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Seafarers Want Better Social Unity Onboard

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The Crewtoo Seafarers Happiness Index highlighted the basics required for a satisfying and rewarding life at sea. From the 2015 results, seafarers stated they wanted answers to ensuring social cohesion onboard.

WHAT IS SOCIAL COHESION?

The issue of social cohesion onboard is a big problem. Seafarers stressed that not only do they want to feel part of a shipboard team, with camaraderie, friendships and interaction – they want to be given the tools to bring people together.

“Social cohesion” is a rather grand sounding term – so what does it mean? In essence, it all comes down to social trust, measured as trust between people onboard.

Respect

Respect

Do people get on, do they respect each other, can they empathise between ranks and departments, and do people of different languages or religions get along? This is about integration and unity; about how seafarers can work and live together.

So it is about teamwork – and the coming together of a crew, working towards a common goal. A team with different responsibilities, skills, knowledge and vision – and one which gets things done.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

There has been many changes at sea, which have eroded the traditional model of teamwork and indeed trust. The over-reliance on instructions from shore, the paperwork and admin burden, as well as the demands on smaller crew numbers.

The demands have been corroding and undermining the nature of what it is to be a crew – there is little time for the team, it all becomes too much about tasks. The whole becomes consumed by the specifics, and it is all too easy for people to retreat into their own vacuum.

Which is exactly what is happening, as there are ever more concerns about isolation at sea. Seafarers do not really feel a part of the whole picture – they are too beholden to systems, processes and the paperwork.

While there are calls for assistance, advice and support from ashore – it is also important to assess what can be done on the ship to foster and rekindle the old traditions of teamwork. Perhaps one area that is being undermined is leadership – with so many management systems, the art of leadership is vanishing – and that is further destabilising the delicate social eco-system.

DO LEADERSHIP COURSES WORK?

Leadership

Leadership

The irony is that leadership and management with vision are seemingly on the wane – but at a time when more and more officers are supposedly trained in just those skills.

So how is it, that despite training and a focus on the importance of team management, that we are seeing such tears in the fabric of shipboard society? Why when people have certificates saying they can lead, are people failing to do so?

Perhaps it is because we are losing the team ethic that was always so much a part of the life of a seafarer. Pressure, stress and increased demands lead to tension, and that can rip things apart.

It seems that the team ethic needs to be rekindled, and seafarers need to feel the connection with their fellow crew once more. Within a team there is natural sense of cohesion and shared experience. These can all help in building bridges onboard.

WHAT IS A TEAM?

Teamwork

Teamwork

It can be all too easy to confused collective terms. A “team”, should have collective goals and be working together towards them. A voyage would be a classic shared enterprise, and one which should bring all the individuals together to make the things that should happen, happen – while guarding against those that shouldn’t.

A team includes seven common elements:

  1. Common purpose: Everyone should be pulling together. Getting the ship safely from port to port, should be one of the most shared goals. Sometimes it is perhaps important to remind everyone onboard that they are all in it together. Making people feel responsible, but without stress. Fostering pride and a sense of accomplishment – today it seems that these feelings are all too rare at sea.
  2. Interdependence: Living and working at sea is to be in a very tightly co-dependent group. Every social action has an equal and opposite reaction – so seafarers need to be able to take the benefits which come with such interdependence, which in turn helps to build a community.
  3. Clarity or roles and contribution: The rank and departmental systems onboard mean that everyone should be, in theory, very clear on their roles and contributions. So that means that this aspect of the team should be relatively straightforward to harness. So long as everyone does their job, then all should benefit.
  4. Satisfaction from mutual working: Perhaps it is sometimes hard at sea to fully appreciate the benefits of mutual working. They are so obvious, but often they only really come to the fore when things go wrong. Leadership involves making sure that plaudits and praise are the order of the day – and that can help others to see just what a good job others are doing.
  5. Mutual and individual accountability: Much is made of the fact that we do not work in a blame culture. Sadly that is sometimes missed, especially when terse emails from ashore begin to point the finger or cause issues. The team onboard should be able to work together to best effect, and feel that one and all are in it together. Support and respect are vital for the shipboard team – as vital as in any football, basketball or rugby team.
  6. Realisation of synergies: It may sound foolish – but it can be all too easy to forget how shipboard synergy works. It is so fundamental to all that is done, that again it only becomes a focus when things go wrong. The deck officer reliant on full ahead, the engineer reliant on the OOW avoiding burning thruster motors out. Every subtle action onboard is all about synergy, but sometimes there is no harm in reminding everyone.
  7. Empowerment: The word and indeed the concept of “empowerment” can be derided – and dismissed as some kind of management consultant noodling. Actually though, it is at the heart of all that can be good at sea.
Boost Performance

Boost performance

The very best employers empower their staff. It is the management practice of sharing information, rewards, and power with employees so that they can take initiative and make decisions to solve problems and improve performance.

Empowerment is based on the idea that giving employees skills, resources, authority, opportunity, motivation, as well holding them responsible and accountable for outcomes of their actions, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction.

Perhaps then, this is the foundation and the actual key to rebuilding the social life at sea – it is about changing the work ethic and the tools seafarers have to perform. It is about giving the space, time, support and respect to do the job right – when the job can be done, then there will be room for positive relationships onboard.

Do you feel shipowners and managers do enough to support relationships onboard? Or is there a lack of leadership, and are crews responsible for building their own relationships onboard. Tell us what you think…