Team Dynamics: What to Look for in Team Members When Planning Tech Dives

Team-DynamicsHave you ever wondered why it is that Scuba Diving International (SDI™) pioneered Solo Diver education to produce self-sufficient sport divers, but its sister agency, Technical Diving International (TDI™), the largest and most successful tech agency, does not offer the tech-diving equivalent to Solo Diver on its curriculum?

It’s a fair question and one that a good percentage of SDI and TDI instructors get asked from time to time. After all, it seems counter-intuitive to sanction solo diving to sport divers and to discourage technical divers from doing it! But actually, TDI DOES support and strongly recommend ALL the skills and protocols taught in an SDI solo diver specialty program: it simply promotes them in a different way. Let’s see what that means.

Technical diving is a team activity, and team-diving – which is a little different to the ubiquitous buddy-diving pushed in sport-diving classes – is at the core of every TDI program. The complexities and logistics of planning and executing a dive that is longer and deeper, that takes place in an overhead environment or in other tough conditions, or that requires special equipment, simply means that the support of another or several other divers is necessary. In some cases, that support will include a team on the surface as well as in the water.

When success and safety require a team and cannot be achieved solo, selecting the members of that team becomes a priority… in fact, it’s job number one. And to do it with any hope of making the right choices, one needs to understand the basics of team dynamics.

Team Dynamics

In general terms, analyzing the interactions that influence the attitudes and behavior of people who have been thrown together by chance or by design, is the study of team dynamics.

The forces that govern how people react, and how they perform under pressure, are complex, but as technical divers we have to take a shot at it! There is no such thing in the realm of technical diving as an “Insta-Buddy” (or there should not be). The risks associated with technical diving and the process of managing those risks simply preclude a technical diver from getting into the water with someone upon whom they cannot depend, and with whom they do not have a strong sense of trust. Technical dives are planned and conducted with folks who are known and who share common backgrounds, goals and objectives. No strangers involved. Period.

Recognizing the Variables

To understand what forces may influence team behavior, one needs to start the process by recognizing the many things that may play a role.

  • Training. The number one tick on the virtual (or real) checklist is to make sure that everyone on the team has appropriate training for the role they are expected to fulfill. With a simple two or three-person team, it is not unusual for them to have trained at the same time with the same instructor.
  • Experience. Training tells us one thing, but under what conditions that training has been used and how regularly it’s been put to the test, is the other side of the coin. As with training, it is typical for a team to dive together on a regular basis and to support each other in developing and refining their skills.
  • Personality styles. Personal chemistry counts for a lot, and almost always, the members of a dive team are good friends who share more than their dive experiences. However, regardless of friendship, one must recognize that each person has strengths and weaknesses that may have a strong influence – either positive or negative – on the dynamics of the team’s performance. Accounting for this is important should things go off-kilter during the dive but can also be a factor in the planning stages and preparation for a big dive.
  • Team roles. One of the seemingly odd recommendations is that the strongest, most experienced diver is NOT the one who leads a dive. It is the so-called weakest link who does that. This can mean that team members may be asked to perform functions that are “unfamiliar” to them. For example, it is not unusual for a truly experienced diver to make some sacrifices to “ego” and personal bragging rights to support the development of his/her less experienced team members.
  • Parameters of the dive itself. Different dives demand different approaches to most things including team assessment and most certainly influence team dynamics. Environmental conditions, such as cold, poor visibility, strong currents, and others can bring out otherwise hidden strengths or weaknesses in a team member. Divers should understand and be honest sharing with other team members their personal limits and preferences.
  • Tools and technology. Diving is equipment intensive. Over a period of just a few years, the tools available to technical divers have evolved dramatically. Tools such as DPVs and fourth generation computers, small powerful lights and rebreathers have greatly influenced the way dives are planned and run. A successful team will be up-to-date on these developments and will not be dogmatic and stuck with dyed-in-the-wool notions about what works and what does not. Things change and there is no place for complacency about tools and technology.
  • Processes/methodologies/procedures. It’s said that any fool can dive to 100 metres/330 feet, the secret is getting home. A great deal of team dynamics is focused on contingency planning and not just understanding the best options to get everyone home safe, but practicing them too. A good team “sings for the same hymn sheet” when circumstances require quick decisive action. Much of this harkens back to a team sharing common training, but more important is that as a group they agree on the processes, methods and procedures that their dives will be run by.
  • And others!

Managing the Variables

Every team member and every technical diver must be responsible for managing the variables that may influence the team. This is done by recognizing and understanding the forces at play, deciding whether they are negative or positive, and making interventions to tilt all of them towards being more positive.

For example, communication is not everybody’s forte. Some of us keep our feelings to ourselves. Sometimes a friend will forget to ask our opinion and for our input on a decision they assumed they knew our feeling about. We all can feel slighted. The place to voice disappointment or bruised feelings is not 50 metres deep and an hour’s swim back in a cave.

The Five Essential Issues

This is me. Team members are individuals and each possesses a unique viewpoint, talent, perspective and values. The more each team member is self-aware, the more actively he or she can contribute to the success of the team as a whole.

This is us. Boiled down to its essence, a team should be greater than the sum of its parts. A group of individuals are vastly different people each with a unique approach to the ways they build relationships and deal with conflicts and challenges. This is a significant strength but to benefit, every team member must participate.

This is our goal. Considering the cost of gas, charters, and travel, it is amazing that some dive teams jump into the water hoping for success but not bothering to plan for it. Indeed, with mid-sized projects or dives, there are times when each team simply assumes that each of the others see the job at hand and how to tackle it in precisely the same way they do. Success demands that a team takes the time to discuss what the goals, mission, or tasks of the team are and avoid the conflict and failure (and potential danger) when they are blindsided by someone’s personal agenda.

This is how we get there. When traveling from point A to point B there are often several routes, and so it is with technical diving. Different people may each arrive at the same destination from a different direction. This is great in many aspects of life, but it does not work in team-diving. What DOES work is for the team to discuss those different routes when the dive plan is drawn up and to decide, as a group, which is Plan A and which is Plan B.

We did just great. One of the most commonly dropped or an often neglected skill is debriefing the dive. Each team member owes it to themselves and to their mates to have some measure of how well they did. People of different personality types will have different perspectives on what constitutes good and adequate performance, and sharing is a true learning experience. It also builds a very strong team bond.

Effective teamwork starts with understanding one’s self and ways we are different from others. When each diver knows their value to the team, they are in a better position to value and capitalize on the contributions of the other people on their team. This also helps to shift the team dynamic from “me” to “we.”
Team diving does not preclude divers being self-sufficient and being capable, in the event of some contingency or another, of finishing the dive alone. A well-rounded, balanced technical diver looks at their dive plans much the same as a solo diver, but chooses to execute them as a member of a team of like-minded divers.

Contact SDI TDI and ERDI

If you would like more information, please contact:

Tel: 888.778.9073 | 207.729.4201

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