangles

The first point was that in group or team operations, it is far better to foster respect for each other – and respect each persons’ opinion, thoughts and ideas – (even if you disagreed) than to try have everyone agree with each other and no-one ‘rock the boat’.  The reality is that there will be disagreement in a group and people will not always get on.  However if there is respect for each other’s words, culture and thinking, (even if you don’t necessarily like the person) then the team can survive….and achieve.

The second point -: “No Triangles” – Rachael advises her leadership strategy was as follows:

The best way to deal with an issue is directly with the other person.

We all face difficult or troublesome situations from time to time. Your own experiences will tell you that when you make the effort to deal directly with the other person the chances of a good outcome increase tremendously.

We know this, yet we often find it much easier to ‘rope in’ others.

Sometimes the idea of confronting an issue head-on can be just too difficult. What if they react badly? What if I don’t have the ‘killer response’ to their objection? We are worried about the response we might get so, instead we will often shop an issue around. It might be to see if other people have the same issue or to bolster support. It might be so the other person hears it from someone else. Or it might be simply to make it go away.

When we create a ‘triangle’, we create a new set of problems

The problems with this approach are numerous. Firstly, we are telling the other person that we don’t have the courage to face them, which is bad for us. Secondly, we are telling the other person that we don’t trust them to have an honest and open conversation. And thirdly, we involve other people who may not really want to be involved in the first place. There is also the chance our words can be repeated, out of context, which can compound the issue.

Implement No Triangles to foster respect, innovation and build productivity

In Antarctica I created the policy of No Triangles – simply, you don’t talk to that person about me, and I want talk to them about you. When a team practices No Triangles, that team has more respect and is more innovative and productive because they have the courage to have direct and sometimes confrontational, conversations.

Please refer to for more information on her experiences and leadership strategies – and her time in Antartica.  She was a fascinating speaker!