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Bridging Communications

Simon Harvey 150

Today's superyachts come equipped with every modern piece of equipment to navigate the globe, however, one ingredient that needs constant upgrading is human command. 

The position of command has changed today. With the ever increasing amount of paper work, managing larger crew and tighter regulations, the job of captain on a superyacht has evolved considerably.

As well as command, navigation, and administration, captains are now expected to be accountant, manager, concierge, moderator, judge, and sometimes mother hen.

With all this responsibility, leadership and communication are vital skills to ensure the systems aboard work correctly, that the crew prospers, and the owner and guests enjoy one of the most expensive pastimes around.

Even with a crew of 10, the number of interactions that take place in a day can run well into the hundreds. Include owners, guests and management, and you can imagine how a loop of information (misunderstood communication) can take you in the wrong direction.

The GPS is a good example here as, until a few months ago, we all believed what they told us without much questioning. Most of you will have read about the intersection of the GPS on M/Y White Rose, where students managed to alter her course. This happened because a new loop of information was added and the feedback was not constant, perhaps slow, misunderstood, or missed. Changed behavior occurred and the yacht went off course. Missing feedback is one of the most common causes of system malfunction, and human interaction is no different.

Human interaction, just as GPS, sonar, radar and many other instruments aboard today, also rely on our understanding of the feedback that system provides. People rely on words, said or unsaid, body language or tone of voice but, just like machines, when a signal is missed or misread, it impacts the whole system.

The importance of feedback

As we see from the GPS example, understanding feedback is critical to understanding how a system works. Self awareness, understanding yourself and the signals you give out, therefore has a significant influence on results.

With the growth in yacht size comes equal growth in crew numbers aboard a yacht. This in turn brings more information and communications aboard, with a greater burden of understanding put on captain and officers.

The new Human Element Leadership and Management course (HELM) will help, as will MLC 2006, but it was not written specifically for the superyacht industry. While it does pay attention to leadership and teamworking skills, it does this according to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), incorporating the Manila amendments. It’s a great step towards encouraging better leadership and understanding of the human element but, the environment aboard a superyacht is not like any other.

N2 People Head image 300A superyacht captain can have 12, 20 or even 30+ young people, many in their 20's, some with little experience of working and living in tight quarters. They are all expected to get along, listen and take direction from their peers, and work tough schedules in environments that can swing from quiet/boredom to manic on the same shift. Some never get ashore in a country visited, and others may not get to see much more than a cabin and the vast white paint work they keep sparkling clean. Unless you have actually spent the time cleaning all those heads and washing and polishing incessantly, it is hard to understand what new information can do, or how it can affect behavior.

Best selling author Lencioni came up with a model and book called '5 Dysfunctions of a Team’ to help us understand how information and misunderstanding can cause problems. It also explains how to advance knowledge, how to adjust, add rules, change feedback, and alter behaviors to improve outcome and environment.

It’s often easier and cheaper than rebuilding an infrastructure and a good example aboard a yacht is the development of interpersonal skills to improve crew turnover.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

  1. Absence of trust

  2. Fear of conflict

  3. Lack of commitment

  4. Avoidance of accountability

  5. Inattention to results

Looking at these five dysfunctions can offer some great pointers for improvement.

Building trust allows you to reveal vulnerability, even question what you thought was true (think GPS). Remember that some people may want specific information to trust, while others need to be heard or need the conduit of someone they already trust to make that bridge. We all have different needs in order to trust in others.

To master conflict, it is important to recognize that this is an opportunity for productivity. It is not always comfortable, but it is important to understand how we can each move through it rather than avoid it. Be committed to finding solutions as you receive and give feedback to others.

As you move through trust and conflict, embracing accountability becomes more natural when answering for things you have/ have not done, or explaining outcomes. However, as with trust, individual needs vary when it comes to embracing accountability.

Self awareness is a good starting point for a better understanding of your team’s perspective of your leadership. Understanding your impact and focusing on results will allow you to better understand what motivates each individual and the team as a whole. As captain, it may seem unimportant at the time whether your crew agrees with you, or like what you’ve asked them to do, as long as it gets done. But problems typically arise when there is a discrepancy between a perceived state and the goal. If you miss the tell tale signs it’s all too easy to wander off course without even knowing it.

Understanding how you lead, how you communicate, how you deal with conflict, and what motivates and engages you, will give you greater insight into how others operate, whether similar or different.

The rules of any system define its scope, but as captain you make the difference. The power to add, change, and re-organize structures allows you to evolve and survive almost any change. With a diverse crew that trusts, communicates, is committed, accountable, and motivated, you will be better equipped to face any challenge.

Be prepared to change the paradigm of what was, stay open to what will be, and take the time to understand yourself as a leader so you are prepared to better understand your crew.

Simon Harvey has had a lifelong relationship on and around yachts. After working on superyachts for nine years, Simon moved ashore at the request of his current owner, and applied his captain skills in the corporate world. Working in management and leadership positions, and heading a real estate development company for this owner, Simon's interest in people skills development widened.

From both sides of the yachting industry, Simon noticed a gap in the skills required, and the training being offered. Tools for recruitment and selection, career advancement, management, leadership, and team development were standard ashore, yet few of these were available to owners or captains aboard. With crew size and accidents growing, the time was right to offer these. Today, with N2 People Skills, Simon brings the science behind building great teams to the superyacht industry by offering a range of tools to improve recruitment and selection, management, team development and leadership.

Simon is published in ALERT!, A Nautical Institute project, sponsored by ‘The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust’, is a licensed MBTI facilitator, is trained in DISC, and he is a 2013 ISS board member.  

For more information please visit the N2 People Skills website or use the message button below to contact Simon directly.

Mobile (UK): + 44 (0) 7824 557 129
Mobile (US): + 1 434 202 5901

N2 People Skills logo 

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