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Findings From the Wildland Firefighters Human Factors Workshop

Appendix E—Related Reports

The Collapse of Sensemaking in Organizations:
The Mann Gulch Disaster

From Vulnerability to Resilience

The steady erosion of sense and structure reached its climax in the refusal of the crew to escape one fire by walking into another one that was intentionally set. A closer look at that escape fire allows us to move from a discussion of what went wrong at Mann Gulch, to a discussion of what makes organizations more resilient. l want to discuss four sources of resilience:

  1. improvisation and bricolage,
  2. virtual role systems,
  3. the attitude of wisdom, and
  4. respectful interaction.

Improvisation and Bricolage

The escape fire is a good place to start in the search for sources of resilience simply because it is clear evidence that, minimal though the organization of the crew might have been, there still was a solution to the crisis inside the group. The problem was, no one but Dodge recognized this. The question then becomes, How could more people either see this escape fire as a solution or develop their own solution? This is not an easy question to answer because, from everything we know, Dodge's invention of burning a hole in a fire should not have happened. It should not have happened because there is good evidence that when people are put under pressure, they regress to their most habituated ways of responding (e.g., Barthol and Ku, 1959). This is what we see in the 15 people who reject Dodge's order to join him and who resort instead to flight, a more overlearned tendency. What we do not expect under lifethreatening pressure is creativity.

The tactic of lighting a fire to create an area where people can escape a major prairie fire is mentioned in James Fenimore Cooper's 1827 novel The Prairie, but there is no evidence Dodge knew this source (Maclean, p. 104). Furthermore, most of Dodge's experience had been in timbered country where such a tactic wouldn't work. In timber, an escape fire is too slow and consumes too much oxygen (p. 105). And the fire that Dodge built did not burn long enough to clear an area in which people could move around and dodge the fire as they did in the prairie fire. There was just room enough to lie down in the ashes where the heat was less intense (p. 104).

While no one can say how or why the escape fire was created, there is a line of argument that is consistent with what we know. Bruner (1983: 183) described creativity as "figuring out how to use what you already know in order to go beyond what you currently think." With this as background, it now becomes relevant that Dodge was an experienced woodsman, with lots of hands-on experience. He was what we now would call a bricoleur, someone able to create order out of whatever materials were at hand (e.g., Levi-Strauss, 1966; Harper, 1987). Dodge would have known at least two things about fires. He would have known the famous fire triangle— you must have oxygen, flammable material, and temperature above the point of ignition to create a fire (Maclean, p. 35). A shortage of any one of these would prevent a fire. In his case, the escape fire removed flammable material. And since Dodge had been with the Forest Service longer than anyone else on the crew, he would also have known more fully their four guidelines at that time for dealing with fire emergencies (p. 100). These included:

  1. start a backfire if you can,
  2. get to the top of a ridge where the fuel is thinner,
  3. turn into the fire and try to work through it, and
  4. don't allow the fire to pick the spot where it hits you.

Dodge's invention, if we stretch a bit, fits all four. It is a backfire, though not in the conventional sense of a fire built to stop a fire. The escape fire is lit near the top of a ridge, Dodge turns into the main fire and works through it by burning a hole in it, and he chooses where the fire hits him. The 15 who tried to outrun the fire moved toward the ridge but by not facing the fire, they allowed it to pick the spot where it hit them.

The collapse of role systems need not result in disaster if people develop skills in improvisation and bricolage (see Janowitz, 1959: 481). Bricoleurs remain creative under pressure, precisely because they routinely act in chaotic conditions and pull order out of them. Thus, when situations unravel, this is simply normal, natural trouble for bricoleurs, and they proceed with whatever materials are at hand. Knowing these materials intimately, they then are able, usually in the company of other similarly skilled people, to form the materials or insights into novel combinations.

