Posted by: Korry | January 9, 2012

Working in Teams…Over Colorado

A few weeks ago, I was enroute to San Francisco. The clear, night sky over eastern Colorado was smooth as glass, but the “turbulence” was just about to begin. My captain and I were chit-chatting about company issues when through my headset I heard one of the flight attendants ask over the plane’s public address system, “Is there a doctor on board?” I told the captain what just happened and then waited for a call from the back of the plane to fill us in.

I didn’t have to wait long. “We’ve got a 34-year-old male complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath. He’s been flying all day from Glasgow, Scotland and claims to be in pretty good health. No history of heart disease. We called for a doctor and she is examining him now.” I told the flight attendant to keep us posted on the passenger’s status and in the mean time I would relay the information to the captain and our company.

At this point, I knew things were going to get busy. There were so many questions to answer: Is the passenger just tired or is he possibly suffering a heart attack? Should we divert, and if so, where? What if we press on and his condition worsens? How will we divide the flight duties so that one pilot is still focused on flying the plane and talking with ATC while the other pilot handles setting up a phone patch over the second radio to our company dispatch and our contract medical team, Medlink? What care does the passenger need? What should we tell the other passengers?

The list of questions went on and on, and the only way we could handle all of them would be to work in teams–the flight deck team, the flight attendant team, the company ground support team and the air traffic controller team.

Now, I’ll admit, despite years of practice in Little League baseball, football, and basketball teams growing up, working in teams has always made me a bit anxious. Working in teams requires relinquishing [at least partial] control and a dependence on others. It raises concerns over quality and demands high levels of trust.

Do these feelings sound familiar? I’m guessing they do. The truth is that almost everything gets done in teams nowadays. There are simply too many issues to address and not enough time in the day to do things yourself all the time. And the even bigger truth is that when a team is truly functioning at peak performance, it is far more effective than an individual.

The key to working in teams then becomes managing the team and knowing your role in the team. What’s the goal? What are the metrics? What are the waypoints the team must pass to stay on course towards meeting the goal? Who is responsible for what? What quality levels are expected? 

That night over Colorado, we worked as a team incredibly well. The captain led the team. He delegated communication duties to me, his [literally] right-hand-man. He trusted the flight attendants to work with the passenger as they were trained to do. And he trusted the company team on the ground to handle the logistics behind our requests. He didn’t micromanage, and he always kept thinking about the big picture, never forgetting to follow the most important rule of aviation: fly the airplane first. It would have been easy to get distracted or disengaged from flying the plane, but he didn’t. The team was in place. He trusted the team. He knew there were checks and balances. He knew there were metrics in place to gauge whether or not the divert was necessary. So he let the team do its thing!

Thanks to the coordinated efforts and inputs of everyone, we decided to press on to San Francisco. When we checked in with the NorCal Approach controller, it became apparent that our company had done their jobs, too. The controller informed us that medical professionals would be waiting at the gate for us…so there was no need to worry about that on the ground. Talk about a well-oiled team!

Yes, working in teams can be stressful. It can be tough to relinquish control or place trust in others, especially when your reputation or your personal success is dependent upon the team. But only by becoming masters at working in teams will we ever achieve our greatest potential in life or in business.

Are you a master at working in teams? Were you always that way? What have you found to be keys to your success in working with teams?

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  1. […] matters because the Captain and the First Officer must work as a strong team, and as I wrote about yesterday, only when each team member clearly understands their role can the team perform at the highest […]

  2. […] incredible story of United 232 is a testament to pilot skill, ingenuity and especially the power of teamwork in overcoming unimaginable […]

  3. […] In my world, I think the best people at sniffing out great leaders are the flight attendants. I watch them during crew briefings, I listen to how they speak to the captain, and I experience the level of service (or disservice) they provide to the flight deck crew during the flight. Captains who set the tone in a positive way command respect, attention and great service from their crew not because they dictate it but because they earned it. They are masters at working in teams. […]

  4. […] cultures come from great teamwork which comes from great […]

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