Flight path

David
Carter, group service director at Volkswagen Group UK, and his managers crashed
two jet aircraft and opened up some nasty wounds in their search for teamwork

The
idea behind booking a day’s training using flight simulators was to facilitate
teamwork within the group. Our department has a matrix structure, meeting the
various different service needs of five separate brands within the Volkswagen
Group. We need to be flexible in order to work efficiently across the five
brands and the other “back house” departments.

The
people involved in this exercise were myself and my direct-report departmental
managers – parts, logistics, fleet, sales and marketing – and warranty,
technical and the finance controller. With someone from the personnel
department to make up the numbers, we fielded three teams of three.

We
first spent an away day together brainstorming to determine a consensus view on
what we understood by team working.

Think,
plan, act

Then
we looked around for a course which would be a vehicle to deliver the
opportunity to find out what was good teamwork and what was bad, and help us
eliminate the bad. This one seemed good because we have a tendency to be too
task oriented, and it had a task element but would assist us as a team to
think, plan and act together.

The
company, Millennium Teamwork, describes itself as providing team development
using aircraft simulators, the machines used to train pilots. It also brings
into play the concept of cockpit resource management (CRM), developed by the
airlines in response to a number of accidents which proved to have been the
result of poor communications between cabin crew members.

The
experience is based on the Belbin theory of teambuilding, and is delivered by a
team consisting of a facilitator and an airline captain who deals with the
practical aspects of flying the simulator. It provides a day of briefing,
followed by a two-hour group study of the aircraft manual before going on to
the simulator in groups of three – pilot, co-pilot and what John Hough, who
runs Millennium Teamwork calls the “overseer” – to go through a take-off,
cruise, and landing procedure. This is followed by a de-briefing period to
discuss what went wrong.

Take-off

We
had to take off in our simulated plane from Gatwick and land it at Heathrow. In
doing this part, which we all enjoyed, it made us realise how easy it is for a
complicated piece of equipment like a modern jet aircraft to get out of
control. It needed a high degree of team activity and co-ordination to get a
result. You have a limited amount of fuel, so you can’t keep flying round and
round the airport till you get it right.

The
course was designed to highlight those who were not particularly good team
players, and then use the time to find out why, and rebuild the team.

However,
it was only a one-day course and that was one of the problems. It didn’t give
enough time.

We
ended up in the last hour trying to psychoanalyse two of the team players who
just couldn’t get on with each other. One was the strong, practical type who
just wanted to get on with things and couldn’t understand all this analysis
stuff. The other was more intellectual, and he became frustrated by the
practical guy always rushing off and doing things without thinking through the
consequences.

They
were both big managers and strong managers – the whole reason was to find out
why they weren’t co-operating to the benefit of the rest of the team.

Raw
nerve

The
problem came in the debriefing at the end of the day. The facilitator had
started to get into the psychological aspects and touched on a raw nerve. The
trouble was, she didn’t get time to go right round the loop and put the team
back together again, so we left in some disarray.

Had
I known in advance that would happen, I would have said either don’t go down
that road at all, or take some extra time to sort it out. We should really have
had two days instead of one. That way we could have ended up with the team
players burying their differences, and going back on the simulators so that
instead of crashing their planes, as two of ours did first time out, they could
have ended up getting there safely.

Disarray

An
extra day – with a bit more professional guidance – would have allowed us to
explore issues more and build bridges. As it was, we left with the team in some
disarray, which I had to put back together once we got back to the office.

It
was a very nice day and we thoroughly enjoyed the exercise. They also use these
simulators for a fun day out – I’m not sure how many users have serious intent.

We
were all able to play with the simulators after this course, so we have all experienced
what it was like to crash the plane.

But
it left us with the team being dominated by these two players. The two
protagonists have now got together and are working perfectly well, although I
don’t know how much that is due to this particular course.

The
exercise was useful as part of a very long process of trying to get to grips
with team working. It wasn’t a beginning, or an end. It was just a thing we
did. We’ve done many other things – out on Exmoor, getting wet and cold,
clambering up crags and so on.

This
one started off as a fun thing and stumbled into a murky area we hadn’t meant
it to get into. We certainly would use it again with modifications on time and
content. It’s a good way of checking out how teams work – or don’t.

Verdict

Enjoyable,
but should be longer

We
liked the idea of having a task – everybody enjoyed that. And in opening up
areas of disagreement it was good. But it was the back end of the course that
proved difficult.

We
would use it again, but we would like to be much more involved in designing
precisely what goes on and what doesn’t go on, particularly in terms of the
expected outcome at the end. If we had been offered a two-day course we would
have taken it.

Have
you tried or tested a brilliant course lately? 

If so let us know.  Contact editor
Andrew Rodgers at training.editor@rbi.co.uk
or by fax on 020 8652 8805

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