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Setting some guidelines, respecting personal space can help ease team in tiny space

March 1, 2014

By Cliff Abbott

cliffa@thetrucker.com

Those who have seen the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” starring Tom Hanks got a good look at how a team of American astronauts and their earthbound ground crew turned what could have been an epic disaster into a heartwarming story of courage and perseverance.

Viewed from a trucking perspective, however, there’s a different storyline: a three-man team tries to deliver to a destination that wasn’t on the original dispatch in a broken-down vehicle while getting conflicting instructions from the people in charge back in the office, all while freezing in a vehicle that can’t be idled.

The cab and “sleeper berth” of a modern Class 8 tractor are much more roomy than the small space capsule used for that NASA mission. Still, that space can seem very small when two drivers occupy it for long periods of time. That’s a scenario that more drivers are facing as carriers look to driving teams to provide faster transit times to their customers.

For the drivers, there are advantages. Team drivers generally earn higher pay and have the benefit of a helping hand when problems arise and a sympathetic ear when necessary. Team drivers can avoid some of the boredom and loneliness faced by solo drivers.

It’s easy, however, to fall prey to the pitfalls that can rise when two people are stuck in a small space. Even the closest relationships can be strained, and two complete strangers in an arranged team often find that getting to know their new partner can mean learning things you never wanted to learn.

By working together, teams can help minimize the inherent issues. Respecting each other’s privacy is a good place to start. A closed curtain to the sleeper berth, for example, should be respected as if it were a closed door to someone’s room. A knock or announcement before barging in should be the rule, and when the occupant doesn’t want company, those wishes should be honored.

It’s next to impossible for the off-duty partner to conduct a cell phone conversation that his or her team mate can’t hear. But there’s a difference between hearing and listening. Offering commentary on a conversation that you weren’t invited into is a sure way to ruffle feathers.

About those conversations: One team partner may be offended by coarse language while another may resent what is seen as an effort to control speech.

Then, there’s the question of hygiene. If your view of showers is that you take one every month whether you need it or not, you may experience friction from a team partner who showers daily. It may be difficult for either of you to adhere to your ideal shower schedule, but respecting your team partner can be as simple as not stinking.

Bathroom habits have been a problem for many teams as well. One wants to stop at a truck stop every time the urge is felt, while the other has a collection of urine-filled bottles adorning the sleeper. In a mixed-gender team, males need to understand that females probably won’t be comfortable stopping on the shoulder to “cool down a hot tire.”

Sleeping in a moving vehicle is difficult enough. It can be impossible when the team partner has music blasting on the stereo or is involved in a loud CB conversation. Even the choice of music may be objectionable. A person who enjoys a classic symphony and the latest hip-hop artist is relatively rare.

Division of work, both job-related and personal, can be a stress point. A team partner who is always stuck with vehicle inspections or fueling may quickly become resentful. A driver who insists on doing all the route planning may quickly wear on the other driver.        

The same goes for personal tasks like meal preparation and laundry. If those kinds of things are shared between the drivers, clear agreement about who does what is beneficial.

The best way to deal with these problems and many more is to discuss them before they become issues. No team should simply jump in the truck together, assuming that issues won’t arise. Come to agreement on those most important and periodically revisit them.

Even the best of team partners needs time alone at some point. It’s a good idea to build some individual time into the schedule. At the truck stop, for example, one driver can shower while the other visits the restaurant, instead of both keeping the same schedule. A stop at Wal-Mart doesn’t have to mean sharing the same shopping cart. Make it a point to get away from one another regularly, and don’t be offended if your team partner asks for some time alone.

There are many types of driving teams, but all stand a better chance of succeeding if they share mutual respect and strong communication.

 

Discussing who’s responsible for what can help make for much smoother trip

March 15, 2014

As any experience driver can relate, there’s a lot more to driving a truck than, well, driving the truck. A driver has many responsibilities in addition to safely operating the vehicle. Inspecting, fueling and trip planning create additional tasks. Customers may require the driver to assist in the loading or unloading process by counting or even handling cargo. For many, a once-a-day phone call to dispatch has been replaced with a list of electronic messages that must be sent at specified intervals. Then, of course, there’s the paperwork, much of which has been replaced by computer work but must be accomplished just the same.

It’s easy to assume that having two drivers to share these duties eases the burden on each, but that’s not always the case. Conflict can erupt when one driver feels that the other isn’t doing their share of the work. Disagreements can occur over anything from which route to take to which truck stop to visit and any other decisions that must be made.

As with duties, responsibility isn’t always divided equally. Some carriers assume that two adults should be able to work together to get the job done and deal with any issues as they arise. Some hold the drivers equally responsible when something goes wrong. Others look to the partner who is behind the wheel to be in charge of the truck and anything that happens during an on-duty period. Still others assign a rank to team partners, such as “first seat” and “second seat.” In this pilot-copilot arrangement, the first seat driver can be held responsible for anything and everything. Training teams often fall into this category, with the trainer taking at least some responsibility for the actions of the trainee.

In any team arrangement, it’s best to clarify responsibilities before turning the key to start the truck. Asking, “whose truck is it?” is a good place to start. Find out who the company will hold responsible for inspections, computer messages, and so on. Is one driver considered a “lead” driver and, if so, does that mean he or she is responsible for the actions of the other driver? Does one driver have a “supervisory” role over the other?

When the carrier expects team partners to handle responsibilities equally, the drivers themselves should discuss and agree on division of duties. Do both drivers communicate with dispatch, or does one of them handle all the communication? Who deals with the customer? Who has the final say over the route, fuel stops, and where to park?

A very important topic of discussion is conflict resolution. When team partners disagree, does one have the final say? Is there a process for deciding non-critical issues, such as which truck stop to visit at mealtime? Something as simple as allowing the team partner behind the wheel to make the call works for some teams. It may seem silly, but a coin flip or even an old fashioned game of rock, paper, and scissors is a better process than a verbal or even physical altercation. Successful teams agree on a method of resolving issues before things go that far.

Professional drivers know that problems are a part of the job. By defining duties and responsibilities up front, team partners can stay focused on the job instead of issues with each other.