Crew Resource Management – Who’s With Me?!

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Over the last two days we have been talking about crew resource management.  Some of you may not have bothered to read the past two days worth because you think you know what CRM is about.  Well, go back to Day One and read again.  The book Crew Resource Management: Principles and Practice, by LeSage, Dyar and Evans, gave me insight as to ways to improve communication not just for increasing situational awareness in emergency situations, but in everyday operational management. Some of you read the words "crew resource management" and get this glazed-over look in your eyes.  This is a concept that when implemented correctly, does everything you dreamed it would do.

Got an officer who doesn't know their ass from a hole in the ground? CRM gives you the power to point out that the building he just ordered you into is about to fall on your head.  Doctor about to give an order that will surely kill the patient? Now you can say, "Respectfully, Doc, I want to be sure that what you want me to do is to give the patient 50 grams of morphine sulfate, which will shut down his entire body, that is, if we can round up 50 grams of MSO4 in the whole hospital…"

Correctly applied, crew resource management gives you the tools and the framework to speak up when someone is about to make a serious mistake, or more likely, doesn't happen to see things from the same perspective as you do.  And conversely, CRM takes us competent officers and empowers our subordinates to speak up when we honestly don't see something, saving our lives and our careers, not just at the scene, but in the station.

So now that I have hopefully piqued your interest, one of the considerations we must grasp is that teams have a diversity of opinion.  Our training may be consistent, our procedures may be uniform, but each individual has their own perceptions and understanding of certain situations that have been formed through life experiences, expertise, and aptitude.  As leaders fostering a move to CRM in the way we work, it is essential that we respect that diversity and use it to the team’s benefit. 

If we are trying to solve a problem, groupthink is not the approach that will get us the best benefit.  Leaders must surround themselves with individuals who will express their opinion when they see the need for doing so.  While this may sound counter-intuitive to our accepted mode of operating in an emergency (one commander, one boss, one plan), it doesn’t for a minute suggest ruling by committee.  We discussed in yesterday’s blog that we must have a shared understanding of where we are going and how we are going to get there.  I’m looking out my window and on my porch.  Walking from one side of the porch to the other is relatively safe and if I told you to walk from here to there, it would be pretty straightforward.  However, if I were to blindfold you and tell you to do that same task, you might be able to do it, but you are lacking some facts that can increase comfort, provide for a safe working environment, and ultimately, result in the job being done efficiently and correctly.

We may perceive that we have all the facts, but we may not.  Our shared experience told us what we wanted to do and how we expected to do it, but utilizing the diverse perceptions of those in the group may signal a different approach to the facts, a different expertise applied, or simply be providing an alternate means of accomplishing the task that will be more effective.  There is nothing wrong with an Incident Commander, faced with a high-risk situation, asking his subordinates for feedback.  In fact, in a Unified Command, this is exactly what is called for, especially in incidents that cross jurisdictional boundaries or have a degree of complexity.

Similarly, our daily operations also include these moments.  Frankly, during these moments, I find including other opinions to strengthen the bond of trust among my team.  My officers know that I appreciate their opinion.  They also know when and how to advance their opinion.  I signal that I respect their contribution and I may choose to use that information, or I may choose not to.  But they also must trust that I know the significance of the outcome and that I know my job as well.

For those of you leaders who have a big ego, this may be a hard pill to swallow.  Letting go is never easy, and for those with control issues, it is nearly impossible.  I will admit, I have a very commanding presence that I had to choke back a little when I realized how it affected the kind of input I was getting.  The reality, however, is that engaging and empowering the people we work with to help come up with the way to solve problems is not just going to save our lives and make our operation more effective, it is going to teach our subordinates how to manage situations like these when they too are faced with leading.

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