Stargate Universe may seem to be a gritty show about solving the nigh-insoluble and surviving on the ragged edge of the cosmos — but it's actually evolved into a series of lessons for the business world.
"I have faith in our ability to repair this ship, and to work together." - Dr. Rush
When Stargate: Universe was released earlier this fall, I began to find some similarities between elements of the show and the final preparations within my own workplace, which was undergoing a reorganization to streamline its business processes. The very nature of SG:U has made it a very different animal than you'd expect from Stargate.
With earlier shows SG-1 and Atlantis focusing on exploration, diplomacy and intergalactic cooperation as major elements, Universe is a far more personal story that focuses on teamwork and team-building. The pilot saw our heroes escaping through the only route possible: an unknown open wormhole. With no preparation, the refugees reached the ancient ship Destiny, only to find that their problems were far from over, and that they were several billion light years from home, with no chance of rescue.
The business world has been evolving of late: strict hierarchies and military-like chains of command are shifting, in favor of a collaborative, team-oriented model, that's designed to increase productivity, but also foster innovation and creativity. Coming from a school and workplace deeply seeped in military tradition, I've found the combined civilian military workplace an interesting one, to say the least. Onboard the Destiny, there is a similar dynamic: a strict military hierarchy, mixed with a group of civilian specialists. In this particular environment, a strict military hierarchy isn't what will save the crew - only by fully utilizing the full strengths of each crew member can they survive.
"In boot camp, you have plenty of opportunity to learn from your mistakes." - Col. Young
So at its core, SGU is about teamwork, in ways that are far different than other shows such as Battlestar Galactica or Jericho. From the first episode, SGU's entire refugee population has been composed of a group of people who were not only completely unprepared for the planned mission, but even for the job of surviving.
And unlike Jericho's earthbound post-apocalyptic situation, survival aboard the Destiny is no simple task. In the pilot, we discover the refugees have no idea where they are, and the stability of their environment is also in question.
Once aboard Destiny, the makeshift crew gathers and audits its resources — crew members are vetted for their skill set and find their own roles within their new situation, making do with the supplies that they were able to bring on board.
To some extent, this isn't all that far off from any sort of business, aside from the unusual location and the immediate peril. Business processes exist in a fairly hostile and competitive world, one in which the survival of the business often depends on the efforts of the employees who work for it - especially in enterprises that depend on customer service. Trying to turn a business into a more inclusive team structure where everyone collaborates creates similar issues. In the old model, you had departments compartmentalized, and only limited information went from one area to another, which held the organization back. So newer structures use the collective strengths of everyone in the organization, with each section based on a specific task, instead of having many "microcosm" structures within the larger entity.
"Welcome back, SG-1." - Gen. Hammond
To some extent, we've seen this difference before, with the first Stargate show, SG-1. Stargate Command marshalled away teams of four people, each with a general specific function within the organization, but each containing smaller sub-specialties of combat, science and leadership. This worked for some missions, but at other points, it was a devastating mistake. Away teams would fall out of contact with Stargate Command, leaving other teams to investigate their whereabouts — at times, unclear on what the original team's specific mission on that planet had been, what their experiences were with locals and how they'd ended up going missing. Similarly, away teams would encounter issues that they were unable to cope with, because of a lack of specialization within their team — often, this created problems, diplomatically, scientifically and militarily. The SG-1 survived the longest, most likely, because of a diverse range of skills and the teamwork that prevailed within that particular group.
The characters of SG:U, despite the similarities with a combined military / civilian structure, approach things in a much different fashion: because they have to. Away teams aren't preset groups. In the first episode, we see a combined team that includes Rush, a military escort and several scientists - most notably, a geologist - to try and track down a specific type of rock that could be used in the ship's atmospheric filtering system. Other teams have included similar structures, based on the needs of the mission.
"You're in command of that ship. It's not a democracy." - Gen. O'Neill
SGU's Colonel Young has several major, somewhat conflicting responsibilities for those in his care — and the first, as demonstrated in the first couple episodes, is to preserve the lives of those onboard the failing ship, and this is precisely why he has butted heads with not only Rush, but also his immediate superiors on Earth. While the Icarus Project is something that the entire group seemed to be gearing up for, they're unprepared to fulfill some of the basic requirements of that particular mission: to stay alive.
With the immediate issue of survival seemingly taken care of — they have air, water and food, as dealt with in successive adventures — the crew can begin to look towards their second priority, ensuring their survival by either returning home, or repairing the ship. This would allow them to either fulfill the original mission, while they are on board the ship, or allow for a transfer of personnel to ultimately fulfill the mission.
How does this apply to the business world? To a large extent, this story is about survival and the ability to adapt, while keeping an original mission in focus. The military has numerous examples of this sort of leadership style and mentality, which occupy the extreme end of the spectrum, since these scenarios are often life-or-death situations. With a workplace, the same is true, although there will be less blood and few bullet holes in the walls. In the world of business, problems are to be expected. Supplies run short, vendors fail to deliver, markets drastically change, and so on.
So it's no wonder that teams need to be dynamic, fluid and attentive, rethinking the mission parameters on the fly. When the American 4th Infantry Division had to land at Normandy Beach, General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. knew he had to land his troops, or the rest of the Normandy invasion would fail. But he also used his own judgment from observations of the field, rather than sticking rigidly to the original plan or waiting for instructions — doing what it took to achieve the objective of the day. So too, has Col. Young, by using his judgment to ensure the safety of his crew. Without them, the Icarus Project would be wasted, and the mission would fail. Col. Young clearly understands the priorities of the mission, and so demonstrates a positive example of leadership under fire.
Any company faced with major problems such as these might find themselves unprepared for a new business environment that threatens its survival. In these instances, there is a responsibility on the part of the leaders to ensure that survival continues, whether that is on the part of a CEO, a General in the field or a fictional Colonel on a ship several billion light years from home.