Flexibility is the key

Published on CPL Sebastian Beurich (author), LCDR Benjamin Churcher (photographer)

Topic(s): Sea Training Group

WO Phil Robertson guides a trainee during a fire damage control exercise. (photo: LCDR Benjamin Churcher)
WO Phil Robertson guides a trainee during a fire damage control exercise.

If you've had anything to do with Sea Training Group (STG) over the past few years, you might have noticed differences in the way they deliver Collective Training to Fleet Units. It’s no coincidence that trainers now coach a ship’s company rather than drilling them through tough training evolutions.

STG’s Fleet Training Standards Officer (FTSO) LCDR Benjamin Churcher said the changes started more than two years ago after COMTRAIN released the Navy Training Force Plan.

“STG used to have somewhat of a reputation for just putting sailors through the wringer to see how they perform under stress, which wasn’t actually very educational and had very short-term benefits,” LCDR Churcher said.

“Now, I personally deliver a three-to-four hour coaching and mentoring workshop to every member who joins STG, to provide each of them with the tools and methods to communicate more effectively and provide better feedback, and also to tailor their approach to suit the training audience.

“These changes have really been about moving away from the old approach and using more of a coaching methodology, rather than one of direction and correction, where we work in partnership with the ships’ companies to draw out their potential and build them up to the standard required. 

“The ships’ crews are aware of what we’re looking for from them in terms of performance, but they also know that we’re there to help them achieve the goals. We also try and focus our training on areas where the ships are having trouble in order to help with their individual needs.” 

While the primary role of the FTSO is to ‘coach the coaches’, LCDR Churcher said a key part was quality assurance, which involved gathering feedback from the training audience. 

“As I say to my team - the only thing more important than what happens when we’re on board for those three or four weeks is what happens when we leave,” he said.

“If the sailors say ‘we’ve learnt a lot which we can continue to build on’, the training benefits of work-ups become far more big-picture and long-term, because the learners aren’t simply ‘playing the game’ while we’re on board to achieve the proverbial ‘tick in the box’. 

“Many experienced sailors who are used to the old approach of work-ups have come to me and said the change is remarkable and the training is much more rewarding than it used to be, while many sailors who had not experienced work-ups previously have said the experience was far more enjoyable and enriching than they expected.”

The STG coaching model is based on a package from management consultants Blanchard International and is designed to improve the educational skills of trainers, allowing them to better draw out the potential of people they are training, according to LCDR Churcher. 

“Though coaching is our primary methodology, we’re not always coaching, sometimes we have to instruct, mentor or demonstrate - you can’t coach someone in what they don’t know,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons we chose this model; it’s flexible, and our trainers can adapt it to their own training style and to different learning contexts.

“It’s a more challenging and sometimes more emotionally involving approach for the trainers, but those who have put it into practise over the past two years have found it to be extremely effective. 

“Several trainers have told me that they’d learnt so much about teaching, education and themselves during their tenure.”