Tag Archives: Delegation

Communication & Teamwork Lessons from USAirways.

This past week I was lucky enough to be able to take my community assistant staff on a field trip to USAirways in Pittsburgh, PA. Through the efforts of a friend, we were able to tour the Operations Command Center (OCC) and aircraft maintenance in one of the hangars. While lately many airlines come under the criticism of passengers due to fees, cancellations, and other customer service issues, I gained a whole new respect for the work that airline personnel do.

The depth and complexity of what it takes to manage a fleet of commercial airplanes is absolutely fascinating! I took my staff on this trip because I knew they would learn more about appreciating the value of communication and teamwork.

Delegating Tasks Among Colleagues – Because USAirways flight controllers and mechanics cannot work 24/7, they have to delegate what they are working on to their colleagues who are starting a new work shift. Their shifts are purposely designed to overlap at least 30 minutes so that they can accurately communicate what work needs to continue. A flight dispatcher in charge of five airplanes currently in flight cannot simply walk away from those pilots and let their incoming colleague guess as to what is going on in the air. The same goes for the aircraft mechanics. A first-shift mechanic will walk their inc0ming second-shift colleague through what projects are currently open and their progress on that work so the second-shift mechanic can continue that work. No one goes home until everyone is on the same page as to the status of what is currently occuring.

Timely Group Decision-Making – USAirways’ Operations Command Center (OCC) controls and manages all flight operations for the world. The building was specifically engineered so that all work groups responsible for a particular flight operations responsibility (e.g., flight dispatch, maintenance control, pilot scheduling, etc.) can interact with one another on the same open office space. On the control floor, there are no closed offices so that everyone can easily move and interact with each other on the open control floor. Groups are given the ability to make decisions on-the-fly without lengthy approval processes and excessive supervisor scrutiny. In this manner, groups can quickly come up with a course of action to solve a particular problem, whether it’s a flight that needs to be rerouted because of a snowstorm, a plane that needs to be repaired, or passengers that need to be scheduled on another flight because of a cancellation.


Working with a Mission-Driven Purpose – Nowhere is a mission-drive purpose and teamwork evident than within the OCC and maintenance operations at USAirways: “The safety and satisfaction of our customers is a top priority for our airline…” It is clearly evident that all communication and teamwork centers on passenger safety. Numerous redundacies and plans are created so that all operations can always continue. Mechanics and inspectors all sign off on repairs as an accountability measure.  OCC employees quickly communicate with one another in order to resolve a problem so that passenger safety is never compromised. Working with the organization’s mission in mind sets the stage for how communication and teamwork must occur.

A special “Thank you!” goes out to USAirways for their gracious hospitality in allowing us to visit and see their operations.

Seek Understanding Before Taking Action (team training using video clips)


A funny AT&T commercial shows some white-collar employees socializing during an office taco party (click HERE to see a YouTube video of it). During the party, an employee who thought he didn’t get an invite makes some negative comments and criticisms (e.g., “You invited Eric? I thought he gave you the creeps?”) to his colleagues. He ultimately receives a text message shortly after seeing that he was indeed invited to the party. A classic example of “enter foot-in-mouth.”

Even though this was a funny cell phone commercial, I thought there was a great leadership lesson within it: seek understanding before taking action. As was the case in the commercial, many times we can respond quickly to a situation with a knee-jerk reaction without actually having all of the proper information surrounding the issue. These knee-jerk reactions can cause team member conflicts, the unnecessary waste of money and / or resources, and potentially creating dangerous conditions in some instances (particularly if health & life safety issues are a part of your team’s work). As leaders and supervisors, we can be in a hurry to solve a problem or quickly move in to prevent further problems, but we can fail to slow down to examine the situation as carefully as we should before responding.

Tips for success:

1. Fully communicate expectations, instructions, and consequences among everyone on the team. Don’t assume that all of your team members know what it is that they are supposed to be doing, by what time, and with what expected / intended result(s). Team meetings and supervisory one-on-one’s can clear up a lot of issues ahead of time. Make sure that everyone has the same understanding.

2. Train your staff members and teammates how to fully assess problemmatic situations. Not every situation can be approached in the same manner. Team members should be able to assess and diagnose a situation based upon asking some simple questions: What facts do I know? What could this be an example of? And, what more do I need to know (or should ask) in order to make a better informed decision? Answering these simple questions often can take a few minutes and can bypass a lot of heartache overall.

3. Role play and / or work through case studies relevant to your organization. Following up on #2, developing an assessment & diagnostic culture in your organization can be easily accomplished through the inclusion of role playing and / or  practicing case studies. Not only is this an opportunity for everyone to work together in a team format, but helps you to think more analytically on how your team can solve problems. Use examples from the past and make them into case studies using the questions suggested above as discussion points (i.e., What facts do I know? What could this be an example of? And, what more do I need to know (or should ask) in order to make a better informed decision?)

4. Share various video examples of communication mishaps during staff meetings to spark discussion. There are many examples of organization miscommunication in sports, movies, and television shows. Take time to find these types of examples and show them during training sessions or staff meetings. Work-related reality shows are rife with examples of miscommunication leading to conflict and unintended expenses and losses. Another great example (in addition to the taco party commercial video) of “seek understanding before taking action” I’ve seen occurs on the HBO detective drama “The Wire.” Click HERE to see the YouTube video (***WARNING – there is some profane language in this video clip.***)

What are some examples of video clips from TV shows or movies that you can suggest related to this topic?