Captainitis and how teams go down:

Posted by Kristin Arnold on December 12, 2007

During the snowstorm last week, I flew from Reagan National Airport to Toronto and then on to Charlottetown (in Prince Edward Island). As the plane was being de-iced in Toronto, I kept thinking about the phenomenon, Captainitis, as explained in the Harvard Business School Management Communications Newsletter :

Captainitis gets its name from the sometimes-deadly type of passivity exhibited by crew members of multipiloted aircraft when the flight captain makes a clearly wrong-headed decision. Accident investigators have repeatedly registered disastrous instances when even an obvious error made by a captain was not corrected by other crew members.

Consider the following exchange, recorded on an airliner’s flight recorder minutes before it crashed into the Potomac River near Washington National Airport in 1982:

Copilot: Let’s check the ice on those tops [wings] again since we’ve been sitting here awhile.
Captain: No. I think we get to go in a minute.
Copilot: [Referring to an instrument reading] That doesn’t seem right, does it? Uh, that’s not right.
Captain: Yes, it is.
Copilot: Ah, maybe it is.
[Sound of plane straining unsuccessfully to gain altitude]
Copilot: Larry, we’re going down!
Captain: I know it.
[Sound of impact that killed the captain, copilot, and seventy-six others.]

Question: Do your team members blindly defer to the boss or do you engage in a healthy dialogue before the final verdict?

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