While improvised fire fighting may sound improbable, in fact, Park Service firefighters like those stationed at the Grand Canyon approximate just such a style. Stephen Pyne (1989), a Park Service firefighter, observed that people like him typically have discretion to dispatch themselves, which is unfathomable to the Forest Service crews that rely on dispatchers, specialization, regimentation, rules, and a conscious preference for the strength of the whole rather than the versatility and resourcefulness of the parts. Forest Service people marvel at the freedom of movement among the Park people. Park Service people marvel at how much power the Forest Service is able to mobilize on a fire. Pyne (1989: 122) described the Park Service fire operations as a nonstandard "eclectic assembly of compromises" built of discretion and mobility. In contrast to the Forest Service, where people do everything by the book, "The Park Service has no books; it puts a premium on the individual. Its collective behavior is tribal, and it protects its permanent ranks." If improvisation were given more attention in the job description of a crew person, that person's receptiveness to and generation of role improvisations might be enhanced. As a result, when one organizational order collapses, a substitute might be invented immediately. Swift replacement of a traditional order with an improvised order would forestall the paralysis that can follow a command to " drop your tools."

Virtual Role Systems

Social construction of reality is next to impossible amidst the chaos of a fire, unless social construction takes place inside one person's head, where the role system is reconstituted and run. Even though the role system at Mann Gulch collapsed, this kind of collapse need not result in disaster if the system remains intact in the individual's mind. If each individual in the crew mentally takes all roles and therefore can then register escape routes and acknowledge commands and facilitate coordination, then each person literally becomes a group (Schutz, 1961). And, in the manner of a holograph, each person can reconstitute the group and assume whatever role is vacated, pick up the activities, and run a credible version of the role. Furthermore, people can run the group in their head and use it for continued guidance of their own individual action.

It makes just as much sense to talk about a virtual role system as it does to talk about a virtual anything else (e.g., Bruner, 1986: 36-37). An organization can continue to function in the imagination long after it has ceased to function in tangible distributed activities. For the Mann Gulch fire, this issue has bearing on the question of escape routes. In our research on accidents in flight operations off nuclear carriers (Weick and Roberts, 1993), Karlene Roberts and I found that people who avoid accidents live by the credo, "never get into anything without making sure you have a way out." At the very last moment in the Mann Gulch tragedy, Dodge discovered a way out. The point is that if other people had been able to simulate Dodge and/or his role in their imagination, they too might have been less puzzled by his solution or better able to invent a different sensible solution for themselves.

The Attitude of Wisdom

To understand the role of wisdom (Bigelow, 1992) as a source of resilience, we need to return to the crew's belief that all fires are 10:00 fires. This belief was consistent with members' experience. As Maclean put it, if the major purpose of your group is to "put out fires so fast they don't have time to become big ones" (p. 31), then you won't learn much about fighting big fires. Nor will you learn what Maclean calls the first principle of reality: " little things suddenly and literally can become big as hell, the ordinary can suddenly become monstrous, and the upgulch breezes can suddenly turn to murder" (p. 217). To state the point more generally, what most organizations miss, and what explains why most organizations fail to learn (Scott, 1987: 282), is that "Reality backs up while it is approached by the subject who tries to understand it. Ignorance and knowledge grow together" (Meacham, 1983: 130). To put it a different way, "Each new domain of knowledge appears simple from the distance of ignorance. The more we learn about a particular domain, the greater the number of uncertainties, doubts, questions and complexities. Each bit of knowledge serves as the thesis from which additional questions or antithesis arise" (Meacham, 1983: 120).

The role system best able to accept the reality that ignorance and knowledge grow together may be one in which the organizational culture values wisdom. Meacham (1983: 187) argued that wisdom is an attitude rather than a skill or a body of information:

To be wise is not to know particular facts but to know without excessive confidence or excessive cautiousness. Wisdom is thus not a belief, a value, a set of facts, a corpus of knowledge or information in some specialized area, or a set of special abilities or skills. Wisdom is an attitude taken by persons toward the beliefs, values, knowledge, information, abilities, and skills that are held, a tendency to doubt that these are necessarily true or valid and to doubt that they are an exhaustive set of those things that could be known.

