Teamwork

I spent the majority of last week with some of the greatest people I know: my fellow NCRC (National Cave Rescue Commission) instructors and students.  Let’s start by the obvious, it takes a strange twist of mind to be the sort of person that actually enjoys crawling through dark holes in the ground. Now take that same group of people and add  a sense of altruism and you’ve got folks willing to rescue others trapped in caves.

Let me interject in here by the way, that caving is actually a fantastically safe sport. When an accident in a cave makes the news, it’s because it’s so rare and generally so unique as to attract attention. The NSS puts out a report every 2 years detailing the accidents across the US. It’s well worth the read if you can find a copy. Now back to the rest of my blog post.

I have been one of the many instructors who teach the “Level 2” class. I love this level because students have gotten beyond the basics and are starting to learn the “why” we do things more than simply the “how”.  And we start to really work on their team leadership and teamwork skills (as I mentioned last week in my post about the lost Sked).

Good teamwork isn’t just a bunch of people working to solve a task. It’s them working together and often anticipating the needs.  Two events last week illustrated a failure and a success.  At one point, I was a mock patient and the class had been broken into two teams. The first one had to get me out of a tight crawl-way (packaged in a Sked) and up to an open area. From there another team had set up a haul system to get me to the top of a 60′ or so (I’ve never really measured it) block of rock.  This was towards the end of the week when the students (and instructors) are a bit tired and overwhelmed with everything they had learned.  We had allocated 90 minutes for the exercise.

During the first part, I just felt like something was off. Nothing serious, nothing I could put my finger on. But the magic the students had shown all week just wasn’t quite there.

And then there I was, 2 hours into the exercise, laying on top of the tight area, waiting to be hauled up. Someone on the lower team said that I was ready to go.  Someone at the top of the block said they were ready to go.  And then I sat for 2-3 minutes until finally things started happening again.  But for a few minutes the days of teamwork had fallen apart. They weren’t trying to anticipate needs or even work cooperatively.  It wasn’t a huge issue, but it did get a reaction from our oldest, most irascible Level 2 instructor.  I think the word ‘disappointed’ was used at least twice.  It might have been a bit harsh, but… it worked.

As the final exercise of the day, the instructors decided to have a bit of fun with the students. We hid the previously lost (and then found) Sked.  The instructor in charge then informed the students that their lost “patient” for this particular exercise was about 4′ tall, last seen wearing bright orange, and was afraid of the dark. As details were added, it suddenly dawned on them what we had in mind.

But they took the task seriously. They did an excellent search and when they were then told the “patient” wasn’t responsive to stimuli, and they couldn’t rule out a c-spine injury, therefore the Sked had to be packaged in another litter, they did so with gusto and honestly, one of the best packaging jobs I had seen all week. All this while laughing.

They took an absolutely silly scenario, laughed while doing it, yet exhibited amazing teamwork. They were back on their game!

Sometimes teams can start to fall apart, but reminding them of how good they can be and providing a bit of levity can help elevate them back to their best!

 

A Lost Sked

Not much time to write this week. I’m off in Alabama crawling around in the bowels of the Earth teaching cave rescue to a bunch of enthusiastic students. The level I teach focuses on teamwork. And sometimes you find teams forming in the most interesting ways.

Yesterday our focus was on some activities in a cave (this one known as Pettyjohn’s) that included a type of a litter known as a Sked. When packaged it’s about 9″ in diameter and 4′ tall. It’s packaged in a bright orange carrier. It’s hard to miss.

And yet, at dinner, the students were a bit frantic; they could not account for the Sked. After some discussion they determined it was most likely left in the cave.

As an instructor, I wasn’t overly concerned, I figured it would be found and if not, it’s part of the reason our organization has a budget for lost or broken equipment, even if it’s expensive.

That said, what was quite reassuring was that the students completely gelled as a team. There was no finger pointing, no casting blame. Instead, they figured out a plan, determined who would go back to look for it and when. In the end, the Sked was found and everyone was happy.

The moral is, sometimes an incident like this can turn into a group of individuals who are blaming everyone else, or it can turn a group into a team where everyone is sharing responsibility. In this case it was it was the latter and I’m quite pleased.