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Anders Ellerstrand: Procedures 4 – To Enable Collaboration

In the previous post (link), I argued for the possibility that instructors on a training institute interpret procedures differently and thus train students differently. Having similar ways of interpreting and applying rules have a value and that is especially true when you look at procedures as a most important tool for collaboration and for harmonisation.

A team typically works better if the members know each other well. It is also good if you agree on a row of things, such as what are the goals to achieve, what standards to apply, what methods work best and so on. Procedures take care of some of that. By having good procedures, that everyone in the team adhere to, you will know what to expect from your co-workers, and this makes life easier. The work can be done in an efficient way.

We can find an old example by looking back more than 80 years, to the second World War, when the last obstacle for Germany to conquer Europe was the British Royal Air Force. You may have the view that the German military was extremely well organised and efficient. But the German Air Force were very far from being as efficient and well organised as the RAF.

One example is the ‘Dowding system’. It controlled the airspace across the UK with an integrated system of telephone network, radar stations and visual observation that made it possible to build a single image of the current situation in the entire airspace.

One of the enablers was procedures! Although the airspace was divided in several sectors, the same procedures applied. One effect was that you could move staff between sectors without re-training. Another effect was very efficient collaboration. The end effect was of course the ability to get the fighters airborne at exactly the right time and in the right numbers to provide a persevering and efficient air defence that eventually had Hitler withdraw his plans for occupying Britain.

I think most of us could fine our own examples. I worked in an ATC Centre where most ATCOs agreed that it did not matter what other ATCO they worked with, since there was a general understanding and agreement on how to interpret and apply procedures. I heard ATCOs saying that they were happy with their procedures – they made sense and were useful.

However, I have also visited an ATS unit where ATCOs were divided into teams. The ways of working developed in a way that the teams became quite different. If one ATCO temporarily had to change team, they found that quite difficult. Suddenly they did not know what to expect from their colleagues. That uncertainty influenced efficiency, and perhaps even safety.

The organisation of the work force in teams probably had a role to play here, but I also believe that very well-written procedures could have helped to improve the situation. Procedures that make sense and are useful are more likely to be used in the intended way. That could also contribute to good collaboration.


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