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Perspectives on Onboard Culture in Yachting

Culture 1 Unsplash 140

Culture is one of the great intangibles all around us. When it’s good it’s great, but when it’s bad it can negatively impact service, productivity, happiness and even health.

Working on a superyacht is a prime example, a microcosm where crew coexist in close quarters with varying degrees of harmony and success. So what determines the culture on board a yacht, and how do we change it when the vibes are all wrong?

Over the coming weeks we'll be looking at culture and culture change through the eyes of professional crew trainers who work with individuals and teams on board.

Here's an introduction from our three contributors:  

Karen Passman 4Karen Passman – Impact Crew

Where does culture come from? Having interviewed a wide range of seafarers, the view was unanimous – culture comes from the senior crew on board. It is driven from the top down, and however much management or owners' reps would like to believe they are the primary driving force… they’re not!

Don’t get me wrong, along with owners they can influence the on board culture consciously or otherwise, but ultimately it lies with the leaders on board. Whether leading by example (good and bad) or turning a blind eye to some form of low level bullying, and in turn being complicit (that’s right, by not stopping it you are just as guilty), it is the leaders who drive the culture. As a colleague of mine Paul Bennett puts it, “You get the culture you deserve” – pretty harsh words, but probably fair.

There are many elements which make up a culture on board and although hard to articulate, it is something that people can sense, from owners and guests, to crew and management, within a very short time of stepping on board.

Getting the right culture has to start with recruiting the right people, getting the induction process right and being clear about what is, and is not acceptable behaviour right from the start. Surprisingly, people can adapt their behaviour very quickly, often to the lowest common denominator. Think back to your school days, I bet as a class you could be angels for one teacher and devils to another, all in the same day!

The leadership team must be united and equipped with the tools to deal with the challenges that crew throw at them, from dealing with discipline and conflicts, to being empathetic and supportive, all while being consistent and fair. Crew need their leaders to motivate and inspire them, as well as empower and help them grow. And then they need to be flexible to adapt to crew’s different ages, nationalities and drivers. Its not easy developing the culture you want, but it's most definitely worth it. With success comes your dream team!

What is the appropriate culture for your yacht? And how do you get crew to “buy in” to the culture that you expect on board? We'll be covering this and more during the course of the series.

Impact Crew is a research based training organisation specialized in leadership training for the superyacht industry, as well as individual coaching for senior crew

Impact Crew logo 7




Karine Rayson 2Karine Rayson – The Crew Coach 

Culture is a buzz word that is frequently used within the corporate world, but it isn’t the easiest concept to grasp. Organisations like Google and Apple are good examples of companies championing positive workplace culture and putting it into ACTION. The key word here is action.  

Culture consists of the behaviour, habits and practices that are manifest in the workplace. It has to do with rewarding or challenging different behaviour as well as the style of leadership and communication.

It is all very well having your values, vision and mission displayed on the wall or boasted about, but it's merely words if not followed through.

Culture is a subject I am passionate about and I feel that within our industry it hasn’t received the attention it deserves. I look forward to sharing my insights and providing you with the know how in building a positive culture on board.

Crew Coach new logo 5
The Crew Coach specialises in psychology-counselling, strategic leadership and management, helping individuals and teams overcome personal and professional challenges to fulfil their career ambitions. 

Sara Ballinger 140Sara Ballinger - Crew-Glue

Anyone who did science at school will know that cultures grow rapidly in a petri dish when it has been properly prepared. The same is true of culturing onboard crew. Take a bunch of individuals, stick them together in a small, warm environment, and watch the culture grow! 

Seriously though. Culture is the natural resulting behaviour and beliefs whenever people live and work together. The question is – do you develop the culture, or does it develop you? Culture onboard should be purposefully grown to demonstrate the beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviour that you would like to encourage.

Hospitality staff serve and interact with people, and superyacht crew serve the most demanding clients in the world. Your guests get a taste of your culture every time there is interaction. It is vital that you strive to portray appropriate behaviour and make the right impression every time.

All cultures have history and stories, and your boat must too. What stories does your boat or owner have? Why did they buy this yacht? Who is it named for? What adventures has it had? What sort of experience is the boat intended for? Boats have personalities and histories too and knowing the backstory can really make clients and crew feel as if they are part of something important and exciting.

Culture is less about policy and more about people, especially in the high-end luxury hospitality business. To create the culture you want, its important to define your mission and values. The crucial second step is finding and recruiting people committed to these principles. Once you have your crew in place, be sure to communicate and reinforce the qualities you're looking for and lead by example.

Leadership provides the foundation and the continuation of a desirable culture. No culture can thrive or survive where the leader is not feeding it. Leaders influence the development of onboard culture and must be role models in the most positive terms.

The series that we will be sharing looks at how to build your team and develop leadership skills so that you create a culture which is strong, sustainable and delivers world class service with the aim of making your boat a wonderful experience for crew and clients alike.

Crew-Glue is a service designed for the superyacht industry by qualified experts in the field of team development, teaching the techniques to manage self, others and time when the pressure is on.  

Here's a list of the topics covered in this series:

  • Team Talk! How conversation shapes culture

  • Getting onboard with millennials

  • How to deliver constructive feedback

  • Using charitable work to bond your crew

  • How to build a high performance team

  • Learn to be an inspiring leader

  • Conflict happens, dealing with it! 

  • Issues amnesty - learning to manage the wars of words

  • Building confidence – how to do it and how to encourage it in others

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