Communication key to success

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Thom Trottier
  • 21st Space Wing command chief master sergeant
My mother always told me never to put the cart before the horse. You'd think I would have listened to her, but there are moments when my overconfidence overpowers my need to listen and heed my mom's advice.

I had one of those moments on Super Bowl Sunday. I started this article writing about what makes a team successful - and who better to use as an example of being successful than the reigning Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots? Yeah, well, that example didn't work out too well for me. A whole paper written and now I can't use it. So how should I edit this article without totally rewriting? I could easily just change the example to the New York Giants, but I haven't recovered from the loss yet. I can't even watch Eli Manning on the numerous talk shows yet, so I'll forget about praising the Giants.

Then it dawned on me... it's not too late to talk about the reining Stanley Cup Champions Boston Bruins. They were, to say the least, a very successful team last year. So what made them a successful team? Is it just about having better players? Is it having a better coach or superior home ice or field advantage? I say it is all about communication.

When playing hockey, just like any other team sports, good things start to happen when there is open, honest communication - and our duty sections are no different. On the ice you'll hear players talking to each other all the time... although sometimes it is more like shouting. Defensemen talk to defensemen, or goalie to defensemen, or forwards to defensemen. I can only assume that defensemen need a lot of help. Frankly, though, every player on the ice must be talking and listening because the flow of the play isn't always predictable and as the play develops we have to let our teammates know what we see since they may miss it (and vice versa). This type of chatter is very spontaneous.

In our work center things aren't much different. As our day develops we may or may not see things others see and, to be a successful team, we must let others become aware of the situation. This chatter allows us to adapt to meet these challenges quickly. A good example of this type of workplace chatter may be a dress and appearance correction. If someone is not wearing the uniform correctly, all that is normally required is a quick tactful comment to right the situation. Not all communication is this spontaneous; sometimes it is more deliberate.

At the end of last season, Zdeno Chara, the captain of the Boston Bruins, said in an interview that he had never been on a team that talked as much as they did on the bench or in the locker room. This type of interaction is normally very deliberate and to the point. This is where you make certain observations and have thought of ways to either counter or highlight these points. Drawing up a play with your teammates to counter a particular defensive style the opposing team is using tends to be deliberate. In the duty section this intentional discussion might be used in office meetings or in our performance feedback sessions. You have made certain observations and now need to let your boss, coworkers, or subordinates know what you're thinking. Where the more spontaneous talk normally leads to quick actions, the more planned communication leads to more lasting and significant actions. The biggest problem with either of these communication types is that they are only effective if someone is listening.

Most athletes have played on one team or another where a teammate just wouldn't listen to the coach or their fellow teammates. They were selfish, normally putting their own personal goals ahead of the team. Almost every team has someone like this. It normally takes a team leader to sit them down and try to correct this destructive behavior, but this job isn't always left to the formal leaders like Chara. The informal leaders within a team must make their presence felt. For the Bruins last year it was Mark Recchi. As an NHL veteran of 22 years and three-time Stanley Cup champion, it was said that when Recchi spoke everyone listened. He had an ability to quickly focus the squad. When teams lack this leadership you can tell. They struggle with simple tasks, and no matter what the coach says, he just can't get them focused. He may have a great message but there is a lack of listeners. The team is bound for failure.

So whether the conversations are short, quick and intended for immediate action or longer more deliberate talks aimed at longer lasting achievements, we must realize it doesn't mean much if no one is listening. I think at some time in our lives we all may count ourselves as poor listeners. I guess I can put myself in that category considering my Patriots. I should have listened to my mom. She also told me "Keep your stick on the ice and your head up," and that is what I intend to do. I will always do my utmost to be a good listener, and to be the leader who gets his teammates to listen as well.