Communication key to building winning team

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- My favorite season of the year has arrived, autumn! Soon we will enjoy the beautiful yellow, orange and brown North Carolina foliage, along with brisk mornings and evenings. Adding more excitement to my autumns are the sounds of great high school, college and professional football games. I mention football because, having played the game up to the collegiate level, I believe it is the ultimate "team" sport. During my nearly 25 years in the Air Force, I have often drawn comparisons between a great football team and a great Air Force team. Needless to say, the key to building these great teams is effective two-way communication.

Air Force Pamphlet 36-2241 defines communication as, "the art and technique of using words effectively to impact one's ideas." From this definition, several key words should immediately grab every leader's attention: "art and technique", "effectively" and "impact one's ideas". What art and technique are we using to effectively communicate up and down our chain of command to positively impact one's ideas? How does our Air Force team communication relate to a winning football team?

Head football coaches at nearly every level are plugged into a headset on the sideline. The head coach is in constant communication with the quarterback directing the team and assistant coaches in the booth who can view the entire field. Their art and technique is direct verbal communication through the headset. To be more effective during the pace of the game, predetermined formations, plays, etc. are practiced before the game to help ease and shorten the communication process. It is imperative that opponents weaknesses viewed by the coaches in the booth are relayed to the head coach, and in-turn passed to the team on the field. Now, while the game is going on and things are changing due to variations of the opposing team, the plays called will impact one's ideas, in this case, the players' actions on the field. Our Air Force team also needs effective communication to perform well on our field.

For leaders at each level in the Air Force, it is our obligation to find and use the correct art and technique that will ensure mission success. With electronic and digital communication tools at our disposal, it is easy for some to spend countless hours behind a desk, sending lengthy e-mails and thinking effective communication has occurred. CAUTION: that is not necessarily the case! I view e-mail as a great information passing tool, but a "not so great" communicative tool because it is too easy to misinterpret the tone of the sender.

E-mail is a fabulous device to get a message to a large quantity of people quickly. On the other hand, if we are capable to pick up the telephone and call our fellow Airman to ask a one-line question, then by all means let's do it! Also, we should remember that face-to-face communication is becoming a dying art. Whenever possible, rejuvenate this art and enjoy the messages sent and received through the nonverbal signals...they are amazing!

Using the proper art and technique, we can communicate effectively to influence other Airmen's ideas. Many teams have failed, many people have been injured and many resources lost because of poor communication. As we fight the Global War on Terrorism with our smaller Air Force and tighter budget, poor or no communication equates to definitely mission degradation. So I challenge every leader at each level in the chain of command, from Airman Basic to General, to think about your form of communication daily. Are we using the right art and technique to effectively relaying the proper message to positively influence other Airmen's ideas and decisions?