In a fluid world, wise people know that they don't fully understand what is happening right now, because they have never seen precisely this event before. Extreme confidence and extreme caution both can destroy what organizations most need in changing times, namely, curiosity, openness, and complex sensing. The overconfident shun curiosity because they feel they know most of what there is to know. The overcautious shun curiosity for fear it will only deepen their uncertainties. Both the cautious and the confident are closed-minded, which means neither makes good judgments. It is this sense in which wisdom, which avoids extremes, improves adaptability.

A good example of wisdom in groups is the Naskapi Indians' use of caribou shoulder bones to locate game (Weick, 1979). They hold bones over a fire until they crack and then hunt in the directions to which the cracks point. This ritual is effective because the decision is not influenced by the outcomes of past hunts, which means the stock of animals is not depleted. More important, the final decision is not influenced by the inevitable patterning in human choice, which enables hunted animals to become sensitized to humans and take evasive action. The wisdom inherent in this practice derives from its ambivalence toward the past. Any attempt to hunt for caribou is both a new experience and an old experience. It is new in the sense that time has elapsed, the composition of the hunter band has changed, the caribou have learned new things, and so forth. But the hunt is also old in the sense that if you've seen one hunt, you've seen them all: There are always hunters, weapons, stealth, decoys, tracks, odors, and winds. The practice of divination incorporates the attitude of wisdom because past experience is discounted when a new set of cracks forms a crude map for the hunt. But past experience is also given some weight, because a seasoned hunter "reads" the cracks and injects some of his own past experience into an interpretation of what the cracks mean. The reader is crucial. If the reader's hunches dominate, randomization is lost. If the cracks dominate, then the experience base is discarded. The cracks are a lot like the four guidelines for fire emergencies that Dodge may have relied on when he invented the escape fire. They embody experience, but they invite doubt, reassembly, and shaping to fit novelties in the present.

Respectful Interaction

The final suggestion about how to counteract vulnerability makes explicit the preceding focus on the individual and social interaction. Respectful interaction depends on intersubjectivity (Wiley, 1988: 258), which has two defining characteristics:

  1. intersubjectivity emerges from the interchange and synthesis of meanings among two or more communicating selves, and
  2. the self or subject gets transformed during interaction such that a joint or merged subjectivity develops.

It is possible that many role systems do not change fast enough to keep up with a rapidly changing environment. The only form that can keep up is one based on faceto- face interaction. And it is here, rather than in routines, that we are best able to see the core of organizing. This may be why interaction in airline cockpit crews, such as discussed by Foushee (1984), strikes us so often as a plausible microcosm of what happens in much larger systems. In a cockpit under crisis, the only unit that makes sense (pun intended) is face-to-face synthesis of meaning.

Intersubjectivity was lost on everyone at Mann Gulch, everyone, that is, but Sallee and Rumsey. They stuck together and lived. Dodge went his own individual way with a burst of improvisation, and he too lived. Perhaps it's more important that you have a partner than an organization when you fight fires. A partner makes social construction easier. A partner is a second source of ideas. A partner strengthens independent judgment in the face of a majority. And a partner enlarges the pool of data that are considered. Partnerships that endure are likely to be those that adhere to Campbell's three imperatives for social life, based on a reanalysis of Asch's (1952) conformity experiment:

  1. Respect the reports of others and be willing to base beliefs and actions on them (trust);
  2. Report honestly so that others may use your observations in coming to valid beliefs (honesty); and,
  3. Respect your own perceptions and beliefs and seek to integrate them with the reports of others without deprecating them or yourselves (self-respect) (adapted from Campbell, 1990: 45-46).

