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“Cessna 180 Papa Alpha, traffic is at 4:00, a Boeing 737 on a four mile final to runway 01.”

My instructor and I whipped our heads to the right and there they were: the landing lights of a Boeing 737 airliner that looked awfully bright and awfully close. I’m sure the pilots of that 737 were more than a little concerned that they were flying anywhere in the vicinity of our little four-seat Cessna 172.

“Cessna 180 Papa Alpha, this isn’t going to work. Make a left 360-degree turn.”

My instructor in the right seat turned the yoke to the left and quickly started a full 360-degree turn to allow for spacing between ourselves and the 737 jet, which was landing on an intersecting runway. My instructor was “driving” because I was not experienced enough for this level of intensity.

“Nice job, Cessna 180 Papa Alpha!” the controller exclaimed after my instructor had almost finished his turn. “Cleared to land runway 04.”

And so he did.

We landed at Reagan National Airport in Washington and headed to the general aviation terminal to pick up my instructor’s mom who had just flown in to visit.

It was a fun, intense experience that I will never forget because it gave me a real appreciation for the communication and the level of situational awareness that are necessary to fly safely and capably.

Communicating and situational awareness are two skills that are just as important as flying the actual airplane. In fact, you cannot earn a pilot’s license without them.

Communication and situational awareness are also important across your departments and teams. However, communication requires situational awareness. How can we expect our departments and teams to work together and share information if they don’t know what other teams are doing? Naturally, they are going to focus on their own work and their own priorities. Why would they do anything differently? I call this creating Collective Awareness.

This doesn’t mean that teams need to know everything that every other team is doing, just like I didn’t need to know every little thing that other pilots were doing in their cockpits. I did need to have a good general picture of where those other planes were and where they were going. Same for your teams.

Focusing on individual team agendas may work fine for individual team projects, but don’t you want more? When the activity and intensity increases, when initiatives require coordination, when conditions are changing quickly, when you need to think bigger, when decisions need to be made now, when change needs to be coordinated, if everyone does not have that collective awareness, you are inevitably going to run into the other “planes.” As one person put it in a recent session of mine, “You’re going to have a lot of sheet metal strewn around the ground.”

We’ve all experienced the lack of collective awareness. Even my nephew, only a few years into his career, has experienced it. When I explained to him the premise for my upcoming book, his response was, “Oh yeah, we need better teamwork. We have no idea what other teams are doing.” Indeed.

In Part 2, we’ll look at how to build collective awareness, and then in Part 3 we’ll look at specific examples.