Both the aviation and medical industries lead the way when it come to researching the impact of teamwork on safety. What they've both learnt (to their detriment) is that effective teamwork rarely happens spontaneously. Instead, it requires long-term training and organisational planning.
Research has found that when planes crash, or patients die on the operating table through "human error" , the real culprit actually lies in teamwork failures.
Essentially, inadequate communication and poor co-ordination of the work task means a loss of life in these tough environments (read Are Tyrants threatening staff safety in your Company for more information on the aviation industry).
Luckily, for most industries it's not a life or death situation every day.
What is Teamwork?According to the Businessdictionary, teamwork is the process of working collaboratively with a group of people to achieve a goal.
When it comes to safety, teamwork is a clear contributor to whether people get injured at work. Research has found that teamwork reduces lost time accident rates (LTA's) and that people are more likely to work safely in a team, than independently.
A study (Hechanova, Alampay & Beehr, 2002) investigated the correlation between teamworking and safety performance. It uncovered a negative correlation between the level of self-management and both unsafe behaviours and team injuries. In other words, where a team is able to self-manage (which means they have technical skills, knowledge and the ability to make decisions), the safer the team will work.
A review of a variety of research studies (including a literature review by Parker and Turner) found teamwork improves health and safety for the following reasons:
Increased involvement in safety activities;
Group processes (e.g. group cooperation, planning and co-ordination, willingness to approach other members). This also means reflecting on how the group is performing,
Improve group communication on safety,
Improved face to face interaction (recognising the accomplishments of others), and importantly, and
Co-operation between team and supervisor.
Team Leader Skills
When it comes to leading a team, the supervisor or team leader has a great influence on how safe the group work and whether they achieve their goals on time.
In the report, Teamwork and Working in Teams, they believe that it is critical for leaders to understand that their role involves both task roles (managing tasks), as well as tasks involved with nurturing the emotional or people component of the team (leading people).
In addition, it is also beneficial for the team leader or supervisor to manage and lead safety meetings effectively. This means preparing the safety meeting agenda, distributing the agenda at least a day in advance, getting people to arrive on time, as well as providing an environment that supports creativity, respect and where people feel safe to offer ideas.
After all, companies are legislated to talk openly about this safety, but this can only be done if there is effective teamwork.
However, the issue is that a lot of companies find that supervisors or team leaders often know about how to manage tasks, but when it comes to nurturing and leading a team, to get the best out of them, then issues occur.
What both the medical and aviation industries have found is that you have to train on teamwork skills. You can't expect them to spontaneously occur in the workplace.
That's why we've created supervisor or team leader training that helps supervisors understand the importance of their role, as well as how they influence the safety behaviours and productivity levels of the team. In addition, we also go through 9 connect and collaborate skills to really help supervisors and team leaders engage, collaborate and communicate effectively on safety.
This training is available both online, on DVD and in customised workshop format. There is also the option of onsite or telephone coaching. Visit www.digicast.com.au/toolbox-training-DVD for more information.