Earlier I noted a growing interest in contextual rationality, understood as actions that create and maintain institutions and traditions that express some conception of right behavior and a good life with others (Reed, 1991). Campbell's maxims operationalize this good life with others as trust, honesty, and self-respect in moment-to-moment interaction. This triangle of trust, honesty, and self-respect is conspicuously missing (e.g., King, 1989: 46-48) in several well-documented disasters in which faulty interaction processes led to increased fear, diminished communication, and death. For example, in the Tenerife air disaster (Weick, 1990), the copilot of the KLM aircraft had a strong hunch that another 747 airplane was on the takeoff runway directly in front of them when his own captain began takeoff without clearance. But the copilot said nothing about either the suspicions or the illegal departure. Transient cockpit crews, tied together by narrow definitions of formal responsibilities, and headed by captains who mistakenly assume that their decisionmaking ability is unaffected by increases in stress (Helmreich et al., 1985), have few protections against a sudden loss of meaning such as the preposterous possibility that a captain is taking off without clearance, directly into the path of another 747.

Even when people try to act with honesty, trust, and self respect, if they do so with little social support, their efforts are compromised. For example, linguists who analyzed the conversations at Tenerife and in the crash of Air Florida flight 90 in Washington concluded that the copilots in both cases used "devices of mitigation" to soften the effects of their requests and suggestions:

A mitigated instruction might be phrased as a question or hedged with qualifications such as "would" or "could." …(I)t was found that the speech of subordinate crew members was much more likely to be mitigated than the speech of captains. It was also found that topics introduced in mitigated speech were less likely to be followed-up by other crew members and less likely to be ratified by the captain. Both of these effects relate directly to the situation in which a subordinate crew member makes a correct solution that is ignored… The value of training in unmitigated speech is strongly suggested by these results. (O'Hare and Roscoe, 1990: 219)

If a role system collapses among people for whom trust, honesty, and self-respect are underdeveloped, then they are on their own. And fear often swamps their resourcefulness. If, however, a role system collapses among people where trust, honesty, and self-respect are more fully developed, then new options, such as mutual adaptation, blind imitation of creative solutions, and trusting compliance, are created. When a formal structure collapses, there is no leader, no roles, no routines, no sense. That is what we may be seeing in Mann Gulch. Dodge can't lead because the role system in which he is a leader disappears. But what is worse, Dodge can't rely on his crew members to trust him, question him, or pay attention to him, because they don't know him and there is no time to change this. The key question is, When formal structure collapses, what, if anything, is left? The answer to that question may well be one of life or death.

Structures For Resilience

While the answer to that question is not a matter of life or death for organizational theorists, they do have an interest in how it comes out. A theorist who hears Maclean's question, "what the structure of a small outfit should be when its business is to meet sudden danger and prevent disaster," might come back with a series of follow-up questions based on thinking in organizational studies. l look briefly at four such questions to link Mann Gulch with other concepts and to suggest how these linkages might guide further research.

First, there is the follow-up question, Is " small" necessarily a key dimension, since this group is also young and transient? Maclean calls the 16-person smokejumper crew "small," except that it is conventional in the group literature to treat any group of more than 10 people as large (Bass, 1990: 604). Because there is so little communication within the crew and because it operates largely through obtrusive controls like rules and supervision (Perrow, 1986), it acts more like a large formal group with mediated communication than a small informal group with direct communication.

It is striking how little communication occurred during the three and a half hours of this episode. There was little discussion during the noisy, bumpy plane ride, and even less as individuals retrieved equipment scattered on the north slope. After a quick meal together, people began hiking toward the river but quickly got separated from one another. Then they were suddenly turned around, told to run for the ridge, and quickly ran out of breath as they scaled the steep south slope. The minimal communication is potentially important because of the growing evidence (e.g., Eisenhardt, 1993: 132) that nonstop talk, both vocal and nonverbal, is a crucial source of coordination in complex systems that are susceptible to catastrophic disasters.

