The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 10, 2011

Mike Pound: Winning teams in place before the tornado struck

By Mike Pound

— We don’t have many big meetings here in the newsroom.

I think, in part, that’s because nobody wants to spend much time in a room full of newspaper people. That’s what I think.

But we had a newsroom meeting, of sorts, on Wednesday. We talked a bit about our collective experiences relating to the May 22 tornado with Kenny Irby from the Poynter Institute. I don’t know much about the Poynter Institute because I think it deals with real journalism issues, and, as I think is pretty obvious, I’m not a real journalist. I play one sometimes, but I’m not one.

During our meeting, Kenny had us split into small groups of four and asked us to identify a group or an organization that impressed us with its response to the tornado. I think we were split into five separate groups. (Note: Real journalists typically do not start a sentence with the words “I think.”) After a few minutes, Kenny asked each group to name the group or organization that impressed it the most. Out of the five groups or reporters, editors and photographers, four picked the Joplin School District.

I thought that was something.

It’s been my experience that newspaper reporters rarely agree on anything. It sometimes takes newspaper folks a week to order pizza. But on Wednesday, four out of five groups agreed that the school district did a great job coming together after the tornado.

Again, I think that’s something.

To be fair, the school district was not the only group that was singled out by the newsroom folks. We also gave high grades to the area churches that all seemed to set denominations aside to work for the common good of everyone affected by the tornado. The city of Joplin also was applauded, as were the emergency workers who converged on the area, and, of course, the army of volunteers who came and are still coming to Joplin.

I think what we decided in that meeting was that a whole bunch of folks came together as a team almost immediately after the tornado hit the ground.

But even though the storm may have brought all of those people together, it did not create those teams. Those teams, those groups, were already in place before the tornado struck. They had to have been because there wasn’t enough time to create a team in the aftermath of the storm.

There is no way the school district would have been able to do the things it did immediately after the tornado if it didn’t already have a strong team in place. Let’s face it, if you waited until after May 22 to put a team and a playbook together, you were much too late.

The tornado did not create teams. It just gave them an opponent on which to focus.

Since the storm, we’ve all heard about how the tornado brought people together. How the tornado caused people to do amazing things in extraordinary times. How the tornado brought out the good in people.

And I guess all of that is true. But it also seems to me that people were pretty much already together before the tornado. People have always had the power to do amazing things in extraordinary times. And people have always had a lot of good in them. People have always had a tremendous capacity to pull together and succeed when success seems impossible.

All the tornado did was remind us of that.