3 Coordinating Mechanisms Behind Successful Teamwork
In order for any team to work efficiently within a complex environment such as the flight deck or an organization with multiple cross-functional teams, there are a number of competencies that are required. To maximize effectiveness the following three coordinating mechanisms, as defined by Salas et al. (2005), must be present.
1) Shared mental models - A shared understanding of the team’s goal and behavioral expectations with regards to each team member’s role in achieving that goal. Not only does this shared mental model guarantee that all members of the team are united in their pursuit of the common goal instead of pulling in different directions but it will augment effective communication during times of high stress. There will be urgent situations when the team will rely on implicit coordination as opposed to explicit communication and the shared mental model will help team members better execute such functions as mutual performance monitoring and backup behavior.
2) Closed loop communication - Communication comprised by the sender initiating a message, the receiver interpreting and acknowledging the message and the sender confirming that the message was accurately understood by the recipient. The team can only be as adaptable as it can communicate between its members accurately, therefore, it is critical that appropriate steps be taken to combat miscommunication within the team. Closed loop communication is aimed at removing any ambiguity from the communication process and/or addressing it immediately instead of allowing the misunderstanding to go unknown and manifest itself in an accident/unwanted outcome downstream in the mission.
3) Mutual Trust - Vital to the team is the understanding that each member is able to trust the other to competently perform his/her tasks in the best interest of the team as a whole, but open to the understanding that members monitor each other’s performance for the betterment of all. Without this mutual trust, collaboration to solve problems and provide valuable feedback where needed gives way to an individualistic approach that constantly inspects and keeps tabs on the other’s work while becoming increasingly fixated on self-preservation. Since our environment is almost never static and constantly changes (sometimes in unexpected ways), to preserve the above mentioned shared mental model, information must be freely shared across the team. An environment of mutual trust is key to this open flow of information with all team members feeling that their input will be valued.
Aristotle is often quoted saying “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is never truer than in a healthy team where these three mechanisms are present and nurtured! Remember the importance of the word nurture when it comes to these mechanisms. Like entropy, these mechanisms will begin to erode without intentional effort from leaders in the organization to cultivate them and remind the team that they not only share the same over-arching goals but are in fact on the same team even when inevitable conflicts arise and threaten trust.
Salas, E., Shuffler, M., & DiazGranados,D., (2010). Team Dynamics at 35,000 Feet. Salas, E., and Maurino, D (Eds), In Human Factors in Aviation (pp 249-286). Boston, MA. Elsevier.