The lack of communication, coupled with the fact that this is a temporary group in the early stages of its history, should heighten the group's vulnerability to disruption. As Bass (1990: 637) put it, " Groups that are unable to interact easily or that do not have the formal or informal structure that enables quick reactions are likely to experience stress (Bass, 1960). Panic ensues when members of a group lack superordinate goals—goals that transcend the self-interests of each participant." While the smokejumpers have the obvious superordinate goal of containing fires, their group ties may not be sufficiently developed for this to be a group goal that overrides self-interest. Or Bass's proposition itself may be incomplete, failing to acknowledge that unless superordinate goals are overlearned, they will be discarded in situations of danger.

Second, there is the follow-up question, Is "structure" what we need to understand in Mann Gulch, or might structuring also be important? By structure, l mean " a complex medium of control which is continually produced and recreated in interaction and yet shapes that interaction: structures are constituted and constitutive…of interpersonal cognitive processes, power dependencies, and contextual constraints" (Ranson, Hinings, and Greenwood, 1980: 1, 3). Structuring, then, consists of two patterns and the relationships between them. The first pattern, which Ranson et al. variously described as informal structure, agency, or social construction, consists of interaction patterns that stabilize meaning by creating shared interpretive schemes. l refer to this pattern as shared provinces of meaning, or meaning. The second pattern, variously described as configuration, contextual constraints, or a vehicle that embodies dominant meanings, refers to a framework of roles, rules, procedures, configured activities, and authority relations that reflect and facilitate meanings. l refer to this second pattern as structural frameworks of constraint, or frameworks.

Meanings affect frameworks, which affect meaning. This is the basic point of the growing body of work on structuration (e.g., Riley, 1983; Poole, Seibold, and McPhee, 1985), understood as the mutual constitution of frameworks and meanings (Ranson, Hinings, and Greenwood, 1980) or relations and typifications (DiMaggio, 1991) or structures and structuring (Barley, 1986). Missing in this work is attention to reversals of structuration (Giddens, 1984). The use of descriptive words in structuration theory such as "continually produced," " recreated in interaction," "constituted," and "constitutive" directs attention away from losses of frameworks and losses of meaning. For example, Ranson, Hinings, and Greenwood (1980: 5) asserted that the "deep structure of schema which are taken for granted by members enables them to recognize, interpret, and negotiate even strange and unanticipated situations, and thus continuously to create and reenact the sense and meaning of structural forms during the course of interaction." The Mann Gulch disaster is a case in which people were unable to negotiate strangeness. Frameworks and meanings destroyed rather than constructed one another.

This fugitive quality of meaning and frameworks in Mann Gulch suggests that the process of structuring itself may be more unstable than we realized. Structuring, understood as constitutive relations between meaning and frameworks, may be a deviation-amplifying cause loop (Maruyama, 1963; Weick, 1979) capable of intensifying either an increase or decrease in either of the two connected elements. Typically, we see instances of increase in which more shared meanings lead to less elaborate frameworks of roles, which lead to further developments of shared meaning, etc. What we fail to realize is that, when elements are tied together in this direct manner, once one of them declines, this decline can also spread and become amplified as it does so. Fewer shared meanings lead to less elaborate frameworks, less meaning, less elaborate frameworks, and so on. Processes that mutually constitute also have the capability to mutually destroy one another.

If structuration is treated as a deviationamplifying process, then this suggests the kind of structure that could have prevented the Mann Gulch disaster. What people needed was a structure in which there was both an inverse and a direct relationship between role systems and meaning. This is the only pattern that can maintain resilience in the face of crisis. The resilience can take one of two forms. Assume that we start with an amplifying system like the one in Mann Gulch. The role system lost its structure, which led to a loss of meaning, which led to a further loss of structure, and so on. This is the pattern associated with a deviation-amplifying feedback loop in which an initial change unfolds unchecked in the same direction. One way to prevent this amplification is to retain the direct relation between structure and meaning (less role structure leads to less meaning, more structure leads to more meaning) but create an inverse relation between meaning and structure (less meaning, more structure, and vice versa). This inverse relationship can be understood as follows: When meaning becomes problematic and decreases, this is a signal for people to pay more attention to their formal and informal social ties and to reaffirm and/or reconstruct them. These actions produce more structure, which then increases meaning, which then decreases the attention directed at structure. Puzzlement intensifies attentiveness to the social, which reduces puzzlement.

