March 1, 1998


By Richard Komarniski

March 1998

We tend to talk about the human factor of teamwork in the context of lack of teamwork. In this world of management ideas like Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Circles, etc. one of the foundations to these programs is teamwork. For some of us, in our environment as aircraft technicians, this is quite a paradigm shift.

If we look back at the beginning of our careers, we see that if we were the overzealous type of individual on the shift who always talked, asked questions and tried to fit into the group, we were quickly moved into sorting parts, cleaning spark plugs, building tires and brakes, or other tasks where there was no need for human interaction. In other words, we were encouraged to work by ourselves and to figure things out on our own. Then once we got more experience, some of us were sent away for the summer or on trips with the airplane or helicopter, a spares kit, and manuals. It was do or die! As we matured in this type of environment, we were encouraged to be autonomous.

Now with the new aircraft being developed it is impossible to be a one-man band. We need to rely on our resources and our coworkers more than ever. We have to get along and work as a team. How do we get from being an autonomous person to a team player?

For anyone to change their character there has to be a strong need or desire. Our need or desire should be to provide the safest means of transportation in the travel industry. With this as our burning goal or mission statement, we have to let our shields down and develop a level of trust amongst each other so we can communicate freely.

Steve Covey writes about levels of trust and communication. Where there is a low trust among employees, there will be low levels of communication and very little team work because of being defensive or protective. Where there is a high level of trust in an organization among the employees, there will be very good communication which in turn creates a natural environment for teamwork. Where there is trust, there is respect and appreciation for each other's ideas and opinions. This is the culture for a high level of safety and synergy because of the teamwork. People with fragile egos are reluctant to ask for clarification when the information is not clearly understood because they think it may reflect badly on their intellect. The situation can be made worse when equally insecure peers ridicule others for not understanding what was said.

Teamwork not only creates safety but efficiency. When the company culture sets the stage for teamwork, less time is wasted because employees have a mission and a goal. They are able to work together and learn from each other, which makes everyone feel motivated. If you can share information with someone (two heads are better than one), it makes you feel good because you have helped someone and they can go home that day feeling good because they learned something.

When maintenance and flight crews take the time to discuss defects on the aircraft there will be no misinterpretation due to lack of information, which also results in saving time and safer precautions. Before we become driven to create a teamwork culture we have to see the need, which naturally should be to save lives and create efficiency.

When we work together as a team to accomplish one objective, we become more efficient and motivated by getting the work done more timely and effectively. When we isolate ourselves from others at work, and if an incident occurs in a company, we are all affected. The incident reflects on the whole company, including yourself, even if it was not your department. That is why in the long run it is easier to work as a group and share the responsibility from the beginning. Until we cultivate a quality mission statement inside our organization, our efforts to improve teamwork will have little or no permanent value. The foundation lies with people and relationships. Effective teamwork is built on the foundation of trust. When we ignore the foundation, our improvement initiatives will fail or falter.

Management's Role —
• Emphasize the benefits of teamwork .
• Give the autonomous person an opportunity to reap the rewards of a group accomplishment.
• Encourage training to improve skills in listening and interpersonal skills.
• Encourage them to share their wealth of knowledge.

Technicians' Role —
• Know what the team must accomplish and inform fellow members of the team's goals if they are in the dark.
•Determine goals to be achieved. Input from everyone is valuable. Your contribution is important.
• Discuss ground rules, procedures, and expectations to avoid most future disagreements.
• Share mutual respect. You have to be willing to trust the expertise of peers and to become interdependent.
• Do your part. Keep commitments you make to coworkers. Volunteer to help them when they face a tight deadline.
• Speak up. To be a team member is a big responsibility. Some people prefer to sit on the sidelines and remain silent; they withhold any contributions. Good team members are committed at the outset and are willing to reveal their thoughts and feelings to others. Overall, it takes courage to be a good team player.
• Share the glory. You will make a poor team player if you try to steal all the glory for the ideas that work and backpedal on those that don't.
• Look for ways to make new ideas work — not for reasons they won't.
• Speak positively about each other and about your organization at every opportunity.
• Do everything with enthusiasm — it's contagious.
• Do not lose faith — never give up.

A good team member wants everyone on the team to succeed. You can start out by praising the people you work with. It is not easy to be a good team player and it won't always be noticed when you are. But you will know and, eventually, so will everyone else!