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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel

Teamwork 2

A heat in Knights of Prague competition — by Honza Turek
A heat in Knights of Prague competition — by Honza Turek

There is a saying in 4-way skydiving: “The hardest part about 4-way is finding 4 people to be in the same team.” (Although I should point out, with my cameraflyer’s helmet on, that there are 5 people in a 4-way team.) The same sentiment can be applied to all teams – it’s hard work turning a group of strangers, or even friends, into a team, and even harder to keep them together.

Agreed Goals

In his great book on winning sports strategies, Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?, a highly recommended read, Olympic gold medalist Ben Hunt-Davis suggests that a team only needs 2 things to start it on the road to success:

  • agreed goals
  • agreed behaviours

If you followed the advice in my previous article, Teamwork, you will have set your agreed goals down on paper, so this time we will look at few aspects of behaviours that could make a difference.

Agreed Behaviours

Think of your team as a skydive formation. Knowing that everything you do affects everyone else on a dive, we have certain golden rules about how to approach and dock on a formation – match fall rates, approach gently and on level, dock with zero momentum, don't use the formation to stop yourself. We all know that ignoring these rules can disrupt any formation and funnel it badly. I suggest that you can put similar rules in place for working in a team.

by Honza Turek
by Honza Turek

Three Golden Rules

Here are 3 suggested Golden Rules for Team Communication:

1 Say Something Nice!

Contrary to everything that may come naturally, I would like to invite you to say something nice to your teammates. Why? Two reasons. Firstly because if you want to change someone's behaviour, all the research shows that positive reinforcement works far more effectively than punishment. So, for example, the best way to deal with a teammate who is always late is not to say ‘Oy, you're late again, you tosser!’, however satisfying that feels. You are much more likely to effect a change by waiting until they are accidentally on time for something, and then heaping genuine thanks and praise on them. They might look at you strangely but I promise you after a few doses of this they will start to get more punctual – and won't even know why!

Secondly, it’s a simple fact that the unconscious mind has no power to differentiate messages, and no sense of humour. That's why it's fine to watch the season's ‘Bloopers’ DVD once or twice for a laugh but if you really want to improve your performance you need to watch your ‘Best Of’ tape over and over, because that's the learning you want to give your unconscious. By the same token, think what message we are giving our teammates if all we reflect back to them are their mistakes and their worst behaviour? Even as a teasing joke? I'm not suggesting that we turn into gushing sycophants but, if we want our teammates to be the best they can, we should offer them an image of themselves that they can aspire to

the unconscious mind has no power to differentiate messages, and no sense of humour
Les Stunts, Belgian ladies 4-way team
Les Stunts, Belgian ladies 4-way team

2 Give Feedback Properly

Many coaches teach the same technique for self-debriefing after training jumps. You probably know it. You watch the video and:

  1. Say what was good from your own perspective
  2. Say what you’d like to improve in your own performance
  3. Shut up and move on.

This system works because it focuses on the positive and gives simple goals for improvement. But often, once the coach has gone this discipline slips and people start apologising, accusing, being directive, criticising – all of which creates friction. So before you say anything out loud, check that it fits the debriefing criteria.

The identical system can also be used in company meetings dealing with non-skydiving matters. Say what's going well for you. Say what you'd like to do better. Move on. It's amazing how much ground can be covered like that.

3. Hold your Peace

Lastly, and perhaps most powerfully, you might want to consider not talking at all. In some situations, the best teamworking tool of all is simply to shut up. Try asking yourself these three questions before opening your mouth:

  • Does it need to be said?
  • Does it need to be said by me?
  • Does it need to be said, by me, right now?

If you can't in good conscience answer ‘Yes’ to all three, save your breath!

Arizona Arsenal 2012 in the tunnel&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='' class='captionLink'>Niklas Daniel</a>
Arizona Arsenal 2012 in the tunnel — by Niklas Daniel

Freefall teaser image shows Arizona Arsenal VFS team, taken by Niklas Daniel