The other form of control arises when a change in structure, rather than a change in meaning, is responsible for counteracting the fluctuations in sensibleness. In this variation, less structure leads to more meaning, and more meaning then produces more structure. The inverse relationship between structure and meaning can be understood this way: When social ties deteriorate, people try harder to make their own individual sense of what is happening, both socially and in the world. These operations increase meaning, and they increase the tendency to reshape structure consistent with heightened meaning. Alienation intensifies attentiveness to meaning, which reduces alienation.

What is common to both of these controlled forms is an alternation between attention to frameworks and attention to meanings. More attention to one leads to more ignorance of the other, followed by efforts to correct this imbalance, which then creates a new imbalance. In the first scenario, when meaning declines, people pay more attention to frameworks, they ignore meaning temporarily, and as social relations become clearer, their attention shifts back to meanings. In the second scenario, when social relations decline, people pay more attention to meaning, they ignore frameworks temporarily, and as meanings become clearer, attention shifts back to frameworks. Both scenarios illustrate operations of wisdom: In Meacham's words, ignorance and knowledge grow together. Either of these two controlled patterns should reduce the likelihood of disaster in Mann Gulch. As the smokejumpers begin to lose structure they either also lose meaning, which alerts them to be more attentive to the structure they are losing, or they gain individual meaning, which leads them to realign structure. The second alternative may be visible in the actions taken by Dodge and Rumsey and Sallee.

This may seem like a great deal of fretting about one single word in Maclean's question, "structure." What I have tried to show is that when we transform this word from a static image into a process, we spot what looks like a potential for collapse in any process of social sensemaking that is tied together by constitutive relations. And we find that social sensemaking may be most stable when it is simultaneously constitutive and destructive, when it is capable of increasing both ignorance and knowledge at the same time. That seems like a fair return for reflecting on a single word.

Third, there is the follow-up question, Is " outfit" the best way to describe the smokejumpers? An outfit is normally defined as "a group associated in an undertaking requiring close cooperation, as a military unit" (Random House, 1987: 1374). The smokejumpers are tied together largely by pooled interdependence, since the job of each one is to clear adjacent portions of a perimeter area around a blaze so that the fire stops for lack of fuel. Individual efforts to clear away debris are pooled and form a fire line. What is significant about pooled interdependence is that it can function without much cohesion (Bass, 1990: 622). And this is what may have trapped the crew. Given the constantly changing composition of the smokejumping crews, the task largely structured their relations. Simply acting in concert was enough, and there was no need to know each other well in addition. This social form resembles what Eisenberg (1990: 160) called nondisclosive intimacy, by which he meant relationships rooted in collective action that stress "coordination of action over the alignment of cognitions, mutual respect over agreement, trust over empathy, diversity over homogeneity, loose over tight coupling, and strategic communication over unrestricted candor." Nondisclosive intimacy is a sufficient ground for relating as long as the task stays constant and the environment remains stable.

What the Mann Gulch disaster suggests is that nondisclosive intimacy may limit the development of emotional ties that keep panic under control in the face of obstacles. Closer ties permit clearer thinking, which enables people to find paths around obstacles. For example, when Rumsey squeezed through a crevice in the ridge just ahead of the fire, he collapsed "half hysterically" into a juniper bush, where he would have soon burned to death. His partner Sallee stopped next to him, looked at him coldly, never said a word, and just stood there until Rumsey roused himself, and the two then ran together over the ridge and down to a rock slide where they were better able to move around and duck the worst flames (Maclean, p. 107). Sallee's surprisingly nuanced prodding of his partner suggests the power of close ties to moderate panic.

