HF in Diving for Dummies: Part 7: Teams in diving - not just for technical diversOct 23, 2022
Football. Rugby. Hockey. Baseball. All of these are well-known team sports and very obviously so….the whole team needs to play well, working together, to allow the team to win. But what about diving? Where’s the teamwork in that?
Let’s start with the basics; what do we mean by a team? Teamwork is when a group of people comes together to achieve a common goal, working interdependently and dynamically to achieve that common goal. So when we think about diving, what is our common goal? At the most basic level, it’s simply to return to the surface safely without any physical or emotional harm. We rarely acknowledge that as a goal because we often have others, such as exploring a new place, photographing some creatures or simply enjoying floating along in the water but whether we say it or not, it’s expected. And aside from solo dives, we’re in a team, even if that’s just a buddy pair. So by definition, we have a team! But how can we use that?
Well, the most important part of any team is making sure the whole team knows what the goal is, what their role is and how to communicate to share critical information in a timely manner. Think about your role at work - hopefully, you know all of these three things.
- In diving, we take “return to the surface” as a given (although it’s worth being reminded of sometimes!), so it’s important that everyone in the team knows the other reasons that we’re diving. If one person is there to map out a dive site, while another is aiming to take photos of a certain species of fish they may find that their goals aren’t compatible.
- As for the role, who’s leading the dive? Is that the same person who’s navigating? How about checking no decompression limits or deco schedules? Making sure everyone knows their roles can stop confusion later. If we just assume that someone else is navigating while we’ve got our eyes and brains firmly fixed on the photos that we’re taking then it’s very easy to end up getting lost when we realise that our buddy thought we were the ones navigating!
- When it comes to communication, we have lots of barriers in place that can make things difficult (see the last Dummies blog about communication for more info). So it’s really important that we all understand the same signals. It’s also important that everyone feels ok speaking up if they don’t understand something, or if they think something is wrong.
The best time to discuss all of these things is during the briefing. And the best time to learn if things didn’t go as expected or weren’t understood is during the debrief. Debriefs are really important to help the team learn and improve. It can be tough to speak up, especially if team members think there’s a big difference in status between them, such as when a student is diving with an instructor. A well-run debrief, where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and mistakes, can really help a team to improve and that starts with the leader creating that environment (more about this in the next blog!).
The final and possibly most important part of teamwork is trust. A team can’t progress without it but it’s one of the most difficult things to develop. Trust needs to be built slowly, which is why teams (or buddy pairs) who dive together often are stronger than newly formed teams or buddies who’ve only just met. At the end of this blog, you'll find a link to a series of four blogs about how to do exactly this.
As an instructor, I frequently have students who’ve never met each other before the course starts. Today was just such a day, luckily, they got on and worked together well. It doesn’t always go like that, however. On one particularly memorable course, I had a married couple, along with a third student who they’d only just met. On day one it became clear that there were problems within the team. The “new” student got on very well with both of the others but the married couple…….well, one of them admitted to me later that they had already started discussing divorce! Unfortunately, the lack of trust between them was clear, especially underwater. This meant that if one of them made a decision, the other didn’t always want to do as they’d said. Also, when one made a mistake the other wouldn’t help them in any way.
I did my best to keep all debriefs constructive and stop them from just throwing blame at each other, instead trying to keep them focused on how to improve. It was definitely the most difficult course I’ve ever run, not helped by having to fail one of the couple as they hadn’t reached all the performance requirements, a situation which I’m sure didn’t help their marriage! However, I learnt a lot about how important trust is in a team and how sometimes it’s better to split up a team that isn’t working, especially if it’s due to longer-term problems as in this case!
In summary, a team is a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. Briefs and debriefs help the team to share a mental model, meaning they can learn faster from each other. And finally, trust is possibly the most important element of teamwork, without it, a team will end up working against each other instead of with each other.
Jenny is a full-time technical diving instructor. Prior to diving, she worked in outdoor education for 10 years teaching rock climbing, white water kayaking and canoeing, sailing, skiing, caving and cycling, among other sports. Her interest in team development started with outdoor education, using it as a tool to help people learn more about communication, planning and teamwork.
Since 2009 she has lived in Dahab, Egypt teaching SCUBA diving. She is now a technical instructor trainer for TDI, advanced trimix instructor, advanced mixed gas CCR diver and helitrox CCR instructor.
Jenny has supported a number of deep dives as part of H2O divers dive team and works as a safety diver in the stunt industry.
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