CRM is a catchphrase that Aviation Administrations flock to - and they should. CRM was developed as a response to mass aviation casualties and has finally been mandated. Even small air carriers now provide CRM training to crewmembers. There is one major issue: no one is drinking the kool-aid. Why? Because to meet the new training requirement as inexpensively as possible, these small operators have turned to overused powerpoint presentations to teach one of the most exciting topics in our industry. Many pilots and crewmembers feel that CRM training is just a dull, monotone, one-hour presentation that they HAVE to sit through - and most of them can't even define CRM!
Note about CRM
CRM training provides communication skills that all crewmembers understand, but it is much more than that. It is a language deeply embedded in the roots of all tight-knit teams and is at the heart of crew synergy. The military defines this as battle rhythm. It is an intangible commodity that a group must embrace, BUT for it to work, all participants must not be afraid to speak.
On a dark, misty night, a medevac team set out in a Bell 407 to rescue a patient in need of urgent transportation. They loaded up and pressed onward to the hospital. In the back - isolated from the pilot - the crewmembers noticed that the weather was deteriorating. As visibility continued to decrease, they felt nervous, an uneasy feeling that sent their hearts jumping into their throats.
The helicopter began to lurch and bank. The engine started to wine. Gravity seemed to be there one moment, but not the next. Stomachs turning, warning systems beeping, a loud BANG, metal shearing, the onset of pain, and then...................silence.
The following day, NTSB began sifting through the carnage. Between the corpses of the nurse and paramedic they found a note:
We can only speculate what kept the crewmembers in the back from speaking their concerns to the pilot. This situation is the most extreme consequence of a communication barrier. If you feel compelled to remain silent, however, the spirit of Crew Resources Management is being neglected.
The story above is very sad and tragic. Those individuals have left loved ones behind and no doubt have altered the courses of many lives. This is just one story. There are countless occurrences similar to this due to complex social psychology and the dynamic changes with every team.
The immediate solution to all communication barriers.
A good crew briefing is essential to building a relationship that is conducive to effective communication and synergy. It is not an easy discussion to have, but here are some tactics that can help you get started in another article. Communication barriers may be residing deep inside our personalities due to human nature.
There are endless barriers to communication. The problem with Crew Resource Management training by powerpoint is that they tend to bullet critical topics. Human beings don't learn by looking at lists. They learn by correlating compelling stories to practical applications. We all have deep-seated issues. The bottom line is that you understand the solution to ALL deadly silencers is ASSERTIVENESS. You must learn to recognize WHEN you have a communication barrier. If you realize that you don't feel like speaking out, then THAT is the very thing you can begin speaking about. Just politely say, "I don't feel comfortable talking about the way I feel." Consider what may be keeping you silent before traveling at unsurvivable speeds through obstacle-rich environments.
I have noticed the bystander effect more often when a new crewmember joins the team. Here is why.
38 people watched a young woman named Kitty Genovese suffer a vicious attack that lasted over 30 minutes! Initially, she was stabbed but got away. The attacker continued pursuit and finally caught up with her a second time to finish the job. Kitty was SCREAMING the entire time, desperately requesting help. So why did no one take action? We have an innate tendency to follow the crowd; inaction is contagious. Read more here.
This incident had psychologists perplexed. Shortly after, they created a study that demonstrated how inaction is contagious. As soon as I saw the resulting "Smoke-Filled Room Study" it clicked!
Why didn't the woman get up and walk out on take two? When there is a variety of experience between crewmembers, often the less experienced will look to the more experienced for reassurance or validation. They feel that the expertise of the other crewmembers is superior to their own and, as a result, they keep quiet when no one else notices the issue - even with that little gut feeling nagging away.
You feel an unusual vibration and look to your partner. They seem unaware or unconcerned, so you suppress your natural survival instincts.
Next time you hesitate or you feel uncomfortable speaking, ANTENNAE UP! Uncertainty is a HUGE RED FLAG. It's time to prioritize. First alert someone about the flight issue - hopefully, your team is well aware, and you all choose the most conservative response. After landing, make sure to debrief about what caused your communication barrier. DO NOT gossip about it another day. Fail to do this, and you have just created a link in the error chain that is irreparable - for you have broken trust in your team.
PRO TIP: TRAIN YOUR GUT
That little gut feeling CAN BE TRAINED. This book has stuck with me and has helped me understand why and how to trust that "6th sense." The Key Takeaway: BE ASSERTIVE about what your instincts are telling you.
Often, during a malfunction, an aircraft will emit a pungent odor due to a fluid (e.g., hydraulic or engine oil) touching hot surfaces. Due to seating configurations in most helicopters, the crewmembers are closer in proximity to the gearbox and engine, thus, are typically first to smell the impending failure.
A few extra moments could give the pilot the upper-hand to make decisions, execute emergency procedures, and select a safe spot to land.
Being assertive doesn't mean you should become a howling monkey every time you hit some rough air, but if you hear, smell, feel, see, taste, or predict anything abnormal, be sure to ASK about it. Try to be situationally aware of pilot workload as you could cause more harm than good (i.e., distraction). Situational Awareness is a whole can of worms I can't open right now - an entire CRM course can't possibly fit into one blog article. I recommend starting with a solid crew briefing as it will include how to time information delivery.
Hopefully, you speak at least TWO languages - English and CRM. Even if you are the person who polishes the hangar floors at night, YOU ARE PART OF THE TEAM and vital to its success. See a little red puddle under the aircraft? Do you just mop it up or do you make a call to the aviation supervisor? Everyone is part of the crew, never forget that. An open culture of participation is cultivated when you welcome critique, solicit advice, and know that there is a science behind this topic that still has room for development.
Crew Resource Management training teaches you how to effectively communicate your concerns and get the results you seek; I highly recommend you learn to speak the language. Drink the kool-aid, and know that "in the spirit of CRM" there is no such thing as a stupid question, so ASK, ASK, ASK.
Here are a few bullets that you may or may not see in your powerpoint classes. Just IMAGINE the actionable results that can take place if you expand upon each item as we have done here. We can not just rattle off a list these elements and then break for lunch.
Do you have a designated CRM instructor in your organization? Have they been certified to teach CRM or are they just reading to you from a script? I recommend that your company instructor attend the CRM Instructor Course by Randy Mains. He facilitates a brilliant class, and you will leave well equipped to teach CRM; I can attest to its potency. If you can't take the course right away, here are two books to read in the meantime. The links will take you directly to his checkout page.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new window. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.