“What could go wrong?” And “What’s the worst that could happen?” are important questions. When these questions become part of a standing joke however, and the prevailing mentality is, “Let’s just do it. It will be ok.” You are on a slippery slope to a tragedy.
In certain training environments the “worst that can happen” is that someone gets killed or seriously injured. Just because you have been lucky in the past and that has never happened in your agency, does not mean it cannot and will not happen.
If you are planning a reality based training exercise involving people, moving vehicles and non-lethal training ammunition there are a number of things that can “go wrong”. If you are not willing to take the time to consider these and take steps to mitigate the potential risks then you are being negligent. Every year the law enforcement profession experiences tragedies resulting from failing to ask critical questions.
You need to find a way to away to break out of the groupthink and potential blindness to the risks of the training you have designed. This might mean tasking someone in the group with being the devil’s advocate or contrarian thinker and actively look for what could go wrong with the plan. It might mean giving the plan to someone not involved in the development of the plan and ask them to identify what could go wrong. It might mean employing Gary Klein Ph.D.’s Pre-Mortem or other Red Team Thinking strategies.
Retired US Navy Captain David Marquet (author of Turn the Ship Around) offers two suggestions that could be implemented to get some feedback. First is the concept of Certify, Don’t Brief. Instead of simply briefing everyone on the plan and then asking the part statement, part poor question, “Everyone good with that?” (That no one ever says No to.) he suggests you Certify by asking people a series of questions:
- What’s your job?
- What are you thinking about?
- What decisions might you have to make?
- What are you worried about?
- What could go wrong?
The answers to these questions will reveal where or not people know their jobs specific to the plan, reveal their decision making process and will surface their concerns with the plan. This will open the door for a discussion about those concerns, who else has similar or different concerns and what can be done in advance to address them or contingency plan for them. It may also expose some serious flaws with the plan that you may not have considered.
Another option I have heard Marquet discuss is having everyone rate their comfort level with the plan on a scale of 0 to 5 simply through a show of hands. He suggests once you brief the team you say, “Ok. By a show of hands how are you feeling about this plan on a scale of 0 to 5.” People hold up a fist for a 0 or the number of fingers that reflect their comfort level. Marquet then suggests you probe deeper with the outliers at both ends of the ratings to find out what is causing people to be really uncomfortable with the plan or to be feeling really confident with the plan.
In order for any of these strategies to work you need a culture of candor, curiosity and psychological safety. If you do not have those, then you do not have a culture of safety and you have some work to do.
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