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Behavior-Based Safety Teams: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I pointed out the value of creating Behavior Based Safety teams to eliminate employee disinterest, demotivation, and disengagement in a Behavior Based Safety (BBS) process. A traditional BBS process creates functional silos—senior leaders, supervisors, support staff, steering committees, and observers all have specific tasks within the process. Restricting training and experience to specific groups eliminates the benefits of interdisciplinary, cross-functional development. Cross-training has for many years proven to increase the performance capital of employees. Employees who are not participants in any of these functional silos can feel excluded and disengaged.

Over the last 15 years I have heard BBS facilitators voicing frustration about how BBS at their plant or company has lost steam and employees were becoming disinterested. They didn’t know why, so they searched for the mythical “shot in the arm,” that mysterious something that will regenerate employee enthusiasm and involvement. They never questioned the fundamental structure of the BBS process. Yet, it is obvious to the unbiased that the typical BBS process is not structured to facilitate a team environment. Subsequently, the social dynamics that would lead to high levels of participation and involvement have been overlooked. There is no process for optimizing the social dynamic unless individuals are organized as part of a group that has a purpose they value. Creating teams fulfills the organizational structure that is needed and creating a safe work environment for that team provides the purpose that has value.

It is ironic that I am attempting to persuade anyone on the planet that creating teams is a wonderful way to increase motivation, drive, and a desire to accomplish, because I am writing this during America’s annual “March Madness” basketball season where the best college teams in the nation compete against one another.I and several million Americans have been watching up to four basketball games a day for the last two weeks. A team brings out the best in people for all the reasons I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post. Our planet is inundated by sports enthusiasts who watch teams of every sport; they encourage their children to become members of teams—assuming that being a member of a team will help them develop positive values, a positive sense of worth, and the ability to work well with others.

So why am I spending so much time establishing the value of creating BBS teams in your company or plant? Because I know how difficult it is for a group that has used a consulting company to install a process, to retune the process in any way. If the process doesn’t work as well as intended, the process dies a slow death and is replaced by another process that will do the same. Almost never does anyone say, “Hey, this is not working well for us, but if we do it another way I think it will improve the results.” Before you give up on your BBS process or allow it to experience a slow death, consider the information I have provided (so far) as a rationale for considering what I am about to suggest; and, rather than write more paragraphs I am going to list the main structure and functions of the teams you would create.

  • Create a team of 10-15 employees. They can be cross-functional, from one work area, or any combination that makes sense.
  • Observers and non-observers compose the team.
  • Select a team leader and define his/her role in assisting the group. A team leader can facilitate actions and decisions, act as a liaison with the steering committee, act as a point of contact for leadership when they are doing “walk-arounds,” and more.
  • Work with others to develop a team-leader training event; when several teams are formed in your plant, develop the training and orientation to provide the leaders with a template for action.
  • Team leaders from all teams can meet to share key learning, discuss problems and solutions, and brainstorm improvements for safety and team functions.
  • A team leader can serve as pivotal points for information, and for identifying individuals and team members for recognition.
  • Team leaders function as motivators, consensus builders, problem collectors, and facilitate information exchange with the steering council and leaders at all levels.
  • The team charter will be to enhance the safety of all its members. Members will accept responsibility for helping maintain the safety of other members.
  • Enhancing the safety of others can include performing safety observations, identifying and discussing hazards, creating unity around changes to the processes or equipment that would increase safety and anything else that protects the team against injury.
  • Provide data from BBS observations to the team and discuss observations, feedback, and safety barriers as well as anything else that has value.
  • Conversations by team members who are observers about the observation process and related issues will serve to create comfort in all team members and increase the likelihood that non-observers will want to become observers.
  • Team members can establish goals for any purpose the team deems valuable.
  • Organizational recognition can be calibrated for various team achievements. No financial incentives or tangible rewards should be attached to team achievement.

All of these points can be flexed to fit safety culture realities at your facility. More than that, these are suggestions for implementing an outcome that we know will have a positive effect. There is nothing sacred about any organizational change initiative. They were all developed by someone or a group using their experience and knowledge. We know that BBS works—when done correctly. Sustaining BBS is the problem. The missing ingredient has been the positive effect of team dynamics.