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Teambuilding: Essential for Crew or Waste of Time?

Jan 19th 10
By Rubi McGrory

Stew Jessie raises an eyebrow when asked if she had ever taken part in a crew teambuilding exercise. “Isn’t that when the whole crew goes to the pub for a night out to boost morale?” she responds hopefully.

In the corporate world, teambuilding retreats and seminars are a common way to create a unified workforce. Many companies employ firms that hire small sailing yachts for teambuilding purposes. The skills necessary to sail a yacht include communication, cooperation and camaraderie, many of which are lacking in the workplace.

If what we do for a living is the means by which others build teamwork, are we exempt from such activities? For a group of people who live together, work together and whose undies frequently mingle in the laundry, doesn’t a teambuilding exercise seem a bit redundant?

“Not really,” says Capt. Jack, a 25-year industry veteran. “Giving the whole crew the day off to head out to the beach won’t change anything. A leisure activity doesn’t force you to do anything you wouldn’t normally do or spend time with other crewmembers, it won’t challenge you.”

Jack points out that such exercises provide crewmembers with an opportunity to learn more about their colleagues, and might open up new roads to know one another. “One of the most devastating things that can happen within a crew is for cliques to form.” Tight social groups tend to be exclusionary and set negative patterns within the group as a whole. Teambuilding training crosses those boundaries and removes power and social strata.

Joe Noonan has been coaching corporations and executives through teambuilding exercises for more than 20 years. He formed Crew Synergy to bring that same approach to the yachting industry. He feels that “just because we have the responsibility to work together does not mean that we have reached the pinnacle of what we can achieve as a group.”

Noonan agrees that while the quality and splendor of the yacht, toys, food and her overall cleanliness are important, there is something far more important and not quite as tangible: the harmony of the crew. “We are all sensitive to strife on board and guests and owners are aware of it as well,” he reports. Through his training sessions, he gives crewmembers tools to communicate and cooperate.

On a larger yacht, it may be that the chef only speaks with the engineer when something is broken. The dynamic of their relationship is based on one of need and compliance: the chef needing the steamer fixed NOW and the engineer needing to stop what he is doing and work on it immediately so the guests may be fed on time. While this is all under the auspices of better service to the guests, the chef is probably frazzled from a major galley failure and under serious time constraints. The engineer, meanwhile, is attempting to repair a dryer malfunction while the stews are faced with a pile of wet towels. Everyone responds inappropriately because no one knows an alternative.

A teambuilding program provides an opportunity for a crew to learn how to communicate in a stressful situation without the guests or boss as part of the equation. These exercises can take the form of high ropes courses, diving activities or even the simple act of assembling a bicycle. Don’t confuse this with the format of reality shows, designed to heighten drama and tension and eliminate the team in favor of one individual. Every step of the way during teambuilding, crew are encouraged to discuss their feelings and to learn positive ways to communicate even negative sentiments.

Capt. Jack says the most important aspect of these exercises is their moderation. “It’s not about me, I am not the authority figure. The activities are carefully planned and I am not the one ushering us through the day. I am one of the crew here.”

Capt. Ken, another industry veteran, has taken his crew through one of Noonan’s Crew Synergy programs and claims he subsequently had his best season ever. He is currently running another yacht and explains, “I've just had my biggest crew turnover in the past three years and am considering bringing Joe in again.”

Shayna is stewardess aboard a boat that went through a teambuilding exercise. “I loved it! Afterwards, I felt a closer bond to all of my crewmembers.”

Her crewmate Pete, an engineer, disagreed. A private, quiet person, he felt the day was too touchy feely and took away from time he could have been ordering spares and preparing for a busy season.

Through Crew Synergy, Noonan offers several training packages, including a half day from $1,495, a full day from $2,995 or two days from $7,295. These prices are exclusive of travel and facilities. Noonan will work with your crew anywhere from the aft deck to underwater.

“There is one major drawback to these programs,” Capt. Jack points out. “If there is somebody on your crew you think is a total numbskull, a teambuilding exercise will definitely suss that out.” So, you’re stuck with a numbskull, but at least you will be able to communicate with them.


Related Topics:

Psychometric Testing and Crew

What Not to Say to a Captain

Smells like Team Spirit


Rating  Average 5 out of 5

  • Ok ! Ill take your word for it !!!! I have no doubt that your references are genuine but am surprised that there is no readily available links researching the topic, aside the MIT curriculum. .
    On the team building front us captains handle things differently. Perhaps wrongly...but we do endeavor to build a team . I can assure you that as a captain , when I'm navigating inbound up a narrow channel and instruct my crew to hug the extreme edge on the wrong side of the channel, I never justify the maneuver by informing them that Ive sailed half a million miles worldwide for the richest people, over the past thirty years so believe me... follow orders and for future clarification contact a maritime university to research the maneuver. I patiently explain, on site ,that I'm nervous of running aground and if we do touch bottom it must be on the upwind, upcurrent side. so that the yacht blow free and clear of danger.. In our amaturist captain ways, straight answers, involvement and personal responsibility is how we build teams.
    Posted by junior_1 21/01/2010 17:01:07

  • Hi Junior,

    Just for clarification; the testimonial letters on our webpage are not written by us, as you imply. Rather, they're written by the captains and yachting business owners who've taken our programs.

    I've worked with Harvard, MIT and BU School of Business and imagine they have the studies you seek. MIT has put up ALL their course info online for free, they might be of assistance.
    Posted by Crew Synergy_2 21/01/2010 15:41:46

  • Hi Crew Synergy !!

    I can read the advertising pieces....hundreds of them. Every company offering these services includes wonderful testimonials concerning the effectiveness of their program. This is advertising.... and not what I seek. I was looking for an academic study covering the explosive growth, effectiveness, methods and cost structure of the Team Building Industry. Can you kindly supply a review link not written by a company in the team building buisness ?. Thanks
    Posted by junior_1 21/01/2010 09:02:14

  • Hi Junior,
    There's pages of testimonials about the effectiveness of teambuilding with yacht crew on - including letters from Capt. Ken Bracewell, Capt. Bob Corcoran and many other well known captains and industry leaders.

    There's also a link to an earlier Dockwalk article specifically on this topic... you may find it enlightening to know that every captain and crew that's taken our teambuilding program recommends it!

    PS: The photo above is of Capt. Bob and crew during a Crew Synergy teambuilding training in St. Maarten. They won this training as a part of ISS's 'Distinguished Crew Award'.

    Posted by Crew Synergy_2 21/01/2010 04:58:31

  • Hard to get a grip on the team building industry Try to research the effectiveness of team building by searching Google " team Building " and you get 6 million hits !!! This is a huge modern growth industry and I really could not find any critique or review of their methods and costs. Type in "Team building stag party " and you get nearly 100 thousand hits. I read as much as I could before my eyes glazed over. The only critique or testimonials I could find were written by the very same companies who sell the service Perhaps someone could forward a good link.....
    Posted by junior_1 20/01/2010 11:14:37

  • I really think that there is nothing more important to the vessel as a whole that the crew getting on. The Owner/Guest experience will be determineds by how the boat behaves. Not the engines pushing the boat along, not the windows being clean. But them having a fun time feeling like they can relax and unwind. This is sometimes difficult to achieve, as the crew are not in tune.

    In my opinion it is far past the time that the MCA brings in a man management course to teach the captains and the mates of our fair industry that THE most important people are the crew under them!

    The crew is the full stop!
    Posted by AlltoSea 19/01/2010 20:28:20

  • Does the morning crew flogging count as "Team Building"?
    Posted by Henning_1 19/01/2010 18:17:03

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