The crew of an aircraft begin their duty period with a routine that sets them up for the success of that flight. They collect information about the weather conditions at their departure, destination and alternate airports, their assigned aircraft, and fuel and payload requirements. They discuss how these may affect each other and start to undertake their individual responsibilities in preparation for the flight. No matter what those responsibilities may be, they will check back in with each other at various stages to ensure they all reach a corresponding point of readiness that allows them to depart on schedule.
Different captains have their own way of leading this first half hour, and each individual crew member will add their own flavour. Whilst the information discussed may be routine, the conclusions drawn and the intricacies of this first hour are anything but. The way this initial process is led by the captain sets the tone for the day and creates an atmosphere where the crew contribute meaningfully to making sure that everyone is on the same page, and aware of what they need to know to carry out their role successfully.
Sometimes the tone may be formal, especially with a more senior captain or if there is a degree of training or evaluation involved in the flight. Often, the tone is more that of relaxed camaraderie – a healthy degree of banter tempered with the edge that professionals bring to what they do. Either way, nothing is taken for granted in these communications, however familiar they may become.
The conversations within this time allow a captain to evaluate his crew, and to check in with how each of them are doing. Experience will tell him if a crew member is a little off their stride and whether or not he will have to account for it, sometimes making a mental note to try and unpack that at some stage of the flight. As a crew, their sharing allows them to evaluate each other’s needs so that they can make small adjustments to fit better as a crew that day.
Discussing the weather, fuel and other considerations allows the crew to build a broader perspective together. An experienced captain may use these discussions to think out loud so that other crew can “see” that thinking. He may encourage a less experienced first officer to do the same; unpacking, challenging and expanding their thinking. Open discussion of the flight between both flight crew and cabin crew allows appreciation of how the roles intertwine, builds the perspective of both, and allow them to find ways to best serve each other.
One of the most important elements of this communication is that it breads relationship – building trust, allowing laughter, sharing energy and experience. This is a drip-fed investment into relationship that will both benefit the crew that day and generate compound interest should they fly together again. If a crew has to handle an emergency together, they will rely on the connection they’ve consciously or subconsciously invested in to underpin their reliance on each other and speed their response. There will be no time then for unpacking of any armour they may have suited themselves in before coming to work. No tolerance for masks or walls. Only straight-shooting reliance and trust.
For those of us working in teams outside of aviation, we need to ask ourselves what we can take from this example to help benefit us in the success of our own operations; to energise ourselves and our teams, to underpin our reliance on each other and to speed our response.
Let me put it to you another way:
How many of you would like to operate your role or department using only the contents of your own personal bank account? Can you imagine the restrictions? The anxiety of evaluating how much you could give without leaving your own needs and those of your family in deficit before month end? The chances are good that you’d have to seriously reign in your goals and intentions, keep a very close eye on expenditure, and perhaps even deal with knowing you were starting without the resources to finish the job.
Most of us would far rather operate using the broader capabilities of the business or company bank account we operate under. Not only would the resources be considerably more conducive, but the flow of funds not be directly contingent on you alone. There would be room for larger goals, discussions about higher targets and growth, and the sharing of responsibility, input and experience.
Why, then, are so many of us determined to operate solely within our own energy currently, withdrawing into our own guarded spaces to preserve the limited energy that we have left? We view each person who asks for any of our energy as demanding – do they not understand how little we have to ration and how much we need to keep ourselves going? We view meetings and requests to share information as drains on our resources and resist those drains with a vengeance.
Perhaps it would be worth adjusting our perspective so that we can draw on the broader and more conducive pool of energy that being part of a team should give access to? Perhaps it would be worth considering the value of sharing our energy in a similar way to aircrew – discussing the tasks at hand, building our perspective of how our roles intertwine and how we can best serve each other, finding our best route forward – all the while bantering and laughing at ourselves when we inevitably glitch as human beings. The energy of a good laugh is not to be underestimated.
Every time we share our energy as team members, and have conversations instead of “meetings”, we drip-feed our investment into the relationships we have with each other. We build the trust and connection within that team. We deposit into the balance of the combined bank account of pooled team energy. We earn the right to draw on that balance as the ebb and flow of that energy serves the team’s needs.
We are each responsible for bringing our energetic contribution to the team and for ensuring our positive transactions add value. However, there is no expectation that each of us will be flush all the time. Some days will be tougher than others. Leaner than others. Some days we’ll need to draw on the reserves of the team and ask them to share their energy with us. That is where our relationships come into play. That is where every small connection that we allowed rather than guarding ourselves against pays it forward.
The definition of “meeting” is coming together. If your meetings aren’t about coming together to share conversation, energy and connection – then you may be going about it wrong. If you’re not broadening each other’s perspectives with the conversations you have, then you’re missing the mark. If you’re not creating small connections every day that elevate the trust and value of your team so that if and when tougher requirements hit you can draw on each other, then you may wish to reconsider your own contribution and the contributions that you’re encouraging as a leader.
Instead of putting your armour on every day, remaining stoic and having the short conversation that doesn’t require investment; try sharing something of yourself, tell them how you lost it yesterday and had to laugh at yourself afterwards, and see whether it doesn’t encourage more connection on which to draw. We each have a responsibility for self, but we are responsible for each other too. We are responsible for having each other’s backs. We are responsible for checking in with each other and for creating and holding space for each other to contribute to. Where can you create and encourage opportunities to connect today?
by Christen Killick
March 1st, 2021