Practical Guide to Applying Teamwork in Diver Training

- english gareth lock teamwork Apr 14, 2024

The Human Diver team often gets asked what practical tools and techniques associated with human factors can be applied to our diving and our diving instruction to make a difference. What is it we are missing? 

The following blog is based on a guide provided to all of the training agencies showing how these skills can be applied to CCR training, but the concepts apply to all levels of diving. There are three parts to this blog: the strategy that can be applied, practical applications and tools, and then free resources available.


  • Training senior instructors, instructor trainers, and course directors in what human factors and non-technical skills mean at both a theoretical level and a practical one.
  • Encouraging role modelling behaviours relating to leadership, psychological safety, and a Just Culture.
  • Identify and execute cultural change to one focused on learning and telling context-rich stories, where the gaps between what should happen, and what does happen, rather than pure compliance. Video and blog to expand on this.
  • Identify procedures that need to be changed in the training system. There are always gaps between what should happen and what does happen.


Practical Tools and Techniques

  • All failure SOPs must be initiated through communication within and across the team. The team should be aware of a failure within the team and not kept to the individual. In an effective team, all team members are resources to be used for the team's success.
  • Communicate failures and consequences to the team when failures happen, and then re-order team after resolution.
  • Change the language to ‘team’, a team exists even with just two people. Teams are mutually accountable, working towards a common goal, and share values. Buddies infer friendly relationships and no accountability.
  • Emphasise team members’ role in problem solving, not just leaving the diver to fix it themselves and potentially struggling.
  • Instructor role-models and creates psychologically-safe environment and reduces authority gradient by talking about their fallibilities – they are not perfect. Research shows psychological safety is THE critical behaviour for effective teams. Numerous incidents have authority gradient / lack of psychological safety as a critical factor. Instructors drift, students need to be able to challenge them on that. A series of four blogs showing how to build a team.

  • Explain that mistakes are expected, failures are normal, and the team will work together to resolve them. Technical diving is a collaborative team activity, not a competitive one.  
  • Nominate dive ‘lead’ and dive ‘follow’, and make sure the roles are followed through, from planning to debriefing.
  • Include the instructor in the team checks, explaining that they are fallible too and need to be cross-checked. This includes role-modelling and effective checklist use. Blog #1 and Blog #2 on checklist design.
  • Creating situations where the team follower should speak up about something because the leader student isn't doing what was expected. 
  • During the setup, students looking out for each other and asking questions about configurations if things aren't expected. Helping each other getting kitted up e.g., cross check, and challenging the team regarding gas analysis and cell dates for the team if not to the standard expected/briefed. 
  • Instructors change the language from “Have you checked your gas…(or whatever)” to “What gas (or whatever) do you have?” Move from closed questions to open questions. Using Tell me…, Explain to me…, Describe to me…, or Show me… (TEDS) as a way of forcing an open question.  
  • Conduct a structured brief on every dive. UNITED-C is what The Human Diver teaches. This helps everyone know what is coming up, and if anything has been missed. This is not the same as a final, pre-dive check like GUE-EDGE or BWRAF. 
  • Mutual accountability – including the instructor. If a student calls out or challenges something about the instructor and/or another student, then congratulate them for it. Constructive dissent is an essential part of an effective team.
  • Team member providing a stable platform to reference against (touch contact) when undertaking in-water drills. Not just an instructor activity.
  • Creating stressful environments for one of the divers, and then ensure that the non-tasked diver is providing oversight for the team, acting as a reference point on the wreck/reef, or in the water column. Scenario-based training can help with this, rather than the rote learning of skills.
  • Noticing if equipment is 'tidy' and signal that it needs to be cleaned up if it isn’t.  
  • Looking out for team members who might be getting stressed or have their attention somewhere else. Instructor could task one student and see if the other student picks up on things. The non-tasked student might assume this is an instructor responsibility but within a team, such behaviours are everyone’s responsibilities.

  • Divers are taught that team members are there to help when something goes wrong. Team members are also there to prevent things from going wrong by having an extra set of eyes, hands, and an additional brain. Addressing both sides of the bow-tie model in Guy’s video in the resources below (12:15).
  • Expect to hold both technical skills and non-technical skills debriefs (e.g., DEBrIEF model). Critical instructor demonstrates their own vulnerability in the debrief (as described in the guide) to create a learning environment. From a recent graduate who is a Tech IT and OWSI, “Using the debrief method has been game changing! The first time asking for feedback is scary but it has actually shed light on things that only using it has allowed me to see. I went in thinking what examples can I give an open water student that I need to improve…and it’s not hard.”  
  • Being collaborative and constructive when it comes to failures, near-misses, or accidents, looking at systemic reasons why the event occurred, and not just focusing on the proximal or simple causes. Ask the question about context, not 'should try harder', ‘pay more attention’, or use other counterfactuals.
  • Look for and describe similarities to their own diving when adverse events are described by others. Don’t look at the outcome, look at the context.  
  • Demonstrate continual learning and reflection. Role model the ‘right’ behaviours. 

  • Leadership in the agencies should encourage storytelling of gaps between what should happen and what does happen. Quality management shouldn’t just be about adherence to standards but understanding the context surrounding the non-adherence.
  • When discussing adverse events, those involved, especially instructors, should avoid belittling the individuals who were involved in the event – applies if the individuals are in-person or e.g., online/YouTube. The conversation should focus on how the event happened (the context), not the individuals involved.  
  • Recognise the surface support and dive centre staff are part of the dive team too. Respect them and include them where possible in learning opportunities and feedback.


Free Resources

  • Guy Shockey delivered this presentation ‘Putting HF into technical diver training programmes’ at the HF in Diving Conference in 2021. – 45 mins.
  • If Only… documentary which highlights the role of leadership and teamwork in preventing serious injuries and fatalities – 34 mins. This page also provides a guide where you can run your own workshops exploring error, failure, and performance shaping factors.


There is no silver bullet to applying human factors, non-technical skills, psychological safety, or a Just Culture to the diving industry. It is a slow, gradual change, starting with the language and the paradigm shift that is needed, but simple tools and techniques, like those detailed above. The feedback I had when I shared the above was that this was already covered by the training materials. My experience of students in classes is that it isn't and why there are many instructors and dive centres who mandate the Essentials class as part of pre-learning so that everyone is starting with a common understanding of what 'team' looks like, and how the other non-technical skills contribute to success.

There is a huge resource now available for those divers, instructors, instructor trainers, and dive centres who want to learn and improve, move beyond the paradigm of compliance, and improve the safety and performance of themselves, their colleagues, and their students. 

Gareth Lock is the owner of The Human Diver, a niche company focused on educating and developing divers, instructors and related teams to be high-performing. If you'd like to deepen your diving experience, consider taking the online introduction course which will change your attitude towards diving because safety is your perception, visit the website.