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This is part 2 of a 3 part series on Building Collective Awareness. Read Part 1 here.

“There’s another one,” I remarked after hearing the radio call. I strained my neck looking through the windshield, trying to locate the airplane that may be intersecting our flight path. Accidentally flying into another airplane was not on my list of things to do this Saturday.

“There he is,” I said. “He won’t be a factor.” We continued on.

The radio chatter was consistent as we flew across middle Tennessee, heading back home. It required vigilance to make sure that we did not intersect another airplane’s flight path.

This time, it wasn’t me sitting in the pilot’s seat. It was my son, who had recently earned his pilot’s license. I was just along for the ride. Unlike my trip to Washington Reagan Airport years ago, this radio chatter was because we were flying past several uncontrolled airports and airspace in this part of the state. There are no air traffic controllers to guide us here.

However, there is a handy tool that makes it a lot easier: the common traffic advisory frequency. It is a single radio frequency that every airplane uses in uncontrolled airspace to call out where they are, at which altitude they are flying, and where they are going. It provides every other airplane in the area awareness and a mental picture of what’s going on around them. Multiple airports use it. Every airplane in the vicinity uses it. As my son and I flew across middle Tennessee, all we had to do was listen to that frequency to maintain awareness.
Your teams need a “common traffic advisory frequency.” The goal is not for every team to know every detail of what every other team is doing. The goal is to give every team a mental picture of what’s happening across the organization.

The goal is not for every team to know every detail of what every other team is doing. The goal is to give every team a mental picture of what’ s happening across the organization.

General McChrystal calls this “shared consciousness.” Harvard Business Review dubbed this a “shared mindset.” I call it “collective awareness.”

A word of caution: For whatever reason, we all develop a tendency to withhold information. It makes me think of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” So remember Bethune’s law of communication: Unless it’s dangerous or illegal to share, we share it. Otherwise, teams will inevitably run into each other, or worse, expend needless energy doing needless activities. The benefits of sharing far, far outweigh the risks.

How do we create this collective awareness?

Simple. Put in place a rhythm to share information: a regular, constant source of information in which everyone participates to both share and receive information.

In Part 3, we’ll look at specific examples of rhythms to build collective awareness.