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How to Create a More Positive Flight Department

Five important steps to take before chaos happens…

Jodie Brown   |   26th August 2016
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Jodie Brown Jodie Brown

Jodie Brown is the founder and president of Summit Solutions – the only Business Aviation...
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Jodie Brown applies her specialized education and many years of experience working with teams to address issues facing Flight Departments…

Summertime and the living is easy (so says the song). But what happens when summer heats up team troubles? It began with a phone call, “Do you have time for a visit? Our Flight Department is becoming unraveled.

“Two members of the maintenance crew are yelling at each other in the hangar. One of the pilots is creating his own faction to undermine the Aviation Director’s leadership. Corporate just cut back on contractors due to budget constraints. Everyone is overworked, tired and bored with shuttle operations. On top of it all, we’ve got training and summer vacations, and the demand isn’t letting up. I’m being squeezed from all directions!”

When personalities from diverse backgrounds and skillsets spend hours together in cockpits and hangars as individuals but little time all together, it’s very hard to address relationship challenges. Within this scenario, departments start to split into tribal wars with splintered groups grasping for gossip and hearsay to justify their perceptions.

Where to Start

Begin by setting a few boundaries. Although we seem to fight against imposed fences, the human mind is more comfortable knowing and respecting your department’s parameters.

Step 1: Demonstrate respect for the position and the role.

People are hired for their skillset and their valuable knowledge. When individual egos create a “better than thou” environment, trouble is sure to follow. Leaders sometimes need to say what they expect from others.

  • Do not talk negatively about team members behind their backs;
  • Give the benefit of the doubt when it is unclear why someone does or says something. Find out what troubles them;
  • Apologize when needed and accept apologies when appropriate. Use “please” and “thank you” freely;
  • Address each person with respect. Use last names if necessary: “Ms. Dolan, would you...” (the word “girls” is never appropriate for professional women, and our use of words displays our values.)

Step 2: A high-performing team holds itself collectively and its members individually accountable.

  • Respect other’s time by keeping promises, deadlines and time commitments;
  • Do not offer or accept excuses; others have responsibilities on par with your own;
  • Hold yourselves accountable for your moods and fix them when they aren’t positive. A cancerous attitude sickens a team-body very quickly. If this should happen, get help immediately from a team-building expert.

Step 3: Demonstrate your professionalism and respect of others.

  • People’s behavior tends to be influenced by the demands of their roles within an environment. We often don’t know our colleagues in depth; only the characteristics they show at work. To convey respect for the position and the person in a given role, we should address them professionally through our choice of words, tone of voice and respectful behavior;
  • Do not use energy to build separate tribes within the team to support our own agenda or crusade;
  • Realize that most people would rather avoid conflict. Learn to accept well-intended feedback and coaching without being defensive. Don’t kill the messenger;
  • Make decisions based on factual data, not on feelings or hearsay.

Step 4: To become a positive and high performance team, communication is critical. It takes effort to communicate.

  • Accept that we may not get all the information in a timely manner. As an Aviation Director, you walk a thin line between being loyal to the department while being part of the corporate management team. Use all methods of communication to keep everyone up-to-date as much as you can;
  • Make decisions collaboratively when they have serious consequences. Accept, however, that some decisions are not democratic and not easily explained. A mature person learns to live with disappointments;
  • Communicate time constraints or limitations and provide options. Options are good.

Step 5: Build confidence within and among team members. Confidence is contagious.

  • Confidence is a feeling that regardless of what happens--good or bad—enables the team to work together to create success. Help people build confidence by seeking positive feedback;
  • Some people are inherently more fearful of the unknown than others. That awful emotion of anxiety appears when we are uncertain and feel like we have no control. When we’re asked to perform out of our comfort zone, a little support goes a long way.

At some point in a team’s growth pattern, someone realizes that team members need to re-calibrate and level-set their behavior and focus. Good leaders know that the time and cost of hiring a specialist to facilitate group dynamics and interpersonal communication is worthwhile. An organizational behavior coach can teach and enhance communication tools to team members. A professionally trained facilitator can navigate through a tough conversation to find positive outcomes while keeping relationships intact.

An investment such as this guidance can only make the team more effective and provide a satisfying place to work.


Read more about: Flight Department Management

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