Making decisions

In the blog post yesterday, I mentioned the importance of discussing how you intend to run a job in the team. I realised after the event, however, that this topic actually merits a bit more blog space, so here you go…

In the Rigging Research document there are a number of decision-making flow chart, aimed at making the process of choosing how to run a rigging operation consistent, efficient and safe. The one below came to my mind when I was writing about Friday’s storm damage job. The idea is that you work your way through a yes/ no flowchart in the build-up towards the lifting/ lowering operation. What this demonstrates a very clear and graphic fashion is how each point shall be a yes before proceeding – should one of them be a no, you work your way backwards until you have resolved whatever the conflict was.

The last point prior to the lift is especially pertinent: Communicate the plan of action efficiently to the other members of the team. […] Do any issues need to be re-addressed? In other words, is everybody in agreement about how we are planning to proceed. This is easy to say, but can present a formidable challenge in the field, depending upon the team constellation, the chemistry between the team members, their level of competence and the level of pressure we are operating under.

The last point of the flowchart is not certainly not being addressed in a situation where the climber assumes sole responsibility for all decisions. This kind of mentality exposes operators to pilot error, where the pilot/ climber sits at the apex of a narrow-based pyramid and any bad call on his or her part will potentially lead to catastrophic failure. On the other end of the spectrum is over-discussing of how best to run a job. In such an instance, proceedings can get totally bogged down by endless discussions about how to run an operation in the most safe and efficient manner. Take a team of four, you will have five different options beging thrown out there (five because one guy cannot make up his mind), obviously, this is not conducive to getting the job done. In all likelihood, a number of the proposed plans have merit, yet ultimately it is about deciding on one of them, and then getting stuck in!

Worst case is that everybody ends up grumpy and feeling unappreciated und unheard, resentfully going along with the option that was put forwards most forcefully or by the person with the most clout on site. I do not believe this is the right way to go about things – I am not implying that these are easy mechanisms to address; they take time, effort and trust in the other members of the team to resolve, yet it is feasible!

During the site briefing in the morning, by all means, let us discuss options… to a point. In my experience, an over-engineered solution for the sake of over-engineering is hollow. When you can chose a simple route, why not do so? After all, simple solutions are less prone to human error. On the other hand, some problems we are confronted with are complex, so naturally these demand complex solutions. This is probably the first thing which needs to be differentiated, what are we actually dealing with here, what is an appropriate solution?

Once the job is underway, in my opinion it is important to differentiate between issues which are safety-relevant and those which are not. So what if the climber decides to do something differently from how I would have chosen to? It takes a bit longer? Not really a major headache, so long as it is safe and gets the job done. However, if I see a basic flaw in a plan, something which has been overlooked or mis-assessed, I will communicate it to the climber. From a climber’s perspective, I know it can be really disruptive being bombarded from the ground with well-intended advice, this is not helpful and I will tend to blank it. The aim here is to have an understanding amongst team members that necessary aspects shall be communicated – and heard, bearing in mind to stick to the relevant stuff.

Then there is the debrief: During this session, let’s discuss why we ran the job the way we did. Who made which decisions when and why, what were the alternatives and how might they might have panned out.

By creating different platforms for discussion and communication, we are enabling team members to feed in their opinions and views. It makes sense to aim for a broad-based decision making pyramid, that it is not always the same person calling the shots, in a sense you are tapping into the full potential of the team by enabling communication and an exchange of ideas. The job site may well sometimes not be the right – or the only– place to have these discussions.

If every person in the team considers when and how to communicate their ideas or concerns, this reflection may well lead to an improved over-all result and better cohesion amongst team members.