I wrote a detailed post about the possible role of group dynamics in the miracle on the Hudson. I have also blogged quite a bit about about how good bosses need to create psychological safety, especially to enable people to speak up when they have made errors -- including here and here. Well, with the terrible crash near Buffalo of flight 3407, I found myself going back and reading research on airplane cockpit dynamics, and came across a 1984 article in the American Psychologist called "Dyads and Triads at 35,000 Feet" by H. Clayton (Clay) Foushee (8:885-893).
A lot of research and work has been done since that time to improve the decision-making and team dynamics in the cockpit. Indeed, Captain Chesley Sullenberger consults on this topic, which they sometimes call "cockpit resource management." But I was still struck by how Clay's old article described a case study of 1979 crash of a commuter plane, which apparently happened partly because the second officer (still on probation) failed to take control when the captain (a vice-president known for his gruff style) became incapacitated. Then, he reported this study:
'Apparently this reluctance to question captains or assume control is not an isolated problem. In an investigation Harper, Kidera, and Cullen (1971) at a major carrier, captains feigned subtle incapacitation at predetermined point during final approach in simulator trials characterized by poor weather and visibility. In that study, approximately 25% of these simulated flights "hit the ground" because, for some reason, the first officers did no take control.' (page 888).
Pretty scary, huh? Next time you think your boss is screwing-up, and you are afraid to say something, you might think about this study. And if you are a boss, are your people so afraid of you, that they are afraid to speak-up? Unfortunately, it appears that fear of authority is one of many causes of knowing-doing gaps.
P.S. The Harper et al study was published in Aerospace Medicine, vol 42: 946-948.And if you want to see the NTSB report about the 1979 crash, go here.