If you’re a regular reader of the newsletter, you’ll know that over the past few months we’ve been taking part in a series of training sessions and qualifying races in preparation for the Fastnet (which starts on 6th August). With nine intelligent adults packed into a confined area, suffering from a lack of sleep and personal space, it’s inevitable some frustrations creep in. Whilst sitting on the rail I gave some thought as to the possible underlying causes, and noticed some parallels with my team at work and I wanted to share these musings with you. It’s a bit of a break from the norm in terms of theme, which I hope you don’t mind for this week.

As is customary for a racing crew we were each allocated a position on the yacht together with a set of responsibilities and during our training, we’ve been doing drills to help us learn the ropes and perfect our skills. After a few days on the water, each of us individually was pretty proficient so why was it that, as a whole, things still weren’t quite coming together and what was causing that slight air of frustration onboard? Why was the guy sweating the halyard at the mast always shouting back at his crew mate in the cockpit to tail the line faster? Why were the cockpit crew always told off for over tightening that yellow and blue line? Why did the jib have to be flaked a certain way before it’s taken down below? Why does my role seem boring compared to the rest? Over time it was noticeable too that we were starting to get a little blasé; we’d done this 20 times by now, we knew what we were doing.

If you work in an office environment the parallels are immediately apparent. People know how to do their own job, but don’t really understand how what they do impacts the team, and the organisation as a whole. Doing the same thing day-in-day-out is repetitive and gets boring. Too narrow a focus and people stop learning, start to get lazy, and make mistakes. In short it seems the things which negatively affect performance and motivation of a crew on a boat are the same which impact people at work. You also needn’t be racing to notice this – the same phenomenon affects family crews in a similar way. We’ve all heard stories of families whose interest in sailing has waned over time, to the point where one partner quits altogether. Talk to that person and you’ll probably discover they simply got bored or disheartened. Mums for example often find themselves in the same role as on land; cook, dishwasher, cleaner and babysitter. Isn’t it ironic (and sad!) that people take to sailing to get a break from their every day routine and frustrations but often find themselves in the same situation on a boat?

Knowing this, how can we turn this awareness into positive action? As a skipper, there are some simple things you can do to prevent frustration brewing amongst your crew:

  • Rotate people through different positions. This context is invaluable, and in our earlier example it became immediately obvious to the pit crew why the slack needed taking up on the halyard quickly (otherwise the main sail simply went up and down the mast 🙂
  • Explain why, and don’t withhold information. Even if your crew don’t know much about sailing, they’ll still want to know what’s going on and how what they do contributes.
  • Make sure roles are distributed fairly. The more experienced sailors aren’t above doing the more menial of tasks.
  • With unpopular tasks, definitely have a rota. Don’t allow the same person to always do the washing up, they might seem happy to begin with, but they’ll eventually lose their rag!
  • Be sure also to rotate the more interesting tasks.
  • Avoid defining activities too narrowly. For example, make the person who sets the fenders responsible also for making sure they’re at the right height should the water level change, or a strong wind set in at night. Ask the person who rigs the mooring lines to stop them squeaking if they start making a racket.
  • Distribute as many jobs cooperatively as possible; don’t leave people on their own, especially doing the boring ones. Someone to wash, someone to dry. It seems mundane, but it does make a difference.

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