Preparing your Crew Team for the Season

Posted: 14th May 2019 | Written by: Sara Ballinger

Sarah Ballinger 140

Training, qualifications and experience – these are the things we look for when hiring great crew, but what about their ability to work as a team? When do you see the evidence for that?

And where do crew learn how to work well together, to manage conflict or deal with difficult situations? This is always seen as a ‘nice to have’ when in fact it’s crucial to the whole operation.

You might argue that you learn this from experience, especially if you have a great role model or mentor, but many crew are not that lucky.

We are all unique but there are patterns in the way we perceive the world, how we communicate with each other and the actions we take. Who you are and what you believe is entirely your business but, how you behave, especially when you live and work with your colleagues, affects everyone around you.

We asked a number of captains to describe their greatest challenges, and they highlighted the following: Crew retention, crew recruitment, crew conflict, crew issues, guest/owner expectations and external factors.

So what does this have to do with team-building?

Consider the cost of recruiting just one crew-member, for example, a chief stewardess, and add to that the cost of food, health and medical insurance, travel and visas, uniforms and training. And let’s not forget the time it takes to embed this new crew member and have them delivering at the standard you expect on your yacht. We're into six figures whatever the size of your boat, and you expect this investment to be returned in the form of a happy, cohesive and competent addition to the team.

Working with a teamwork expert helps you to develop a high performing and harmonious team, a relatively small investment of time and money for a huge return. And we're not just making this up, so let's look at a famous case.

Humphrey Walters, best known for helping the World Cup winning England Rugby Team, wrote a case study of the 1996 Global Challenge in which he took part. Deemed 'the world’s toughest yacht race’, it was the perfect setting to study the leadership and team building factors needed for high-level performance in a difficult, changeable environment. The study is also relevant to teams working in the superyacht industry.

Crew glue yacht 2

Humphrey drew together a crew of volunteers, many of whom had never sailed before, and set about building them into a tight and cohesive team. This involved creating a code of conduct and agreements about how they would live and work together as they undertook this incredible challenge.

He famously said, “When your 'buddy' is quite literally your lifeline you don’t let him down.”

Humphrey drew direct parallels between his experience on the Global Challenge and the everyday dynamics of modern teams, where success and survival depend on sound leadership and quality teamwork. He claims that the greatest lesson the race taught him was that teamwork is the key to everything.

So how did they do it? The crew spent two weeks in a house onshore learning about each other, how to behave within a team, and that niceties such as punctuality, courtesy and knowing how to apologise can make all the difference.

They developed and followed a code of conduct and they made it – they completed the race without losing a single crew-member along the way!

The benefits of building your team are indisputable. They include:

  • High performance
  • Safety consciousness
  • Exceptional service
  • Ownership & accountability
  • Great time-management
  • Harmony
  • Engagement & enjoyment
  • Retention

Crew Glue crewlearning

How do we achieve effective teamwork?

Building and bonding the whole crew is achieved by growing awareness and appreciation of the different personalities, cultures, roles and responsibilities onboard. Crew benefit greatly from the opportunity to learn more about themselves and their strengths and talents, while developing a greater understanding of others and what makes them tick.

Understanding the principles of inclusion and diversity and our unconscious bias is also incredibly powerful. At an unconscious level, we make decisions and judgements that influence who we talk to and how we talk to them. At a conscious level, we have the ability to suspend our judgements and respond appropriately.

Unconscious and uncorrected conscious bias are often found at the root of issues and conflict between crew members onboard, and preventing this will save you a lot of time and money down the line.

The most effective teams have one factor in common: Trust

At Crew-Glue we've devised a model to help crew develop this trust:

T. Truth
R. Respect
U. Understanding
S. Security
T. Tolerance

We explore what these values mean and how to make them part of your onboard culture. When you have a solid foundation of trust, it promotes openness and challenge in a healthy way, allowing norms to be questioned and innovations and improvements to flourish. In turn this promotes a safer environment, both physically and psychologically.

The hope is that you will never need to bring someone aboard to deal with a fractured team, but prevention is better than cure. If bringing an expert onboard isn't an option right now, here are some ideas you can implement yourself:

  • Get the crew together and have some fun - you can find plenty of team building ideas and activities online.

  • Have a team social but make sure your crew don’t gravitate to the usual cliques, mix things up or do something in teams.

  • Decide as a crew who you are, what you want to be known for and how you will measure your success. Once you've reached consensus, create a statement of intent and put it in the crew mess.

  • Commit to actions that will make yours the yacht everyone wants to work on! Ensure that your crew, guests and owners are safe at all times; deliver a level of service which surprises and delights at every touch-point.

  • Draw up a crew charter - a set of actions and agreements that you can post on the crew mess board as well. Some crew create a scoreboard and self-assess their success. For example, “When we get to 200 points we all go out for a crew meal.”

If you decide to engage a professional to deliver crew building events, we'll assess your crew dynamic and work with you on the things you can change. Our methods are tried and tested and we've built some exceptional teams in luxury businesses, high-end hotels and resorts and onboard superyachts.

Team-building is a small investment for a big return. Positive change for positive results!

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