Are You A Group Or A Team?

One of the most valuable mindsets that aviation trains for is known as maintaining The Big Picture.  This means maintaining full perspective on everything that’s happening around us, how it fits together, and how all the moving parts may affect each other and our progress.  This situational awareness comes from cultivating an overlap of knowledge of our own field with an appreciation for all the fields that contribute in any way to our outcomes. 
We maintain constant communication with and scan of the other inputs, be they other crew members, air traffic control, the ops office, or our instrument panels to make sure that we have up-to-date information, and others are aware of what we’re going to do next.  It might sound like complicated hard work, but really it’s about paying attention and anticipating where things may go so that we’re prepared when they do.  It’s a practiced and therefore habitual sharing of information that keeps action fluid and allows us to move as a team.

“The distinction between a group and a team is an important one.  All teams are groups, but not all groups are teams.  A group consists of people who work together but can do their jobs without one another.  A team is a group of people who cannot do their jobs, at least not effectively, without the other members of their team.” (Spector, 2012, p. 303)

It may sound easier to be able to do your job without others – to keep your head down and just do what you do within your own space, only looking up or communicating when overlap with others requires you to do so.  There are times when this approach may be valid, but not for extended periods of time, or not without adding serious degrees of risk to the accomplishment of your own ventures and your effect on those around you.
When we encourage conversations with those we team with, we learn more about what they do and they learn more about us too.  This means that the perspective of everyone involved is broadened and colour is added to what can be imagined.  It means that we can start to see potential areas of improvement and mitigation of risk in the spaces we overlap.  These insights can become pre-emptive conversations that allow us to keep our workflow fluid and ultimately move with greater speed.

When we keep our heads down and our information to ourselves, we adopt the attitude of a large ocean freighter gliding effortlessly across the ocean, accomplishing our mission with grace and momentum that’s hard to stop.  Until we get to the more challenging parts where our course may narrow and the degree of difficulty increases, say like navigating the Suez Canal.  Keeping ourselves to ourselves means that we’re ultimately alone if and when we get into a tight spot.

If we maintain comms with the rest of our team and have pre-emptive conversations about the possible hazards and how we might handle them, it focuses us on the task at hand and the potential consequences of our actions.  It gives our team members a chance to help protect our path and do what they can to ease our passage until the course opens up again.  These conversations mean that everyone is alert and ready to support us in any eventuality and that extra care is taken to ensure our combined success.  The thought processes already had allows our team members to put preconceived plans into action should the need for support arise.
When we keep our heads down and our information to ourselves, the chances are good that we can get snagged up on unforeseen circumstances that will render not only us but the rest of our team unprepared, causing large delays and deviations, requiring workarounds not previously conceived of, at great cost.  Lack of preparation may also mean that those needed to dig us out of whatever situation has arisen will be ill-equipped to do so timeously, creating further pressure and irritation.
The value of everyday conversations we have within our teams where we share information about what we’ve got going on, and what our plans are to handle it cannot be underestimated.  Team briefing sessions that keep everyone abreast of goings-on may seem a waste of time to some, yet they keep the Big Picture forefront in the minds of the whole team.  Maintaining this Big Picture allows us to act in support of each other more than we realise, pre-empting possible risk early.  It allows us to see easier and more efficient ways of doing things long before snags with the old systems may have undermined us.
The more “commonplace” and habitual our sharing of information becomes, the greater perspective we maintain, and the more fluid our actions become.  The more fluid our actions become, the greater speed we maintain.  NOW we’re talking team, we’re talking action, we’re talking successful outcomes.  Which team members do you need to share perspective with today, and who can help to add to yours?

by Christen Killick

March 29th, 2021

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