USAir 1549: Great Team, Strategy, and Near Perfect Execution After reflecting on the miraculous flight of USAirways Flight 1549, I’ve come to believe the miracle, and it was a miracle, was only possible because a great team built a great strategy and great strategy enabled a great performance.

Great Team

Teams are the fundamental building block of every successful organization. They do all the thinking and take all the action.

The USAir team was highly trained and very experienced. They had been preparing for this possibility for 30 years. Captain Sullenberger got his pilots license in his teens, graduated number one in his class at the Airforce Academy, and flew gliders. With a glider you have one shot to land it. There are no “do overs.” You’ve got to plan your energy.

In addition, it needs to be all about the team, not the individual. The deputy director of public safety for New York state said after meeting Sully said: “He said to me in the most unaffected, humble way, ‘That what we train to do.’ No boasting, no emotion, no nothing.”

Great Strategy

Great strategies are developed by teams. Great strategy come out of a process where many alternatives are iteratively considered. Great strategies give you focus. They give you clarity. Strategies help you choose by illuminating your pathway to the outcome you desire.

As we heard in the conversation between cockpit and tower, the captain and his team developed their landing strategy iteratively. LaGuardia first, then the Hudson, then the possibility of Teterboro, and then back to the Hudson. “Sully” then focused and gave the Hudson strategy his full and complete attention. He didn’t second guess it. At the same time, the co-pilot was giving his full attention to restarting the engine. Is this two competing strategies? I think not. Re-starting the engines represented that sandbox were we put a small amount of resource to explore alternatives.

Near Perfect Execution

A great strategy leads to great performance. Strategy and action are flip sides of the same coin. Great performance occurs when we act with confidence and commitment. It occurs when we give people freedom to act and accountability for the outcomes. It occurs when we can measure our progress

Sully’s confident and commitment was clear. There was no panic in his voice. He had practiced this possibility before. He and his co-pilot acted as a team, each taking care of specific responsibilities… Sully was not a one-man band. The co-pilot gave his full attention to restarting the engines. In fact, the captain had to both fly the plan and work the radio. He was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen. In addition, the flight attendants were focused on getting passengers ready and then choreographing an incredibly rapid exit. In two minutes most, if not all, passengers were off the plane.

Once again, we see that great teams, strategy, and action are the building blocks of BREAKTHROUGH performance, especially in bad times.