The trainee provides and accepts support. He/she considers the suggestions of other team members. He/she admits his/her mistakes and corrects them.

He/she feels responsible for team performance with regard to safety and efficiency.

This is the start of a new mini-series, taking a look at each of the items we get rated on (using so-called Exercise Debriefing Sheets). For one, this provides a little insight into how our performance is measured. Second, it might also serve as a guide to the abilities, skills, and knowledge an Air Traffic Controller has to possess, albeit I don’t claim this to be accurate and/or complete.

The first item I’ll look at is teamwork, and it’s not a random choice to put it in front. While it will be seen that the other items are also (considered by me to be) quite essential, at this stage of training I am pretty much convinced that teamwork is probably the foundation without which everything else simply could not work.

The air traffic system by nature is a team effort, with multiple partners playing together to make it work, and Air Traffic Control as a part of it is no exception.

Most visible to us (and our coaches, which is why they rate us on it) right now is of course the teamwork between the individual controllers, both on the same sector (Executive and Planner) as well as with the crews of adjacent sectors (in the simulator, usually three to four sectors are working together).

The quote above taken directly from the debriefing sheet is a start to describe what is necessary for our team to work, but there is much more to it.

For one, it doesn’t mention empathy (probably because it is hard to judge from the outside). Everyone is different (despite all Air Traffic Controllers seemingly sharing an equal kind of crazyness), with different abilities, emotions, needs etc.
One example which used to be difficult for me (I think I’m getting better at it by now though) is the difference between some fellow trainees allowing, and even requesting constant input from the Planner when they are Executive while others prefer to fully formulate their own solutions, rather relying on more subtle interaction with the Planner (unless it’s really urgent).

Some have no issue at all with the Planner being right over their work-space all the time, arms crossed over the flight progress strip board with everyone writing things down at the same time, fingers pointed at each other’s radar screen (both Executive and Planner have one screen each). Others wish for more room to breathe, shooing the Planner away if he gets too close for comfort or has his hands in their way.

None of these characteristics are “good” or “bad” – they are simply there, and have to be taken into account. They basically set the “tone” between Executive and Planner. If that tone is not clear to both sides, and adhered to during the run, team efficiency will suffer.

Of course, every run will end (usually after one or two hours), followed by a new one, usually with a new team, and a new tone. Empathy goes a huge way in making these constant transitions easy on all sides. It is basically a “force multiplier”. It can, will and already did make or break a successful (and fun!) run.

I’m glad to say that during the recent weeks, I have given and received an increasing number of compliments about our teamwork, to and from fellow trainees very much differing in their “tone” preferences as described above. I think we are on a very good way with regards to teamwork – and that means we are on a very good way overall.