Takeoffs Take Teamwork

Provides information on the study of Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman about the importance of teamwork to flight safety. Effects of frequent scheduling changes to the performance of flight crews; Reason why ever-changing teams is used in the airlines and the military; Suggestion of Hackman for flight captains.

By Marian M. Jones, published on March 1, 1998 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Managers know that poor teamwork can sink a business venture. But it may alsohinder airline safety.

In a study of more than 300 flight crews from both commercial airlines and the military, Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman, Ph.D., found that frequent scheduling changes put flight crews in constant flux. It deprived them of the opportunity to work together regularly and to develop "performance strategies and routines."

This cockpit version of musical chairs has a distressing result, according to Hackman: reductions in in-flight safety.

How crucial is teamwork to flight safety? In another study, cockpit crews who were fatigued but had worked together several days performed better than well-rested crews who were newly-assembled.

However ever changing teams will continue to be the norm, because frequent crew changes allow pilots to work the flexible schedules they prefer. These procedures are also cost effective for airlines.

In the meantime, Hackman has proposed that flight captains conduct an 2 initial briefing whenever a new team starts working together, laying out the expectations that guide cockpit behavior, reviewing strategies for taxi and for takeoff, and going over emergency procedures.

In this suggestion, perhaps, lies a valuable lesson for all lesson for all quickly-assembled work groups: talking thing through before you begin, though time-consuming, can help get your team off the ground.