Situational Awareness: Part 4 – Team SA

Team Situational AwarenessIn this post I will go over what Team Situational Awareness is, barriers, mitigation and touch on how it relates to a High Reliability Organization.  I will focus on communications as an important, the most important, aspect of Team SA.

In the previous post I went over what the barriers are to SA, specifically individual SA.  Along with identifying those barriers I also provided ways to overcome them and breakthrough bias.

Team SA is defined as every team member’s situational awareness integrated with every other team member and fully related to, and integrated with, the team leader. That’s a mouthful for the following:

  • Each team member has a specific responsibility -task- for a particular mission.
  • Each team member must have high level of SA for their area of responsibility.
  • Each team member must relay key pieces of their SA to all other team members, especially the team leader.
  • The team leader must keep overall mission SA based on input from team members

Team based Situational Awareness - Team SAThe success of the team mission is based on each team member having good SA. Conversely, if a single team member has poor SA the team’s mission performance can suffer, or fail completely. Consequently each team member must have a high level of SA regarding their aspect of the mission that they are responsible for. And here is the rub; all team members must share critical information with all other team members. If the person who needs Team SA depends almost entirely on good communications among team members.critical information for their SA is not made aware of that information, then the team’s SA is poor and successful mission completion is jeopardized. High quality communication, especially verbal, is essential for the exchange of information and building situational knowledge and the processing of that knowledge.

Knowing what is going on all the time is very difficult for any one person, especially during complex high stress operations.  Sharing of mission/task responsibilities is essential.  The same applies to the sharing of SA responsibilities. Shared high quality SA characteristics in teams:

  1. Refers to the overlap between the SA requirements of the team members.All team members help each team member.
  2. In a high performing team, each team member has an understanding of what is happening based on those SA elements that are common to the mission.
  3. When changes are noted that could pose a problem, team members must take action by speaking up.
  4. All team members are tasked to identify problems before they affect mission accomplishment.
  5. Don’t wait to be asked. When you have information critical to team performance, speak up!
  6. Recognize and make others aware when the team deviates from standard procedures.
  7. Monitor the performance of other team members.
  8. The best feedback of your performance comes from others.

Examples of good communications skills of team members:Assertive Communications

  • Assertive
  • Specific & clear
  • No fear of speaking up
  • Realistic & Clear ExpectationsRealistic & Clear Expectations.
  • Not waiting to be asked
  • Receptive not defensive
  • Share intended actions
  • Identify and share problems before they affect the mission
  • Make expectations of self and others clear
  • Don’t assume someone already knows

High quality communications among team members is the heart of high performing Team SA. High quality communications begins with a thorough pre-mission briefing. Elements of that briefing must include:Mission or event briefing outline

  • Clearly defined mission.
  • Leader’s intent (what success looks like).
  • Each individual must know their responsibilities within the mission.
  • Each individual must know every other team members’ roles and responsibilities.

Barriers to team situational awareness.Barriers to quality Team SA include all the same barriers to individual SA plus:

  • When you start hearing or saying “He thinks he knows everything.”
  • Agreement to, or suggestion of, “mission creep” begins to take place.
  • One or more individuals exhibit a barrier to SA without it being corrected.
  • Communication among team members begins to breakdown, especially verbal, and that breakdown is not corrected.
  • Performance of one or more team members degrades and can’t be compensated for by other team members.

Ways to prevent, or correct, barriers to high quality Team SA are:Overcoming barriers to team situational awareness.

  1. Monitor the performance of other team members.
  2. Identify potential or existing problems; provide a solution in assertive terms.
  3. Recognize and make others aware when the team deviates from standard procedures.
  4. Effectively communicate on a regular basis during non-mission time to set the communication standard.
HRO Pillar - Preoccupation With Failure!

Preoccupation With Failure!

There is a direct relationship between great Team SA and fostering a High Reliability Organization (HRO). HRO is an organizational model that is used in high-speed, high-stress, high-risk, high-hazard, complex environments. Examples: aircraft carrier flight deck operations, US Navy nuclear operations, air traffic control operations, Speacial Forces, etc. HRO’s have proven to be very effective at mitigating probability and severity of catastrophic accidents. The five pillars of HRO’s are:

  1. Preoccupation with failure
  2. Reluctance to simplify interpretations of events or situations
  3. Sensitivity to operations
  4. Commitment to resilience
  5. Deference to expertise

Preoccupation With Failure!

These five pillars of HRO’s work hand-in-hand with Team SA. I will write more about HRO’s and their effectiveness at another time, but for now, know that Team SA is the #1 tool to promote the #1 pillar of an HRO. A team must be preoccupied with failure in order to prevent those failures from happening. Team SA anticipates and/or sees the failures coming before they occur and then take the necessary steps to avoid those failures. But, we will save this juicy tidbit for another day.

As you read through this article on Team SA you now understand that the #1 way to avoid poor Team SA is through high-quality communicating among team members. Without great communications your team is doomed to failure. And failure can be fatal. Learn and practice great Team SA.

 

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