One might expect that the less threatening the environment, the less important are relational issues in transient groups, but as Perrow (1984) emphasized in his normal accident theory, there are few safe environments. If events are increasingly interdependent, then small unrelated flaws can interact to produce something monstrous. Maclean saw this clearly at Mann Gulch: The colossal fire blowup in Mann Gulch was "shaped by little screwups that fitted together tighter and tighter until all became one and the same thing—the fateful blowup. Such is much of tragedy in modern times and probably always has been except that past tragedy refrained from speaking of its association with screwups and blowups" (Maclean, 1992: 92).

Nondisclosive intimacy is not the only alternative to "outfit" as a way to describe the smokejumpers. Smith (1983) argued that individual behaviors, perceptions of reality, identities, and acts of leadership are influenced by intergroup processes. Of special relevance to Mann Gulch is Smith's reanalysis of the many groups that formed among the 16 members of the Uruguayan soccer team who survived for 10 weeks in an inaccessible region of the Chilean Andes mountains after their aircraft, carrying 43 people, crashed (see Read, 1974 for the original account of this event). Aside from the eerie coincidence that both disasters involved 16 young males, Smith's analysis makes the important point that 16 people are not just an outfit, they are a social system within which multiple groups emerge and relate to one another. It is these intergroup relationships that determine what will be seen as acts of leadership and which people may be capable of supplying those acts. In the Andes crash, demands shifted from caring for the wounded, in which two medical students took the lead, to acquiring food and water, where the team captain became leader, to articulating that the group would not be rescued and could sustain life only if people consumed the flesh of the dead, to executing and resymbolizing this survival tactic, to selecting and equipping an expeditionary group to hike out and look for help, and finally to finding someone able to explain and rationalize their decisions to the world once they had been rescued.

What Smith shows is that this group of 16 forms and reforms in many different directions during its history, each time with a different coherent structure of people at the top, middle, and bottom, each with different roles. What also becomes clear is that any attempt to pinpoint the leader or to explain survival by looking at a single set of actions is doomed to failure because it does not reflect how needs change as a crisis unfolds, nor does it reflect how different coherent groupings form to meet the new needs.

The team in the Andes had 10 weeks and changing threats of bleeding, hygiene, starvation, avalanche, expedition, rescue, and accounting, whereas the team in Mann Gulch had more like 10 minutes and the increasingly singular threat of being engulfed in fire. Part of the problem in Mann Gulch is the very inability for intergroup structures to form. The inability to form subgroups within the system may be due to such things as time pressure, the relative unfamiliarity of the smokejumpers with one another compared with the interdependent members of a visible sports team, the inability to communicate, the articulation of a common threat very late in the smokejumpers' exposure to Mann Gulch, and ambiguity about means that would clearly remove the threat, compared with the relative clarity of the means needed by the soccer players to deal with each of their threats.

The point is, whatever chance the smokejumpers might have had to survive Mann Gulch is not seen as clearly if we view them as a single group rather than as a social system capable of differentiating into many different sets of subgroups. The earlier discussion of virtual role systems suggested that an intergroup perspective could be simulated in the head and that this should heighten resilience. Smith makes it clear that, virtual or not, intergroup dynamics affect survival, even if we overlook them in our efforts to understand the group or the "outfit."

As a fourth and final follow-up question, If there is a structure that enables people to meet sudden danger, who builds and maintains it? A partial answer is Ken Smith's intergroup analysis, suggesting that the needed structure consists of many structures, built and maintained by a shifting configuration of the same people. As I said, this perspective makes sense when time is extended, demands change, and there is no formal leader at the beginning of the episode. But there is a leader in Mann Gulch, the foreman. There is also a second in command and the remaining crew, which means there is a top (foreman), middle (second in command), and bottom (remaining crew). If we take this a priori structure seriously, then the Mann Gulch disaster can be understood as a dramatic failure of leadership, reminiscent of those lapses in leadership increasingly well documented by people who study cockpit/crew resource management in aircraft accidents (e.g., Wiener, Kanki, and Helmreich, 1993).

