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How to build a close-knit team onboard

close-knit team onboard

How to build a close-knit team onboard?

Social cohesion creates a successful culture onboard and onshore, the trick is to have the right elements

Having a close-knit team is often a challenge. The camaraderie, friendships and interaction are equally important for seafarers. After all, being stationed onboard a vehicle across months is no easy feat, the sense of belonging within the team is the strength that keeps every member going.

The social fabric onboard
Lately, seafarers’ mental wellbeing has been in the spotlight – accompanied with the crew change crisis, and worsened by the new strain of COVID-19. With the conundrum of remaining stuck onboard, it is more important than ever to ensure every crew member supports and motivates each other, including the captain. It is essential that respect, empathy and understanding transcend beyond ranks and department. With unity and integration, all seafarers can work and live together. A concoction of different responsibilities, skills, knowledge and vision will bring the team to new heights.

However, it is a challenge for many. Traditional captains are conditioned to take instructions from shore, handle the administrative and paperwork, not to mention cater to the needs of other crew members. Juggling all these dilutes the priority of focusing on the team, leadership being overwhelmed with tasks will likely retreat into their vacuums to recover.

Rekindling team ethics
What can be done to rekindle teamwork spirit onboard? The key oddly is not leadership coaching. Leaders can be adequately trained yet fail to keep their team intact. With stress, pressure and increased demands, comes tension which strain relationships onboard. To ensure the team functions well, captains need to ensure the cohort they lead have the seven essential elements:

  • Common purpose
    Getting the ship safely from port to port should be the most shared goal. Reminding each other intermittently all are in this together helps; reinforcing the sense of responsibility without the stress. The ultimate prize is the sense of accomplishment after completing the successful voyage.
  • Interdependence
    Living and working together onboard a vessel is extremely co-dependent. Being able to have effective social interaction is fundamental to build a community.
  • Clarity on roles and contribution
    All onboard, regardless of rank and department should be clear on their roles and contributions. So long as everyone pulls their weight, all would benefit.
  • Be generous in compliments
    Both leaders and crew need to extend appreciation to those who did well and motivate those not at their best. This facilitates the sense of satisfaction from mutual working.
  • Easy on the criticisms
    To facilitate teamwork spirit, apart from reminding the team intermittently that all are in the same boat, support and respect are vital onboard. While it is important to enforce accountability, do it constructively at sea and ashore. 
  • Team synergy
    Though clarity on roles and contributions is important, it cannot morph into individualism. The deck officer is reliant on full ahead, and the engineer reliant on the officer on watch avoiding burning thruster motors out. Understand that a role’s efficacy is dependent on surrounding colleagues’ execution.
  • Empowerment
    Good captains empower their team – the management practice of sharing information rewards, and allowing members to take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve performance.

By creating a close-knit team, captains pave the way for crew to make decisions on their own. When all are on the same page, captains can focus on ensuring optimum performance at sea.