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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Training to be Selected: Establishing the Case for a New Crew Resource Management Pedagogy

In Flying the Friendly Skies: Why U.S. Commercial Airline Pilots Want to Carry Guns (Fraher, 2004a), I examined new dilemmas that confronted U.S. commercial airlines in the weeks and months following the events of September 11, 2001 (9/11). Citing previous studies of social systems (Jacques, 1955; Menzies, 1959; Rice, 1958, 1963, 1965; Miller and Rice, 1967) which explored how organizations develop mechanisms to defend against anxiety inherent in the system, I used a systems psychodynamics[1] perspective to analyze the debate surrounding arming pilots with handguns at work. I deduced that many pilots' desire to be armed resulted from a combination of individual, group and systemic factors such as personal valencies, changes in the airport security system, the influence of the social history of guns in America, and pilots' feelings of stress, shame, fear and guilt about the events of 9/11. Proposing possible ways to proceed, I suggested that we needed more research about how the airline, as a system, and its leaders could better contain pilots' anxieties and reduce some pilots' urge to take matters into their own hands and carry a weapon at work. I concluded that aircrew training programs could undergo further development and noted that 'pilots could be trained using experiential learning techniques to understand better group dynamics and their collusion within the system' (Fraher, 2004a, p. 592).This article takes up the challenge, exploring ways that systems psychodynamics can provide a fresh approach to team training and error management in high-risk industries such as aviation. Typically called Crew Resource Management (CRM), aviation team training has deep roots in the sensitivity training and T-group movement in the USA, making it historically grounded in more individually focused perspectives. Rethinking training goals to include an examination of what I call non-linear forces in process such as individual psychology, group dynamics and systemic influences can help uncover some of the covert dynamics that both led US pilots to want to be armed, and continue to influence their work behavior.'