High Performance Teams consistently deliver in the greatest arenas. They are made up of fallible humans. So how do they consistently deliver high performance? They know how to manage distraction.
We all get distracted, but how we deal with the distraction, makes all the difference. Keeping the main thing, the main thing, is what separates a good performance, from a High Performance Team. This habit was celebrated and made popular by Steven Covey in his great book "7 Habits of highly effective people”. This habit is one that requires discipline.
The main thing on a modern airliner cockpit is to operate safely and efficiently, taking passengers to their destination. The most sophisticated airliners today, are manned by the same physiology as 100 years ago, when man first took to the sky. The errors which were uncovered in the early pioneering days were analysed and documented. Procedures were put in place to improve safety and reduce risk. When the aircraft became more complicated, pilots were no longer able to remember all the switches and settings required to achieve safe outcomes. Something extra was needed. The checklist was created and it is the key ingredient to ensure safety critical items don’t get forgotten.
The checklist has several parts, which align with the phase of flight. Preflight, start, taxi, before take-off, after take-off, approach, landing, after landing and shutdown. The phases have been developed by the aircraft manufacturers to be as simple as possible. Sometimes the selection sequence does not seem simple, but there is a level of trust in the manufacturer that a pilot follows diligently.
The checklist is the final gate to ensure the critical switch was selected. There is an action that goes before the checklist, which is called a flow. A pilot will run through his flow, which is a series of switches and selections to ensure he is ready for the next phase of the flight. The checklist is then read to ensure that the flow was conducted correctly.
This becomes a theatrical performance of sorts. The two pilots in the flight deck feed off each other, in order to operate the aircraft. The pilot flying will run through his flow. One of the last items of any flow, will act as a trigger for the pilot monitoring. The pilot monitoring will then check the set up work of the flow. The end of this checking will trigger the pilot flying once again to call for the checklist. This is the critical part. The checklist is read and accomplished in the correct sequence, with the correct wording. If there is any distraction during the reading of the checklist, they must stop the checklist and start from the beginning.
Checklist philosophy and operation has become a science unto itself. Perhaps the subject of a future post, but suffice it to say, people have spent their careers at Airbus and Boeing, working in the checklist department. The right wording, in the correct sequence, sometimes with both crew members are required to answer a checklist item. A checklist is never rushed. Pilots read checklists clearly and systematically, which ensures safety.
Flight crew also manage distraction in the busy approach and landing phase, by using the 20/20 rule. This rule states, that during the time below 20000’ or within 20 minutes from take off or landing, all non-essential conversation is stopped. Checklists are read, standard operating procedures are followed and the radio is used to communicate with air traffic control. No chit-chat is allowed. This keeps the flight crew focused on the main thing. Landing the aircraft safely and efficiently.