The captain of an aircrew, who is analogous to a player-coach on a basketball team (Hackman, 1993: 55) can often have his or her greatest impact on team functioning before people get into a tight, time-critical situation. Ginnett (1993) has shown that aircraft captains identified by check airmen as excellent team leaders spent more time team building when the team first formed than did leaders judged as less expert. Leaders of highly effective teams briefed their crewmembers on four issues: the task, crew boundaries, standards and expected behaviors (norms), and authority dynamics. Captains spent most time on those of the four that were not predefined by the organizational context within which the crew worked. Typically, this meant that excellent captains did not spend much time on routine tasks, but less-excellent captains did. Crew boundaries were enlarged and made more permeable by excellent captains when, for example, they regarded the flight attendants, gate personnel, and air traffic controllers as members of the total flight crew. This contrasts with less-excellent captains, who drew a boundary around the people in the cockpit and separated them from everyone else.

Excellent captains modeled norms that made it clear that safety, effective communication, and cooperation were expected from everyone. Of special interest, because so little communication occurred at Mann Gulch, is how the norm, "communication is important," was expressed. Excellent crews expect one another to enact any of these four exchanges: "(1) I need to talk to you; (2) l listen to you; (3) I need you to talk to me; or even (4) I expect you to talk to me" (Ginnett, 1993: 88). These four complement and operationalize the spirit of Campbell's social imperatives of trust, honesty, and self-respect. But they also show the importance of inquiry, advocacy, and assertion when people do not understand the reasons why other people are doing something or ignoring something (Helmreich and Foushee, 1993: 21).

Issues of authority are handled differently by excellent captains. They shift their behaviors between complete democracy and complete autocracy during the briefing and thereafter, which makes it clear that they are capable of a range of styles. They establish competence and their capability to assume legitimate authority by doing the briefing in a rational manner, comfortably, with appropriate technical language, all of which suggests that they have given some thought to the upcoming flight and have constructed a framework within which the crew will work.

Less autocratic than this enactment of their legitimate authority is their willingness to disavow perfection. A good example of a statement that tells crewmembers they too must take responsibility for one another is this: "I just want you guys to understand that they assign the seats in this airplane based on seniority, not on the basis of competence. So anything you can see or do that will help out, I'd sure appreciate hearing about it" (Ginnett, 1993: 90). Notice that the captain is not saying, l am not competent to be the captain. Instead, the captain is saying, we're all fallible. We all make mistakes. Let's keep an eye on one another and speak up when we think a mistake is being made.

Most democratic and participative is the captain's behavior to engage the crew. Briefings held by excellent captains last no longer than do those of the lessexcellent captains, but excellent captains talk less, listen more, and resort less to "canned presentations."

Taken together, all of these team building activities increase the probability that constructive, informed interactions can still occur among relative strangers even when they get in a jam. If we compare the leadership of aircraft captains to leadership in Mann Gulch, it is clear that Wag Dodge did not build his team of smokejumpers in advance. Furthermore, members of the smokejumper crew did not keep each other informed of what they were doing or the reasons for their actions or the situational model they were using to generate these reasons. These multiple failures of leadership may be the result of inadequate training, inadequate understanding of leadership processes in the late '40s, or may be attributable to a culture emphasizing individual work rather than group work. Or these failures of leadership may reflect the fact that even the best leaders and the most team-conscious members can still suffer when structures begin to pull apart, leaving in their wake senselessness, panic, and cosmological questions. If people are lucky, and interpersonally adept, their exposure to questions of cosmology is confined to an episode. If they are not, that exposure stretches much further. Which is just about where Maclean would want us to end.


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