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Bullpen

When it comes to teamwork there is a point of diminishing returns.


While I was organizing dives at the Aquarium I tried to keep the teams in each exhibit small enough that everyone could stay in communication. However, the exhibitry sometimes interrupted line of sight and, with a very specific task in front of them, it was very easy for folks to get single-mindedly task-focused.


One day I concocted a scheme to demonstrate not only how important buddy-awareness continues to be no matter what you're doing because you are still underwater.


As everyone was getting in a tank I pulled one diver aside. I gave them a small slate with a watch affixed to it, a small grid drawn on it to record names and times, and a card that said,

"Thank you for noticing me, I am fine, now please ignore me."


I instructed the diver to, at some point into the dive, as everyone was well-absorbed with their task, note the time and then just go limp in the water. To simply lay, motionless, in the sand.


When members of the team shook them and actually made eye-contact to show them the sign and note the time.


Wanna take a guess at the very best time, that first time I ran this drill?


7 minutes. 7 very long, boring minutes for our "injured" diver.


Wanna take a guess at the worst time?


3 left the tank without ever noticing.


"So," I asked a room full of admonished-looking divers during our day's debrief, "What did we learn today?"


"That someone could die in a tank and we wouldn't have noticed?" People looked down and shuffled feet.


I performed this exercise with each of 7 different dive teams with similar results each time. I do not bring up this story in derision; not one little bit.


I did this to demonstrate not only that general dive awareness is important even in only 5 feet of water. But also to show how being in a too-large team can lead to bystander syndrome (where everyone thinks someone else will tend to any problem that might arise, or even have trouble identifying a problem, because everyone else is acting normally) or a confused response (where everyone tries to take control of everything at once instead of having well-practiced and deliberately assigned roles).


I thought back on this exercise recently when I visited a fairly challenging, twisty-turny, sometimes small cave where I happened to see three different groups of 5 divers.

I thought about how I recently posted about the usually fundamental usefulness of good teamwork. I thought about how the best size for a team is 3 (for a variety of reasons), but there are some caves where it might be better to have only 2. And I even allow that there are generally rare circumstances where solo diving (with serious contingencies and safety/planning modifications) might be preferred.


But there also hits a point where the team can be too big. Right at about 4, in fact. After 3 being the number of thy count, wouldn't it just be easier to break into 2 well-defined teams of 2?


At the Aquarium we used the lessons learned from our "diver down" exercise to start more deeply appreciating the increased risk of the work we were doing and that with that task focus we couldn't operate as though we were fun-diving. With that in mind we started to practice emergency skills, we started to more precisely define roles... in short, we moved towards creating a safer workplace.


But when we are fun diving...

- Is the Divemaster the solely responsible party in a nominal "team" of 8 people? - Are you and your "buddy" capable of navigating back to the boat yourselves, or do you figure, "In case of problems, UP is the single solution?" - In a cave, are 5 people checking in using light communication that makes the place look like a disco? - In limited visibility is each diver to check in with 4 other divers before moving past a hairy area, or can you just assume, "They're probably back there and XXXX is probably keeping an eye on them?" - Similar to limited viz, what about, as is so often the case these days, when there are video lights involved... soft, diffuse light that is hard to recognize the source of much less signal with? Who is keeping track of whether so-an-so is even still with the team?


And what if the unthinkable happens? How do we determine RIGHT FUCKING NOW who is the rescuer and who is just getting in the way?


In the workplace, we discussed and practiced these things.


On a day of your vacation, do you?

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