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How to Avoid Fatal Mistakes in Your Organization: Two ways to ensure success

By: Whiskey Tango

Bottom Line up front- All organizations have mistakes that are fatal to their health and well-being. Avoiding critical mistakes is key to the success of all enterprises.

Short Story

I lay on the metallic ground of the C-130 airplane. The tight parachute harness squeezed my back and inner thighs. It felt like I was being squeezed by an anaconda made out of webbing. My body begged to be free of this military corset. My spine felt crooked from the compression. The buzz of the aircraft penetrated my gray Gentex helmet and threatened to put me to sleep. The aircrew loadmaster signaled me the ten-minute call and I watched the jump caution light turn red. I stood up from the floor of the cargo plane and bent over to stretch my back. I unhooked my static line from the reserve parachute and clipped it into the metal anchor cable on the side of the plane.

I turned carefully to face my jumpers in the jostling plane. I was responsible for the safety of my jumpers that day. I was a Special Tactics Training instructor at Hurlburt Field Florida. The students I was in charge of were extremely new and I viewed them as a danger to themselves. This wasn't my first class and I had seen many potentially fatal mistakes avoided because of vigilant Jump Masters. I saw myself as a mother hen and I needed to keep my pack in line. I began my jumpmaster's dance of issuing commands. I shouted, "GET READY". The jumpers responded by turning to face me all at once. "10 MINUTES". "OUTBOARD PERSONNEL STAND UP". The jumpers stood in unison. Next command, "HOOK UP". I pumped my arms skyward with my index finger in a hooked configuration. The Jumpers began fastening their static lines to the inboard cable running along the side of the plane. A seal broke behind as the paratroop door was opened by one of the aircrew members. A rush of sound, wind, and light came pouring from the new opening in the aircraft cabin. The air temperature dropped. The adrenaline began to pump from the anticipation of the jump. I could see the excitement on my jumpers' faces and calmed myself. I had to remain cool to remain vigilant.

Next command, "CHECK STATIC LINES". The jumpers traced their yellow static line from the anchor cable till it ran over their shoulder. Then they checked the person in front of them. "CHECK EQUIPMENT". The jumpers self-inspected their chin straps, chest straps, and leg straps. "SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK". Butt slaps were passed up from the rear until the closest jumper had a knife hand in my face and shouted, "ALL OKAY JUMPMASTER". I slapped it away and turned on the open paratroop door. I handed off my static line to my Safetyman and began inspecting the exit door. I went through my routine. Door safety pin installed, Jumper platform secured with a stomp. I stuck my head out the door. A blast of wind pressed on my helmet and goggles. The saliva was sucked out of my mouth by the torrent of wind. I checked for aircraft in the area. No sign. I then began to identify landmarks. Highway I-10. That was the two-minute marker. I came back inside the aircraft. "TWO MINUTES". The Jumpers parroted my commands. I got back outside the aircraft. The 125-knot wind whipped at my uniform and pressed on my skin. I spotted the snake river. Back inside the aircraft. "ONE MINUTE". The jumpers echoed. Outside the aircraft again. I spotted the dropzone. A large one-mile airfield was hard to miss. In the center was an orange "V" marking the target location. I came back in to issue the standby call. I looked down the line of jumpers to check their safety. That's when I spotted a fatal mistake.

Jumper number three in the stack in his confusion had wrapped his static line around his arm multiple times. The result of this action in the best-case scenario would be to tear his arm off at 125 knots. When a static line jumper exits the aircraft he jumps from the plane but their static line remains connected to the aircraft. The Parachute is pulled out from the container and breaks away from the static line. Anything caught up in the yellow static line is quickly and violently removed. This is why jewelry is forbidden in jump training.

Spotting the likely fatal mistake I immediately aborted the pass. I remained in between the jumpers and the door until the door was secured closed. After which I disconnected my static line and stalked down to the unsuspecting jumper. He stared face forward like he was somewhere else mentally. I began shouting. I was pissed that this idiot had almost killed himself. He was clueless as I unwound the deadly yellow viper from his arm. I moved him like he was a mannequin even regripping his hand and moving his arm in the proper configuration. He showed his appreciation or maybe his understanding by giving me a thumbs up when I was finished. I glared at him for scaring the daylights out of me. I shook my head and smacked the back of his helmet hard. I needed him to remember his mistake. I wouldn't always be there to fix his errors. I turned back towards the door to begin the procedure all over again.

So What? You may not think of risk and danger in the terms I put them in. Maybe your organizations don't jump out of planes but they do make important decisions. Some of the decisions could cause your organization to fail. Some of these errors could cripple your organization's ability to succeed. I call these mistakes fatal. Listed below are Two ways to avoid the land mine of bad decision-making.

  1. Keep your eyes on failure points. Develop an inspection process of key areas. In the Jump Master world, we have key inspections we go through to avoid fatalities. Aircraft pilots run checklists. There are safety briefs. Most organizations have critical areas they monitor through checklists and spreadsheets. I'm not an advocate of building processes for process' sake. However, as a leader, you should obsess over the RIGHT process so critical areas of your enterprise get the right amount of attention. Find your key failure points and keep an eye on them.

  2. Put trust where trust belongs. I have been formally trained as a jump master. The jump master schools teach individuals critical skills to keep their jumpers safe. I also have a lot of time working with experienced jump masters to hone my craft. You can't make all the decisions nor should you. You must rely on others to grow your organization. You have key trustworthy capable people within your organization. If you don't start developing some. Find them. Give them good direction and intent. Then trust them with important decisions.

Professional Development and Team Building Activity

A message to the readers- If you found my blog insightful, I recommend using it to develop the team you lead. If you don't lead a team consider passing it to someone who does. Listed below is a team-building activity that works with the blog above.

Instructions: Choose one of the following ways.

  1. Have your team pre-read the above blog and schedule a time to drive discussion questions below

  2. Schedule a lunch and learn session where you carve out time to read the blog together and then review the discussion questions below.

  3. Have your team pre-read the blog and use the discussion questions as an opener to your weekly meetings.

Discussion questions:

  1. Have we made fatal mistakes as an organization? If so what? and how do we correct?

  2. What are our critical organizational points that must be monitored?

  3. Do we have an effective process in place to monitor these potential danger areas?

  4. What processes do we have that fail to serve the organization?

    1. Can we let them go?

    2. Why or Why not?

  5. Is the organization putting trust in the right places?

    1. How can we improve?

  6. Is the organization doing an effective job of giving direction?

    1. How can it improve?


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