As part of their Leading for Safety guidelines, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (UK MCA) presents key reasons why good communication and building a positive team environment are crucial to creating a safe workplace.
ccording to UK MCA, communication and teamwork are essential parts of any workplace. Onboard, you may not only be working with your colleagues, but living with them too. Aside from the seafarers onboard you will also work with and encounter shoreside personnel, pilots, and surveyors. It’s important that your interactions go as well as possible.
Poor communication can have many negative effects including:
creating an unpredictable work environment
increased errors, leading to increased incidents
There are certain barriers to communication onboard that you might need to consider. These include:
different styles of communication
remote communication and use of technology
diverse languages and cultures
performance-influencing factors such as fatigue
Communication is not just about what you say but how you say it. Body language, tone, and the pace you speak at can all influence how a message is received. Tips for good communication:
Keep your message concise, avoid using overly descriptive language.
Make sure you convey the meaning of your message in easy-to-understand language.
Keep good eye contact.
Keep your body language open – avoid gesturing too much and maintain a calm demeanour.
Focus fully on the speaker – distractions can lead to you missing information, not communicating properly or misunderstanding what was said.
Avoid interrupting someone while they’re speaking.
Paraphrase what was said and repeat it back so you can check you have understood what the other person was saying.
Similarly, to the communicator, keep your body language open – keep arms uncrossed, maintain eye contact, and lean a little towards the speaker.
A team describes any group of people who come together to achieve common goals.
Teamwork is an essential part of working and living onboard. Your team does not just involve the people you work with directly but can involve any number of people you have contact with. This could include, for example, pilots, port authorities, shoreside personnel, senior managers, customers and charterers.
There will be several factors that affect a seafarer’s perception of the task and their ability to complete it. Think about what we have discussed in previous sections – performance-influencing factors, situational awareness and different perceptions of risk will all contribute to this.
So, at the beginning of a task it’s important to check that you have a mutual understanding, sometimes called a shared mental model. To have a shared mental model among a team it’s important that everyone in the team understands:
- the task: what you are trying to achieve
- the team: everyone’s roles and responsibilities
- the strategy: how you’re going to achieve the aim as a team
Briefings and debriefings
Briefings and debriefings are useful ways of communicating information on a task to a team and ensuring a shared mental mode. It’s useful to have these short meetings often during a shift to reduce opportunity for focus fading.
Briefings are quick meetings intended to provide information clearly about a task.
During the brief, talk about:
- the goals and aims of the team
- the roles and responsibilities of everyone in the team – how you share the workload
- the plan for the task, including resources available and staffing issues
- what might go wrong and how can this be prevented or mitigated
Keep briefings short and to the point with no more than 7 items being discussed. This accommodates the limited size of our short-term memory (see section 2.1 on Information processing). Make sure that if you’re leading a briefing that you answer any questions the team may have. Invite attendees to question the leader on any part of the briefing.
Debriefings are held after the task has occurred and are a chance to discuss what happened and identify improvements in working practices.
During the debrief, talk about:
- was communication between all parties clear?
- did everyone know their roles and responsibilities?
- was situational awareness maintained?
- could the workload be distributed differently?
- were errors made? Why?
- what went well?
- what could be improved?
When we work in groups it can be difficult to oppose opinions that are shared by some of the group. Groupthink is where the group agrees to a plan or decision regardless of whether the individuals within the group believe it to be valid. The objective becomes establishing a consensus rather than finding the best strategy or plan of action.
#2 Ingroup or outgroup bias
At times when you work in a group you can form attachments to the members of your group. This can sometimes lead you to treating people from “your group” more positively and with more trust than people outside of the group.
#3 Bystander effect
When we’re in a group, we are less likely to step in when things are going wrong either because no one else is doing anything or because we think someone else will do something. This can be especially dangerous in high-pressure situations.
You can mitigate some of these biases by ensuring that you take personal responsibility in any situation. This might mean stepping in when you see something going wrong even when others do not and where appropriate, respectfully challenging any decisions that you think may be poor.
Models such as engage, ask, state, tell (EAST) can help you get the facts you need before you challenge someone’s behaviour or decision.
Engage: make eye contact with the person, introduce yourself if necessary and make it clear that you would like to speak to them.
Ask: ask them to explain the reasoning behind their decision.
State: tell them you have concerns and explain why.
Tell: if they do not take you seriously, alert someone else to the situation and your concerns.