A Good Briefing Connects Your Plans to the Real World

This is the third in a series of posts that will provide, throughout the year, an improvement strategy that will cover the entire family of 9 Automation AirmanshipÒ principles. This post looks at how a well-constructed plan is put into action using the first half of the second principle – Briefing – to improve today’s flight (because we want to provide emphasis on the first half of this principle, in next month’s posting we will talk about debriefing).

Briefings (noun) have been improving outcomes in aviation for over a century, and every time that technology has been improved and added to the profession, briefing (verb) has become more complicated, and more important. In our 2013 book, Automation Airmanship, we put forth that a good briefing focusing on how crews intend to use automation during each phase of flight is the way the best experts put their carefully laid plans into action. It’ no surprise that research since then has continued to demonstrate the value of that approach to personal and team performance.

One of our favorite and most reliable references in understanding how modern teams work best in complex situations is Gary Klein’s 1998 seminal work on decision making, Sources of Power. Chapter 13 of that book (entitled, “The Power to Read Minds”) is a complete tutorial on briefing as it relates to high performing teams. In that chapter, Klein recounts a research encounter with a particularly high-performing team that was under observation, and how the researchers actually “grew bored” watching the team in action:

“They were not making interesting mistakes. Unlike the other teams, his team was not going off in wrong directions or getting into conflicts. Everyone knew what to do, and the assignment went off uneventfully. That is what seems to happen when intent is clear from the beginning.”*

Another researcher on the topic of peak performance has said that, “The way a problem is described influences how we think about it.” Both of these observations make a lot of sense to us; weaving their meaning into action is the hard part. So, we offer a couple of examples that might get you started:

  1. Stable Approach & Go-Around: On your next flight don’t simply say during your approach briefing, “let’s make sure the approach is stable and if we need to go-around we will fly the published missed.” Try this, instead: “With 20 knots of crosswind, be sure to sample airspeed and sink rate parameters more than normal during the last 1500 feet of the approach. Call out deviations above 10 knots above or 5 knots below VAPP, and sink rates above 1000 fpm.”
  2. The Role of Automation: Instead of providing the best briefing any check airman has ever heard off of your chart or electronic flight bag, try briefing the procedure from the FMS instead – that is, after all, what the airplane’s automation will provide guidance for and execute if coupled to autoflight. Brief only those items from the chart/EFB that can’t be viewed on the FMS or navigation display; your brief will be briefer, and your crew will be more focused.

Always remember, the absolute test of a good briefing is that it should lighten the load of each crewmember, and not make it harder for them to do their job.

Think about it.

Until our next post, fly safe, and always, fly first.

*Gary Klein, Source of Power: How People Make Decisions. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1998. P. 231. 

Leave a Comment