Have you ever been in a situation in which you and another person witnessed the exact same thing, but described it completely differently after the fact? When two people observe something and they are asked later to describe what they saw, the responses might go something like this:

Person #1: “Well, he was tall and had dark hair… his shirt was brownish black, it might have been blue, and he was standing kind of strangely, like he was waiting for something.”

Person #2: “He was 6’1” with a dark complexion. He was wearing a black shirt and it was buttoned all the way up to the top. He was very uncomfortable, which I could tell based on the the fact that his feet were bouncing continuously, he was moving his arms a lot, and he was constantly looking around.”

This is a very basic example, but the question you should ask yourself is whether your organization has a common language to describe situations and instances that occur throughout the day. This could be as simple as the best way to report something strange to the security team to as detailed as specific language that everyone should for observation, reporting, and action. There are three specific benefits that can come from building a common language for situational awareness within your team and while the examples that I outline below are curated from our own client experiences here at The CP Journal, these benefits can apply to almost any team in any industry.

First, the act of building a common language in an organization can bring your team together. Based on experience working with our clients, we have found that the most successful situational awareness programs are built around a shared language that the team builds together. By getting representatives from every level in a room together to discuss the way you will observe and then how you will articulate those observations sets you apart from organizations that don’t take the time to build this system. By sitting down with key decision makers in your organization, you will identify gaps that exist in your current process and provide a platform for your team to address common incidents or key concerns, while also providing an opportunity for people on your team to get together and walk through potential scenarios that could pose risks to the organization.

The second benefit of building a common language around situations is that it eliminates gray areas that can arise due to miscommunication amongst team members. By outlining the process for observation and assigning language to what your team is seeing, you will shorten the learning gap between your more and less experienced people. While you may feel confident in some members of your team’s ability to recognize instances that warrant further attention, you might have concerns over newer team members being able to recognize and clearly communicate those same cues. By creating a common language and teaching everyone on your team what they are seeing and how to explain it, you will improve your team’s ability to recognize matters of importance quickly and effectively. Take, for example, the two descriptions at the beginning of this post. Which would you expect to have come from members of your team? How can you ensure that, if two people see the same thing, they would be able to articulate what they saw in a way that can help move the instance forward properly? Building this common language is the first step.

Lastly, building a culture around a common language will improve your team’s internal communication skills. Forget about the formal reporting instances where team members have to put their observations down on paper, which will also improve, but think more so about the day-to-day conversations between team members over smaller matters. One example of this would be if your team is trained using a specific baseline for the area that they are tasked with securing. They will have that baseline as a common conversation point between the various security personnel tasked with protecting the area. By building a culture around a common way of talking about things that occur on the job, your team will be offered more opportunities to practice saying and explaining what they saw to each other, which will help everyone practice putting these skills to work consistently, eventually making it part of their lives, and their subconscious, without even realizing it.

The need for a common language is crucial for organizations that are building a common operational picture. If you haven’t sat down with your team in a while to build or review your processes around common language, there is no better time than now. By doing so you will bring your team together, eliminate gray areas, and improve your team’s overall communication with each other. As more and more threatening instances continue to impact day-to-day operations for organizations in our client markets at The CP Journal, taking the time to build and refine your common language will help make the decision-making skills of your team more efficient and more effective.