To back up the Excellence themes presented at awareness-raising sessions, training, workshops, conferences, etc. with storytelling, Pilgrim Support has selected stories that have certain points in common. They have to:

  • Captivate and hold attention
  • Facilitate understanding and memorisation
  • Promote buy-in
  • Increase involvement
  • Encourage action (*)

We've brought all of these points together in stories:

  • That are true and authentic: nothing else has the power of a first-hand testimonial
  • In which teams, individuals and leaders show the best of themselves in (often) difficult circumstances 

The credibility and power of these stories are enhanced with:

  • Photos, videos and period audio files
  • Drawings (comic strips)

In addition to many targeted short stories and anecdotes, we also have three full-length stories that can be used as a common thread for an intervention or a training journey.

(*) You can explore these characteristics and many other fascinating teachings in the excellent book Made to stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. 

SARC-6 onboard the Leopold I

Apollo 13

You go, we go

Apollo 13

It was on 13 April 1970 at 9:08 pm that the astronauts said "Houston, we’ve had a problem here" (*). At that moment, no one had the slightest inkling that NASA was about to live through the most turbulent event of the race to the Moon or, and especially, its "finest hour."

While NASA's greatest success was Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's Moon landing in July 1969, everyone agrees that it was during the Apollo 13 mission that it had its "finest hour", to quote the words Gene Kranz used in the control room on 17 April 1970 ("I believe that bringing this crew back safe and sound will be our finest hour").

Apollo 13 provides a true demonstration of Excellence.

The race to the Moon and the Apollo 13 mission, in particular, are universal and timeless and can be read as formidable case studies of:

  • Project management
  • Crisis management
  • Change management, agility and innovation schools

(*) and not "Houston, we have a problem" as in the "Apollo 13" film.


They also provide a wealth of essential and powerful examples of Excellence:

  • Empowerment: the story provides many powerful examples of top-down empowerment and of empowerment between colleagues and departments
  • Inspiring leadership: Kennedy's speeches about the team leaders and the words and acts of leadership were truly "inspiring"
  • Teamwork: team rotation, flexibility and adaptation to unusual conditions demonstrate many of the characteristics of stimulating and effective teamwork
  • The "Quality chain": several examples enable us to understand the importance of the "Quality chain" in which everyone in the organisation is a client and a supplier to the other
  • The ability to ask for help: the impressive state-of-the-art expertise of the NASA teams was equalled only by their members' humbleness and ability to ask for help
  • Learning from mistakes: the Apollo 13 tragedy teaches us how to learn from our mistakes 
  • Recognition of work and skills: many examples of recognition appear throughout the Apollo 13 mission 
  • Communication: regular and transparent communication were the leitmotivs for both the ground teams and the crew
  • Etc.

The race to the Moon and the Apollo 13 mission are now part of History. And we can still learn a great deal from those who accomplished the impossible today. The teams, individuals and leaders all gave the best of themselves at all times both in the case of the remarkable Apollo 11 success and the successful Apollo 13 "failure".

And, in the end, that's what counts.


SARC-6 onboard the Leopold I

With "SARC-6 on board the Leopold I", we follow the final phase of Quality certification of a Belgian navy frigate: SARC-6 (Safety And Readiness Check - 6) which leads to "Ready for Duty" status authorising the ship to go out on mission.

The exercise provides an excellent opportunity to follow the teams (crew) and the non-commissioned and commissioned officers (support and management) in several illustrative demonstrations of Operational Excellence (see below).

The story reflects such a very high degree of realism and authenticity because it was created with the assistance and full support of the Navy. Validated by the Head of Defence and followed from start to finish by the Navy’s "boss", Rear Admiral Michel Hofman (*), it was created with significant involvement from the crew, the officers and Commander Renaud Flamant, the commanding officer of the Leopold I.

They worked with us to write the story script, carried out several days of exercises on the Leopold I (docked and at sea) and at the Damage Control Center (centre where sailors are trained in firefighting skills) in Ryckevelde (Bruges). 

(*) The ranks given are those the people involved in creating the story held in 2012.  

Among the themes worth the journey are:

  • Leadership: It's what we call the "3 C's" by Pilgrim, that is, "Command Aim", "Command Huddle" and "Command by Veto". These are very concrete and effective ways to transmit management's decisions, to involve the players and to practice manager delegation
  • Communication: quick, precise upward information transmission. ETBOL and NTTR will have no secrets for you
  • Process: mastering, measuring and improving processes
  • Teamwork: flexibility, self-control, training and practice
  • "Quality by Design": the frigate design is in itself a symbol of Quality
  • Safety: equipment maintenance, physical safety, exercises, visual communication, etc. are also covered here
  • Coordination and cooperation: exemplary cooperation between Belgian and Dutch navies provides many parallels and sources of inspiration for our own efforts at creating synergies
  • Etc.

You go, we go

We invite you to experience a 24-hour shift with the firefighters at the SIAMU (Fire and Emergency Medical Aid Service) in Brussels. Despite the inherent defects of all human organisations (which are also present in the Navy and NASA), these men and women (*) live Excellence every day. Rather than the sometimes heroic aspect of their work, it is really the daily pursuit of Excellence that is remarkable.

Quality is evident both in the field and at the fire station. It's often at the latter that the reasons for successful operations are found: in the training, exercises, planning, equipment maintenance, etc.

The title of our story "You go, we go" is taken from the film "Backdraft". This Hollywood action film is full of errors and clichés and gave many firefighters a good laugh...except on one point. At the most dramatic moment of the film, a firefighter is about to fall into the void. He tells the colleague holding him to "Let me go".  The colleague answers: "You go, we go". That gives the extra energy boost needed to get out of the perilous situation. But the "You go, we go" has a broader meaning. It should be understood as "You go, we go", "You do it, we do it".

Firefighters think, live and act...together. The environment provides excellent examples of teamwork. 

(*) There are also women working as firefighters nowadays.

As in the case in the Leopold I story, the authenticity of our story comes from the heart of the fire station itself. It was following some 24-hour shifts with them, riding the fire trucks and talking to the men and women about how they handle situations that we were able to get to the heart of what drives them and what creates Excellence.  

It was expressed in the following themes, in particular:

  • Teamwork: the "two-in, two-out" principle (exploration and attack mission), ramping up resources, successive on-duty shifts, the concept of shift turnover, cooperation with other forces (police, civil protection) and the buddy system
  • Quality chain: the example of cleaning and maintaining self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) is significant in this respect
  • Communication: taking calls at the 112 emergency centre introduces active listening via a Heimlich manoeuvre carried out over the telephone, managing others, clear communication and the need to provide positive reinforcement
  • Learning: the need for training, practice and experience; the ramping up of resources during training, training in new techniques or with new equipment (Cobra fire hose), accident simulation, etc.
  • Coordination: an extrication from a vehicle provides the most impressive example of operational Excellence in action we have ever seen
  • Client focus: the rescue of a hysterical victim who resisted being rescued reminds us that the client is always the client, regardless if they are rude, resist, act in bad faith or are ungrateful
  • Work until the task is complete: a rescue at a dry cleaner shows us the importance of finishing every task
  • Self-control and managing others: how do you stay calm and get out when you're in a basement with no oxygen in your tanks? We follow Axel and Erwan to find out...
  • Leadership: how does the lieutenant exercise their authority? How does he motivate his people? How does he acknowledge their efforts? 
  • Etc.

We would like to thank Johan Schoups, Deputy Managing Director of the SIAMU, Major Alain Gibson and Lieutenants Karel Lambert, Philippe Evrard and Jean-Marie Ledeghem.