Using Clean to reduce conflict in the most remote teams on earth

by Judy Rees  - January 3, 2024

The Australian Antarctic Division sends field teams of scientists to spend the summer living and working together in one of the remotest places on earth.

Teams were experiencing high levels of conflict: people would come back at the end of their assignment saying: “I never want to do that again.”

But managers based in Tasmania weren’t in a position to intervene effectively during the field season, because of the distances involved. They wanted to find a way to prepare before departure so that they would be ready to get along really quickly and perform well together, both at work and as a social group.

They decided to train team members in basic Clean Language skills, and to support them to discover their own metaphors for what they were like when they were working at their best.

They also established a shared metaphor for the team when it was working at its best: like the microbial communities that they studied in the soil, which can adjust/change/adapt according to the extreme conditions that it’s exposed to.

The biggest difference it made was that team members came back at the end of the season saying, “That was the best field season I’ve ever had, and I really want to do that again!” This improved staff retention had significant economic and scientific benefits.

Manager Greg Hince said: “People are able to creatively use their ways of doing their job together, without needing external intervention or or conflict resolution or anything like that. They’re just able to do what they need to do and rely on each other.”

This case study is based on an interview with Greg Hince from 2017, pre-pandemic. Watch the video here:

Today, in 2024, Greg reports: “These days I’m only working 20% with the Antarctic Program and not involved much with team training. Some people use Clean Language pretty regularly (often without realising) so it’s a common approach now, although I’m not sure it’s used as a deliberate facilitation process.”

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