D-58: Listen to the new guy!
This is a continuation of the departure series exploring the techniques and systems that airlines use and how we can use similar approaches to improve our productivity.
When your team sets-up to tackle a problem or task, especially a common one, do you ensure everyone has equal time to discuss ideas? Even the new guy? I am suggesting that we not only make sure they have the opportunity to enter ideas but that the new guy(or girl) should go first.
Humans are animals of habit, once we get in the rhythm of doing things one way it can be hard to come up with alternatives. We all remember the famous blue dress. Or was it black? It's likely that once you saw it one way, you only became more certain every time you saw it after.
Think of the new members of your team as your fresh eyes. They are not biased to prefer the usual way of doing things. Even if they are not new, or the process you're tackling isn't one anyone has a pre-existing routine of doing, wouldn't it make sense to seek out all the possible ideas and give them equal treatment?
Calm summer mornings in the low valleys of the Virginias and Carolinas seldom fail to lead to challenges when flying. The picturesque fog laying low on the valley floor looks beautiful from a front porch swing but it almost always kept me flying when I'd like to not be.
See, aircraft have precise lateral and vertical navigation systems, used to navigate and approach despite obstructions to a vision like clouds. But in all but the most advanced of aircraft undergoing specific missions must see the ground at some point before landing. Before departing to an airport forecasted or expected to have low weather, the crew would plan an alternate. The alternate is your backup, with better weather.
Generally, when arriving and finding the weather to be too low to land, it's a somewhat common practice to hold over the area and attempt to wait out the weather. Either the weather will improve until a safe landing can be made. Eventually, fuel starts to wain, signaling time to head downrange to the alternate for more fuel.
Problems and Solutions
Sliding through a right turn over Hickory, I examined the mountains rising above the fog while trying to enjoy the cold airport coffee I'd brought up with me. The weather, that was meant to improve, had only gotten worse since we left horse country.
The captain interrupted my coffee quality ruminations by reading me the fuel numbers he'd computed. He also let me know that the weather at our alternate had also dropped below minimums.
"So, Hayden, what do you think?"
Pride and Productivity
Some of the best leaders that I've ever worked with all approached collaboration and decision making in this way. He had a plan, and undoubtedly it was a fine plan. But he knew I also had a plan, and he wanted to know the details before infecting me with his.
As a first officer, I liked those captains. They reminded me that they felt I was valuable to our team and didn't hold on to 'their' way of doing things too tightly.
That sounds great and obvious on paper, but it is a reasonable feat to accomplish as a leader. It involves putting aside your pride in the experience you have, for one. But remember, the same experience can often end up manifesting as blinders to new techniques.
Shouldn't we all be willing to have our methods questioned? Does doing something the same way and always getting satisfactory results mean that approach is the best one?
Ask the New Guy
This is where the new guy comes in. They might not have the experience or position of power, so we let them go first. Don't spoil him/her by asking too late, they would likely only parrot what the senior players at the table have already said.
Don't take it personally when someone with a fraction of your experience is questioning you. This isn't always intuitive or easy but, if we can welcome it, some great results can come of it.
Responding to input positively is just as important as offering the floor in the first place. Handling it poorly leaves the participant and team feeling like you've just given them lip service. Or, at worst, they may be hurt and discouraged from participating freely in later projects.
"Hah. That's an absurd plan, greenhorn!"
Handling it well means the team can feel excited to incorporate their good ideas and speak up later. Even if the idea isn't great, you've now created a great teaching opportunity.
"I appreciate your ideas in these areas, in this area we wouldn't do that for this reason."
Most of the time this ends the same, rather anti-climatic, way.
Explaining my idea as we pulled into another slow and gentile turn over Hickory, I conveyed the idea I'd been sitting on.
"Yup, that's what I was thinking too, I'll talk to the Center."
At the end of the day, we had both already come up with the same idea as plan C. We skipped out, landed, and both got some more coffee. Stale airport coffee, but at least it was hot now...
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