What can living on a submarine teach us about leadership and teamwork?

What can living on a submarine teach us about leadership and teamwork?

How would you cope if you were to live on a submarine for months on end? What stresses and strains would you feel? What demands would living in such an environment place on your relationships with others on board?

These are all questions that occupied the mind of William Schutz, an American psychologist who studied human relationships. He studied how people behaved in confined areas and submarines provided a perfect environment to undertake this research. Schutz discovered that people have different wants and needs. In particular to:

  • Feel included and include others.
  • Be in control and be controlled.
  • Be open or less open with others.

These variables each impacted on the leadership and teamwork, providing a useful way of understanding and then improving group dynamics within teams. 

From his work, Schutz developed the FIRO B instrument. FIRO stands for Fundamental Interpersonal Relationships Orientation. B relates to the Behaviour. Using FIRO B is a very useful way of exploring the dynamics that take place when people are together. In particular it measures our:

  • Desire to want to involve others and be involved ourselves.
  • Need to influence others and the extent to which we allow ourselves to be influenced.
  • Willingness to connect with others and the levels of closeness we are comfortable with.

Less well known than other psychometrics such as Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI),16PF, Insights etc., the FIRO B is very simple to use and easy to understand. It has many uses including:

  • Leadership development.
  • Team building.
  • Developing training and facilitation skills.

Understanding your own FIRO B scores is very insightful. For example:

  • It shows where you may over compensate by taking control or how maybe how you let others influence you.
  • Your FIRO B scores will indicate how much you like to include others or maybe work alone.
  • How close or distant you prefer to be with others will also be measured.

Putting these dimensions together provides an overall FIRO B profile. This is very useful to support leadership skills and relationship building within business and organisations. Understanding FIRO B is also helpful in understanding the dynamics in customer and sales relationships. 

The benefit of using FIRO B increases when used with others. Understanding others’ profiles is very helpful in developing teamwork. Team strengths and weaknesses are identified. Areas of potential conflict are highlighted. Increased understanding develops empathy. Overall, using FIRO B increases emotional intelligence and builds employee engagement.

If you’re interested in developing your leadership skills or want to improve team work in your business, then do consider using FIRO B. Contact me for more information. I'll be delighted to help.


Paul Beesley, director & senior consultant, Beyond Theory

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