As we approach the end of the European charter season, keeping crew motivated, interested and on their best game is of vital importance, it’s this time of year when crew can feel stretched or fatigued.
Knowing how to support your crew during this period is essential to maintaining a cohesive and efficient team who can deliver outstanding service.
"Tiredness can be a major factor and a good night’s sleep a major luxury," says Crew-Glue’s Sara Ballinger. "As a short-term aid to less sleep, meditating for 10 minutes in your breaks gives your brain a chance to recover and keeps you sharp when you are working although a good night’s sleep cannot be replaced in the long term.
"For the team it’s about openness, honesty and forgiveness. When we are all really tired and stressed, being able to tell your team that and ask them to forgive you if you’re a bit snappy or distracted might be helpful, particularly if you are all feeling the same way. And keep your eye on the prize, whether that is the time off you are having later, the trips you are looking forward to or even the tip!"
Superyacht captain Sam Jeffs identifies another major factor is crew finding the time and space just to exhale. "I think the most difficult thing is finding even the smallest bit of personal space just to unwind or disconnect slightly," says Sam, who has helmed RoMa, El Bueno, La Vie, Ascari, Elysium1 and Orso3.
"Working and living in close quarters means the crew rarely get much time for themselves. If tensions begin to build, it’s much better to deal with them straight away rather than letting things get worse. As a captain, it’s vital to keep an observant eye on the crew and to regularly check in on them on a personal level."
A big believer in praise culture, Sam is not averse to pitching in if it means giving someone a much-needed break. "Praising good work and always being willing to train someone up for the job if they need some extra support in certain areas or not understanding something is key," he says. "It may be that they are just unsure about something but don’t want to ask.
"As a captain always trying to be the one with a smile on your face in the morning - the captain sets the mood of the boat so if you are grumpy, this trickles down and everyone has a pretty rubbish day.
"And make sure the crew get some down time, even if it is regular breaks or a chance to switch off; they’ll be far happier and more productive after this than just 'powering on' for 18 hours a day, even if it means getting your hands dirty and helping out so someone can be stood down."
Team building is another crucial asset in charter crew support and getting this started at the earliest opportunity can be a game changer for all.
"When you understand each other and how you like to work, make decisions, organise your day and communicate with one another, you are better able to allocate roles and responsibilities to support one another in the most effective way," explains Sara.
"We focus on trust as the foundation for high performance teams and these principles are used in the Clipper Round the World Race amongst other racing sailing teams as well as on superyachts because that level of trust is a prerequisite in high risk and high stress environments.
"We also share the warning signs to look out for in order to identify where someone may be anxious, stressed or reaching breaking point. A team that has been through this process has a familial bond that is very hard to break."
Sam agrees wholeheartedly, adding: "Working as a team is vital to the success of any crew and charter and ultimately the safety of the yacht and guests. You have to look out for each other and know when to step in to help out. We used to do pre-season training exercises together and even things like going out for dinner or a hike can help to build that team spirit."
Happily, an increasing number of HoDs and captains are now becoming more aware of the benefits of being in tune with how their crew is faring and more diligent in noticing when team spirit and motivation diminishes, enabling them to turn it around before things become too stressful.
"There is a lot of emphasis now on this, especially with HELM courses and the regular updates from Flag States," says Sam. "In the end, it still comes down to the type of person that has been placed in the captain’s chair. There have been cases where someone who may be liked by the owner and can drive a yacht actually has minimal emotive, management and leadership skills, which will ultimately jeopardize the safety of the yacht and passengers as well as resulting in high crew turnover."
Essentially, a crew that feels cared for and supported is ultimately going to lead to better crew retention too. "It’s a fine balance of getting all the elements of building a successful team right," he asserts. "Being too soft or nice can lead to lack of discipline and professionalism which may cause others to leave, while at the other end of the spectrum, showing no empathy or personal attention can lead to people leaving due to not feeling appreciated and cared about."
Year-round onboard and online team building sessions are a useful tool for arming crew with the knowledge and tools to address issues competently and confidently according to Sara. "Pre-season is about setting the team up for success, understanding each other, the individual strengths and allocating roles accordingly and agreeing a team charter to set expectations and ‘ground rules’ for living and working together.
"Mid-season is about uncovering any pain points because they are current and relevant in that moment and we can deal with them, resolving any communication or role allocation challenges before they cause any problems.
"And post-season is a celebration and a reflection and review of successes and lessons learnt. Good team building is a demonstration of how you value your crew, an investment in them and it’s also enlightening, team tightening and fun!"
Teambuilding is in Sam’s bones, having come from a Royal Navy background where being a team player is what really counts. "We were used to building good teams that could have a fun time together yet, when required, could switch to complete professionalism," he adds.
"Online sessions work well for crew who are in quarantine or scattered pre-season and able to ‘Zoom in’ from wherever they are in the world but in person is always the preferred option because it’s about being together and sharing the energy in the room."
"We tried to make sure, whenever we could, that we enjoyed the job and the down time together but when things had to get done, we would know when to snap into action. In these moments, any heated discussions or things that may have been a bit abrupt were left behind when it was time to decompress again, with no hard feelings.
"A little bit of banter always helps in these situations, as well as being humble and able to take on board someone else’s ideas if they’re better than yours. My crew could come and talk to me about anything and there would be no judgement. My policy was that there is no such thing as a stupid question."
The ensuing benefits are numerous, chiefly leading to increased trust, tolerance and understanding, conflict management, clearer, cleaner communication and improved service and safety while also yielding exceptional opportunities for the personal and professional growth of every crew member.
"The crew that go through these sessions together stay connected long after they have moved to another boat or gone back onshore," says Sara. "The bonds are that strong. The communication lines are clearer and cleaner and conflicts can be resolved more quickly."