What Families Can Learn from Turtles and Geese

Habit 5: How Collaboration Helps Your Family Win

Althea Gibson once said, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” That is especially true for families, and turtles and geese can help demonstrate the essential habit of collaboration.


Our house is filled with a collection of all sorts of turtles; in fact, I’ve lost count of how many turtles we actually have.  We have them scattered around to serve as a reminder of the turtle question, inspired by our dear friend Don Seltzer, whom I’ve mentioned before.

The question Don asks is, Have you ever seen a turtle on a fencepost? The obvious next question is, How would a turtle even get on a fencepost?

Even our kids all know that there’s no turtle in the world that can climb to the top of a fencepost by itself.  If you see a turtle on a fencepost, you can rest assured someone put it there.

The lesson the question teaches is this: the metaphoric fenceposts of life are your accomplishments. Whatever you are able to achieve, you can rest assured that somebody—or several somebodies—helped you get there, and the help you get often comes in the form of collaboration.

One of my favorite quotes on collaboration comes from Nicholas Sparks: “Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary just by doing them with the right people.”

Collaboration is such a critical habit for families that win.  It’s also not easy to do, because we’re more naturally wired to compete than we are to collaborate.  And that’s especially true with our kids!

They’re inclined to be more competitive than they are collaborative.  That’s why we must, as parents, be intentional about collaboration and how we model it.

How to Foster the Habit of Collaboration in the Family

Step 1. Facilitate.  Parents who win know their role is to serve the family and model a process that will help them all do good work.  Highly collaborative parents are able to step into their facilitator role at at moment’s notice and apply their collaborative capabilities to whatever challenge confronts the family.

Step 2: Marinate. What is marinating?  When a family is together they often talk over top of each other.  It’s not always a bad thing; interruptions can be a sign of interest, excitement, or energy.  But this world around us is spinning so fast that it seems we don’t want to wait anymore.  Being a highly collaborative parent means allowing some time for things to sit, soak, and settle in before going off to another topic.  There’s really no rush when it comes to the most important things in a family.

Step 3: Validate. Parents who create a culture of collaboration maintain collaborative momentum by listening to and validating the contributions of others.  It’s not about whether you agree or not; you just have to affirm that you understand their views, ideas, or opinions.  Highly collaborative parents aren’t afraid that they won’t be heard.  They don’t stress about whether their idea will be best.  They don’t shoot down the ideas or contributions of the other family members or shut their kids down.  They don’t stifle creativity and creative environments or situations.  They work to draw their family out, to encourage a collaborative environment and help their family to do the best they can with what they’ve got.

Lessons in Collaboration—from Geese

In addition to the steps parents can take, we can learn valuable lessons about collaboration for our families from understanding why geese fly in a V-formation.


Scientists have discovered that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird behind it.  By flying in a V-formation, the whole flock adds over 70% greater flying range than if they flew on their own.

Like geese, families who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they’re going quicker and easier by traveling on the momentum of one another.

There are five points that we can really learn from these geese that apply to family collaboration:

  1. Geese fly together. By doing so, they provide additional lift to the geese flying in the back of the pack. Families who share common values and a common goal or destination all arrive at the destination faster because they are lifted by the energy, enthusiasm, and momentum of one another.
  1. Flying together makes everything easier. When a goose drops out of the formation, it requires more energy and effort to fly on its own. When a family member breaks away, he or she finds that everything gets more difficult.
  1. Geese share the responsibility of leadership. In the V-formation, when the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back so another goose can fly point. When a family is functioning well and winning, various members of the family may take on leadership roles for a while. For example, our kids now love to take turns leading on our family meetings! In families that win, everyone should have the opportunity to serve as a leader as well as a follower.
  1. Geese honk at each other. They frequently honk to communicate with each other during flight.  When you’re working as a family, communication is vitally important. In my post last week, I talked about how important it is to communicate regularly with all members of your family. Constant communication among members of the family is critical to collaborating as a family.
  1. Geese help each other. When a goose becomes ill and falls out of formation, two geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend their protection. They stay with the goose until it’s able to fly, or until it dies.  Only then do the two others launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group.  It is the ultimate example of collaboration. If our families will stand by each other in good times and bad, then we can all be families that win.

Question: In what area does your family currently struggle with working together toward a common goal?  What intentional steps can you take to improve collaboration? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.


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