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Inappropriate hierarchy and what to do about it

BBC Radio 4 - From the Cockpit to the Operating Theatre

Why lessons learned from aviation psychology are starting to save lives in hospitals.

​Matt Lindley, trainer and coach with Atrainability, featured in a radio broadcast recently on the BBC, alongside Prof Rhona Flin and other eminent healthcare experts, speaking about the problems of dealing with inappropriate hierarchy when it comes to safety. 

Matt's background is Royal Air Force and now British Airways where he flies long haul around the World. He has an extensive training experience which for the most recent few years has expanded into Health and Social Care with Atrainability.

Clearly both military and commercial aviation enjoy the benefits and problems associated with hierarchy. Both have developed tools to try and get the message through when safety is paramount. In my case, starting flying in 1971, the hierarchy or Authority Gradient was a real problem. Captains were never called by their given name, but always 'Sir' or 'Captain' on and off the aircraft.

Just to explain the concept of the Authority Gradient this is the view from the top person versus the view from the junior. If you ever hear someone say "I could have told you that" the immediate question must be "why didn't you?" or perhaps "what is it about me that stopped you?"

How many of us believe we are very approachable but then find one of our team has hesitated to challenge what we are saying or doing? I've been there and it is a terrifying bit of personal feedback. In my case I was a Training and Checking Captain with real power over other pilot's futures. I was the veritable scary monster that triggered fear – irrational I hope, but perceived real in the moment nonetheless.

The one advantage aviation has, of course, is the 'Black Box' – real evidence of what was said and done. Thus we know that the various Human Factors are a problem. It is often said that 90% of air crashes someone is heard to voice concerns but not effectively enough to stop the ensuing accident. Aviation works very hard to deal with this and effective balanced assertiveness, perhaps using a 'Trigger' word to get attention.

We teach these techniques in Health and Social Care supported by coaching in the live or simulated workplace to get to those who, for whatever reason, find class too difficult to attend!

So the responsibility lies throughout the team – the leaders, recognising that they may not be as approachable as they think, should encourage appropriate questioning. Those more junior in status should never assume and always accept their role in checking the correct process is taking place. 'Trigger' words work very well in health and social care too. "Gorilla???"

Our Human Factors Open Courses are the perfect introduction for both front line staff and managers who want to understand how they can improve issues such as inappropriate hierarchy, among others. Discounts are available for early bird bookings, but please do get in touch if you'd like a more bespoke, in-house traininig soultion for your team. We'd be happy to help you.


I could have told you that
Human Factors Training – Published evidence that i...
 

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Thursday, 19 September 2019