Teambuilding is a major consideration at any time of the year but particularly just ahead of the start of the yachting season when the onus is on getting every aspect of crew relations in harmony.
Add a year like no other into the mix, when many crews have been stranded or pared down due to travel bans, restrictions and lockdowns and the potential for problems and challenges seems endless.
With 2021 continuing to be unpredictable, Crew-Glue has adapted its model, offering accessible online and onboard training to make sure all crew feel supported, bonded and in the best place possible to provide excellent service and team spirit.
"In the last year, the issues have been largely logistical," says CG’s Sara Ballinger. "I’ve spoken to crew who have come together and bonded in these times of trouble and strife and are working better and feeling happier as a result.
"But getting from A to B has been a real headache for many crew, whether trying to return home for rotation, back to their boat after a break or getting to a yacht to start a new job.
"Generally hiring crew has also become more difficult, which means that some boats have kept people on board who might be unhappy and are no longer engaged with the job, which makes it more difficult to cope as morale and the atmosphere on board becomes increasingly strained."
For captains and HoDs concerned about maintaining team spirit and enthusiasm in testing times, Crew-Glue’s virtual coaching and online training sessions, with support and team development at the forefront, are an ideal pathway to creating a cohesive, effective and happy crew.
Sara admits that many captains have been pleasantly surprised by the success of the sessions they’ve arranged for their team. "I think a few have signed up with a degree of scepticism, arranging sessions because their crew asked for it, only to discover that far from fluff and psychobabble, what we teach are very practical and essential interpersonal skills," adds Sara.
"We’ve been running social media campaigns, sharing podcasts, webinars, videos and articles to give tips, strategies and mechanisms to help crew navigate these difficult times. We’ve been delivering virtual events for over a year now and it’s been wonderful to see how accessible this has made learning events and opportunities for those in work and looking for their next position.
"Online events are great for networking or just getting together with like-minded people and reminding you that you are not alone. Lots of people also prefer to learn in person but it’s often impossible to get in front of people on board right now and that’s a shame as that human connection cannot be replicated via an online platform in the same way.
"It’s really special to see how the whole industry has wrapped its arms around the people in it to take care of everyone, on board and onshore."
The main focus ahead of the 2021 season is Covid-19 protocol, according to CG trainer Amelia Butler, who says: "This is, of course, of utmost importance. However, when I was on board a vessel as the world moved into lockdown in March 2020, I saw first-hand how much stress it put on everyone, no matter what their position. It made me realise how important unity is among the crew, along with monitoring and maintaining mental health. With day to day operations and logistical challenges also greater, it’s more important than ever that the crew is functioning and communicating as a high performance team."
Amelia combines her work as a trainer in leadership and teambuilding with her rotational role as interior manager of a large yacht and having an active onboard career puts her the unique position of knowing exactly what crew members are going through, and where they most need support.
"Learning new skills is all well and good but unless you get the chance to use them, they aren’t much use!" she says. "I love the fact that I still work on board – it’s my biggest gift as it gives me a deeper understanding and empathy with crew. I’m constantly trying out techniques and theories in real time as well as drawing on my knowledge to get me through difficult situations."
With typical crew challenges including retention, recruitment, conflict and owner/guest expectations, Sara advises a measured approach to problem solving in these areas. "These challenges will always exist. It’s unrealistic to expect to keep all of your crew for long periods of time as there will always be churn.
"There will also always be conflict, dissatisfied guests and challenges with owners. We can’t stop those things from happening so we focus on what we can do by teaching them why these things happen and how to manage themselves in these situations.
"Senior crew learn how to lead others through challenging times and we concentrate on the principles of working towards shared goals, support, solving problems together and being part of the whole rather than alone."
With this in mind, Amelia also recommends that crew members try to look out for each other. "Captains, chief officers and pursers who are higher up the hierarchy often hide their stress or emotions from the rest of the crew," she says. "I’m a big believer in the simple act of acknowledging someone’s struggle.
"Captains and HoDs should also bear in mind how little down time and home visits crew might have had over the last year or so. Usually you get the chance to have a few hours ashore to give you a boost ahead of the next trip but this is often impossible at the moment. Crew events like barbecues, poker nights, water sports days, mini Olympics, dancing or dressing up will help to ease the cabin fever that has been a bigger factor during the pandemic and these fun events will be highly beneficial for everyone."
Recruiting the right mix, keeping them safe, secure and busy and having good leadership in place are key common denominators to creating a happy crew according to Sara, but the most effective and efficient pre-season preparation boils down to collaboration and communication.
"Work out your plan for the season together as a crew. Solicit ideas and suggestions from everyone. Who better to choose where to take the guests in Antigua than the junior stew who has been there several times? If senior crew take on all the responsibility for making every decision and finding every solution, they are creating a dependent team rather than nurturing a group of independent thinkers who use their initiative.
"Get everyone involved from the start - the whole crew will feel part of something special…and your season will be epic!"