The Importance of Crew Bonding

16 May 2019 By Aileen Mack

Nearly everyone has found themselves in a situation where they knew virtually no one or they felt uncomfortable when joining a new team. Sure, ice breakers can help, but they can only take you so far. When you’re counted upon to work as a well-oiled machine, it’s going to take a bit more than that.

Spending time doing a joint activity or even hanging out in a casual setting off the boat can positively impact the team, boost morale, and help get the group to “dream team” status. Chief Stewardess Cantleigh Groenewald believes crew bonding activities are essential to the success of a crew’s season, and crew morale will make or break a boat. “If the boat invests in a happy crew, big or small, it will really transform your boat,” she says.

On a previous boat, her captain did a crew meal out after each boss trip. “It was a really special treat that really allowed the crew to bond, and we felt like a small, little family. They were never outrageous meals out at some fancy restaurant, but normally would be [at] one of the restaurants on the pier where we would be for the next week or two, which allowed us to really enjoy ourselves in a relaxed environment.”

Karen Passman, founder of Impact Crew, views team bonding activities as required during the first phase — or the forming stage in Bruce Tuckman’s stages of group development — of when a team first comes together. These activities can range from five-minute ice breakers to the traditional crew barbecues, nights out, paintballing, etc.

The forming stage is when crew first come together, often feeling uncertain and anxious, Passman says. According to the psychology professor’s stages, as the team evolves, they go through the forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning stages. No stage can be avoided, but awareness and focused activities can help a team move to high performance.

Charter guests regularly commented on the incredible vibe of Groenewald and her fellow crewmembers when she was on M/Y Eleni. Her captain always encouraged the crew to bond ashore, and while in Barcelona, he acted as the crew’s tour guide and shared his knowledge from his time living there.

The activities Groenewald has participated in tend to be casual impromptu activities that take place when the crew discover they have some time off or are all in the same place for the weekend, but she’s done her fair share of crew bowling, hiking, or yoga as a team. That’s vital since, when on larger vessels, there aren’t opportunities to have a meaningful conversation with a crewmember from another department about something that doesn’t involve the boat.

“These activities have allowed me to have friendships that I will always cherish. Moreover, it has allowed us to see where one another are coming from,” she says. “We are people from all different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and ages. It is important to get to know one another and try understand how each other thinks and feels, [and] allow the crew to grow as a team together.”

During the second phase, or storming, crew try to make sense of their roles and start to voice their individual concerns and opinions more openly, which can contribute to infighting, Passman says. Many yachts may find it hard to move past storming because of high crew turnover, meaning they have to continually revisit forming and storming.

“I feel that there is sometimes a misplaced belief that these team bonding activities will resolve the issues, which raise their head during the ‘storming’ phase, and although a good night out, getting drunk and saying a few home truths might feel like solving the problem, typically this does not solve the underlying ‘issues,’” Passman says. An onboard process for senior crew to hear the problems and facilitate the solutions is still necessary.

Over time, the crew moves into a more cohesive phase and becomes a team in the norming phase, starting to default to “we” instead of “I,” for instance. When the team achieves more together than they do as individuals, they’ve reached the performing stage. Individuals accept responsibility for the work of the team and are able to recognize their contribution to the team effort, Passman says. Nothing lasts indefinitely, but as the team reaches the end of its life in the adjourning stage (perhaps due to a significant change of crew), they’ll discuss past experiences and have a reluctance to see the team part.

Although these team bonding activities don’t solve problems or help a team become high performing just in themselves, they’re still essential. Even if the group knows one another and works together well, team bonding activities help the crew stay in touch with each other and need to still be a part of life on board.

Photo: Courtesy of Cantleigh Groenewald, @yachtstewsecrets