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When Stars and Teams Align: A Lesson from the Miraculous Rescue of Chile's Miners

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"Chi-Chi-Chi, Le-Le-Le. Los mineros de Chile!"

If these words don't make your heart sing or your eyes water, what possibly will?

More than two months in the making, the rescue of the 33 miners trapped in Chile is one of those rare moments that the entire world can enjoy simultaneously. It's especially uplifting as the global recession drags on, and American elections devolve into mud-slinging.

Thanks to achievements in Chile, there's reason to sing. From the images of loved ones tearfully reuniting at Camp Hope to the sight of a grateful President embracing the rescuers, the saga in San Jose is an inspiration for all.

It's also a powerful lesson about the value of individual achievement and teamwork.

As most professionals know, superstars and teams do not always mix easily. But when they do so successfully, they can create enough force to move a mountain--or at least tunnel through it, as in Chile.

Give credit to the organizers behind the unprecedented rescue. Faced with a challenge of monumental proportions, they had the foresight to recruit individual superstars with specialized skills, and develop capable teams that could carry out an array of critical tasks. By doing both, organizers accomplished what few thought possible: They kept alive nearly three dozen men trapped 2,100 feet underground for 69 days. And they did it in one of the most remote places on earth.

Remarkable in every way.

Take the escape shaft. To rescue the miners, officials needed to bore directly into the chamber where the men were trapped. That meant drilling a tunnel through 2,000 feet of shifting rock at an 80-degree angle to an exact spot. In the mining world, there aren't many people with the confidence and skill required to take on this task, especially with so many lives at stake.

In need of a superstar like no other, Chilean mining officials put out a call to American Jeff Hart. They located him in Afghanistan, where he was drilling wells for American troops. Hart flew to Chile and immediately got to work. While two other drillers tried to reach the miners through different routes, Hart's "Plan B" was the only one to break through. Though he later downplayed his accomplishment, TV commentators and mine officials were effusive with their praise. After reaching the miners on Saturday, the 40-year old father of two from Denver became a national hero.

So did other superstars, including the doctors who provided medical and psychological advice, and the NASA engineer who devised the now-familiar "Fenix" rescue capsule.

Of all the superstars who contributed to the rescue, perhaps none was more important than Luis Alberto Iribarren. A 54-year old Chilean shift supervisor, he was the last miner to be rescued. While underground, he took charge of the workers and helped improve morale and safety. He rationed food and provided a map of the chamber for rescuers above. During the darkest days of the ordeal, when escape seemed uncertain, he corralled his colleagues to exercise, eat and maintain their hygiene. He also encouraged them to sing with gusto, inspiring teams of construction crews and logistical experts above ground.

The importance of teamwork both above and below the ground cannot be overstated. Take Hart's contributions. Though he was the lead driller, he was supported by a cast of hundreds. South African construction giant Murray & Roberts, for example, provided a drill and six engineers. Other nations sent geologists and construction experts to aid in the cause.

Then there were the Chileans themselves. They quickly organized into teams that provided everything from medial support to communications assistance to the 2,000 members of the media who converged on the mountain to cover the event. In all, government and mining officials coordinated hundreds of teams of food workers, sanitation experts, transportation providers and safety officials.

Below the surface, teamwork was equally impressive. Mario Sepulveda, a 40-year old electrician, managed food distribution. Victor Segovia worked as underground reporter, chronicling every event that happened, while Jonny Barrios, the son of a diabetic mother, served as the miners' unofficial medical expert.

By leveraging the contributions of individual superstars and well-coordinated teams, Chile pulled off a magnificent rescue that will never be forgotten.

With a song in its heart and a tear in its eye, a grateful world stands in awe.

Inder Sidhu is the Senior Vice President of Strategy & Planning for Worldwide Operations at Cisco, and the author of Doing Both: How Cisco Captures Today's Profits and Drives Tomorrow's Growth. Follow Inder on Twitter at @indersidhu.