High Performing Teams - The Red Arrows

Tom Westerling

I have always had a keen interest in things that go fast, machines and technology, but when given the opportunity to spend a day with the Red Arrows, this wasn’t the first thing that sprung to mind!

Don’t get me wrong, the Hawk T1 planes did not disappoint, I was amazed by their simplicity in comparison to newer planes, and what the team were able to do with them.

As a Learning & Development professional, I was more excited to see what it really takes to be part of a High Performing Team. 

The Red Arrows are always referenced as the “Ultimate High Performing Team” in the HR and L&D world. The team changes yearly with new members joining, experienced members leaving and other members changing roles within the team. They operate at speeds of up to 645 miles per hour working under immense pressure. Despite this, year on year, a new team are formed to learn a new Aerobatic Display ready for the summer season. The team have successfully gained sign-off from the Civil Aviation Authority and displayed every year since 1965.

I was fortunate enough to attend a pre-flight briefing, a practice display session and the team debrief. This structure is applied to all practice sessions (up to six per day) without fail and involves all team members in the practice.

In the pre-brief Red 1 – Team leader Martin Pert – explains exactly what the session will focus on and how it will be run, he invites feedback from the team throughout this process. They then talk about exactly what will happen, running through each sequence step by step.

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All of the practice session displays are recorded to ensure nothing is missed and normally last between 15 to 30 minutes.

Following the practice sessions, the team go straight into debrief, reviewing the recording of the displays as a group. This is really where the Red Arrows differentiate from other High Performing Teams. I don’t think I have ever experienced an environment of trust, feedback and open communication quite like this before. As the team review the footage, they call out their own mistakes, faults and issues with the rest of the group. If required these are discussed in more detail and suggestions are made to rectify them immediately. I have never seen a process like it in business, there are no consequences for admitting fault, the only aim is to improve.

 There are hundreds of Feedback/Continuous Improvement processes to follow, however the Red Arrows follow one of the simplest, but stick to it rigidly.

Action > Feedback > Reflection

Two-way, regular, open and honest feedback is consistently acknowledged by HR and Learning Professionals as the best way to develop and grow as individuals and teams.

It is something many organisations claim to do this but very few actually achieve it.

For organisations to benefit from this and truly thrive they need to work out how to create trusting environments for employees to learn from their mistakes and discuss them openly with the sole aim of improving in the future. 

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