Posted: 21st July 2019 | Written by: Sara Ballinger
Perspectives on Onboard Culture: Part 1
Have you ever found yourself in conversation with someone you have known for a while only to discover that you have things in common that you didn’t realise? Or that you share similar interests, histories or friends?
When that happens the shape of the relationship changes and you will find yourself more positively inclined towards that person, you may trust them more and feel that you can be ‘yourself’ with them.
We can’t expect that always to happen without any prompting… not all of us are naturally inclined to share information about ourselves, perhaps we feel it’s no one’s business or that they wouldn’t really be interested.
That said, it is human nature to seek people that are like us. We want to find our tribe and to feel part of something. That can’t happen if we aren’t talking to each other about more than just the list of jobs for the day and the operational aspects of our roles, even more relevant when, as in the world of superyacht crew, you live and work together in such an intimate environment.
How is all this fluffy ‘getting to know you’ stuff relevant or helpful in running a tight ship and delivering results?
It is said that great leadership happens one conversation at a time and teams stand or fall on the quality of their communication. Why?
When we can talk to each other openly, we trust each other. It’s that simple, and that trust is the foundation of all high performing and engaged teams. Its about listening as well as speaking.
Conversation is tagged as a thing that happens socially. Time to challenge that assumption. Conversation is a two (or more) way exchange of information, views and thoughts put into words. It is an opportunity for discussion and reflection. It gives you a different perspective to consider which will enrich your own knowledge base and provide you with new ideas.
Encourage it, set time aside for it or simply normalise it. We are not all great talkers, we just need to know that we can share our thoughts if we feel it is important and when we are looking for a connection with others. You don’t have to be a chatterbox, but you need to know that your voice will be heard when it counts. Of course, it all starts quite formally as we get the measure of each other and different personalities will behave in different ways.
Some will be gregarious and open immediately and will seek to engage others in conversation as soon as they join the crew, maybe giving them an endearing nickname and joking with them from the off. Some will remain reserved throughout their time with you, they may prefer to speak to people one to one and be less comfortable in a group discussion but will have just as much to offer. Then we have those who are just not into small talk and prefer a short and sweet conversation about what matters right now. If leaders can create a relaxed and social space, crew will be more comfortable to share stories. But how?
Think back to the last time your team had to make a decision, for which several strategies might be the most effective. Perhaps the owner is hosting an event and wants you to come up with something special? Would you make all of those decisions by yourself and then impose your idea on others? Probably not.
The process of making that decision in the first place will benefit greatly from being influenced by a wide range of diverse views. Diversity encourages creativity and creativity delights your guests. Have you ever thought of asking one of the deckhands if they have any ideas for something special for the guests? Why not...?
It starts with the senior team; all culture is developed in this way.
When the captain and the heads of department are happy to engage in discussion and debate, it creates a culture of openness and honesty. It means that not only will crew be sharing ideas but, more critically, if someone notices something that doesn’t seem quite right, is out of place or worrying them, they will call it without hesitation. That could highlight an issue of physical or emotional safety and prevent a crisis.
Consider the ‘elephant in the room’ syndrome. We have all experienced the tension and dissent that is created when something has happened or has been said which has caused harm or dissatisfaction. Mumblings of blame and sideways looks. It’s really uncomfortable.
When something isn’t being said, it becomes a toxic environment very quickly. The longer it remains hidden the bigger and more uncomfortable it becomes. Rarely, if ever, does it go away without casualties.
Only when that elephant is seen and removed from the room can we move forward.
So why don’t we do it more often?
Sometimes leaders do not fully embrace challenge and do not foster a climate in their teams where differences are openly expressed or explored. As Margaret Heffernan put in her famous book, Wilful Blindness:
“People in positions of power are often surrounded by others who wish to please them and hope to acquire power by doing so… it is the responsibility of the powerful to ensure that they surround themselves with independent thinkers and critical allies who have the freedom and moral courage to tell them the truth”.
The way that heads of department ‘talk’ sets the tone for the rest of the crew so you need to pay attention to it. Encourage challenge and sharing of ideas, and by doing so, set an example for everyone and cultivate a culture of openness. Let’s explore how to bring this to life.
Research conducted by The Right Conversation in association with Ashridge Business School shows that there are 6 conversations to pay attention to within a team.
Take a look at these six and score yourself 1-5 on each.
1 = Not at all
2 = Occasionally
3 = Sometimes
4 = Often but not consistently
How did you do?
28-30 = Wow.. you are a dream team. Top of the heap. Good job!
24-27 = You are doing well and just need to make sure you don’t let those good habits slip!
18-23 = You know how to do most of it – now just identify and develop the skills you might not be confident in and then make it habit.
12-17 = Seek help to hone those skills and make them work for you and your crew-mates, the benefits will be apparent very quickly.
6-11 = Oh.. time to make some big changes!
Finally, the entire team should strive to make everyone feel welcome and involved and to cultivate a sense of inclusion and consider others. Building trust and a sense of community and family, leads us to feel secure enough to challenge, question and be creative which in turn makes for an environment which is safer, more inclusive and delivers exceptional service.
Remember, some of us really like to listen. That is equally valuable and should never be seen as non-contributory. Some of the most insightful conversations I have had have been very short but very well thought through with someone who is a great listener and has considered their response carefully. S/He who shouts loudest doesn’t always shout the best ideas!
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