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Magazin Abo
17. Feb 2020 - 31 min Lesezeit

Human Factor and decision making, the next steps?

We offer practical insights and ‘training tools' for systematically better decision making in high risk mountain environments. In the first part of this article we will introduce tools that help us better understand what is going on below the surface of individual and group decision making. In the second part of this article we will introduce a 5 step decision making protocol. This tool can be used to better deal with mental and social traps while making decisions in the high risk, high uncertainty mountain environment.

We are thus aiming for the next steps in coping with the ‘human factor’, addressing personal leadership and decision making. A field perhaps even more volatile and complex than the dynamics of snow, weather and terrain.

A short refresher : what is meant by decision making traps?

The human brain’s inherent functions can sabotage our decisions. It takes lots of energy to consciously work through possibilities and risks, so the brain looks for shortcuts. We use unconscious routines, known as heuristics, to cope with complexity — and they normally serve us well. But because they operate largely outside of our awareness, they also present traps (also called ‘biases’).

Researchers such as Amos Tversky and Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman have identified a series of flaws in the way we think when making decisions . They are hardwired into our thinking process, so we often fail to recognize them. This means they can undermine everything from planning a tour to making a sound risk assessment and acting upon the things you have assessed.

Ian McCammon in 2002 published a paper proving that mental traps had significantly influenced the victims of many avalanche accidents in their decision making.

Examples of decision making traps researched by McCammon are listed below (commonly known by the acronym FACETS):

F= Familiarity – our past actions to guide our behavior in a familiar setting. You’ve skied this slope a dozen times and it’s never slid, so despite obvious avalanche warning signs, you ski it again this time.

A=Acceptance – tendency to engage in activities that we think will get us noticed or accepted by people we like or respect. You want to impress others in the group, and this causes you to overlook warning signs.

C=Consistency – an initial decision about something, subsequent decisions are much easier if we maintain consistency with previous decisions. I.e. …. we’re determined to ski this slope no matter what …..

E=Expert Halo – trusting an informal leader, who ends up making critical decisions for the ski group. He or she may not make the best decision.

T= First tracks. The heuristic this refers to is scarcity, tendency to value resources or opportunities in proportion to the chance that you may lose them. For backcountry skiers, this is called “powder fever” – wanting to ski untouched powder so bad skiers ignore obvious avalanche warning signs.

S= Social Facilitation presence of other people enhances risk-taking by a subject. You see fresh tracks on the slope you want to ski, so even through avalanche danger is high, it must be safe, right?

Of course this is not a complete list of everything that can go wrong in our decision making.  Wikipedia provides a much more extensive list of cognitive biases and research into this area still goes on. Next to this there are plenty of other mental, emotional or physical distractors that will influence decision making (just have a look at the checklist presented on p. ).

Over the last two decades mountaineers and snow lovers have become increasingly aware of the fact that the human factor plays an important role in acknowledging risks and in decision making. With the help of several checklists (3×3, FACETS, SOCIALetc.) mountaineers have been invited to be aware of group size, skills of participants, equipment, time schedule, tactics, group expectations and goalsetting, observation errors, communication, leadership, human biases etc.

Tools come in the form of a handy checklist, to be used before and during the mountain trip. But how often have you realized only after an accident or near miss that you should have used the checklist before venturing into a risky situation? Having a checklist unfortunately does not guarantee making sound decisions.

Think of a mountain guide, let us call him Chris, with four eager and well paying off piste skiing clients ‚pushing at his back‘, the moment he has to decide whether or not to make the traverse to the steep 36 degree north exposed col with avalanche risk 2, an invisible old snow problem and clouds coming in from the north west. Not traversing means spending the rest of the day in an expensive taxi and missing out one spectacular day of skiing; doing the traverse means probably  a great descent in fresh and fluffy light snow with-  as a reward – a good beer at the hut on the other side of the col. And personal recognition for his professional guiding skills of course.

The guide has all the skills and techniques for a proper risk assessment, but to what extent will he apply them? How will he weigh and evaluate the outcomes of his risk assessment? As in BergundSteigen 97  so concisely stated:

„The biggest sources of error remain however, even with the availability of proven ways of working like Achtung Lawinen, we, as users, ourselves. The human factor. Many psychological and social factors and processes prevent us or interfere with step by step implementing these proven methods at hand: from light hearted complacency to factors deeply rooted in our personality or social dynamics.“  

And this applies to everybody. Even highly skilled avalanche professionals and mountain guides sometimes end up in the wrong part of the statistics. With mortality rates for mountain guides well above average professional mortality rates, there may well be something to win.

“It’s easier to be in the technical realm”
Human decision making errors can occur in different stages of the decision making chain: setting the objective, the planning and preparational phase, assessing factual terrain conditions, weighing the several factors in combination with the application of some risk management tool, the actual decision making, and the eventual learning afterwards. And this on both an individual and on a group level.

The human factor is something that goes well beyond the mere technical skills level like snow stability tests or Search & Rescue techniques.

As Sebastien Escande, head of professional training programs for the French National Association for Snow and Avalanche Study (ANENA), puts it: “In effect we have something unconscious that intervenes, that makes us deviate completely from what would otherwise be a logical decision, based on good analytics, to a decision that is ultimately completely incoherent with regard to what we should be able to see. Escande explains: „The difficulty, especially when it comes to continuing education for veteran mountain guides and other professionals, is breaking through a culture of expertise that is based on savoir-faire—in other words, on some deep combination of knowledge and instinct derived from experience—especially if that experience may happen to include years of imperfect decisions and sheer luck. “When we talk about human behavior, people feel defensive when their habits are analyzed. It’s easier to deal with the technical realm.“

Our approach in this article is pragmatic and will hopefully be the starting point for further discussion and development of managing the human factor.

In the following two articles we aim at the following outcomes

1) Showing the advantages of a more structured and a more individual or group specific insight in “default behavior and its weak or blind spots“ in the different phases of the decision making process. And developing this insight on group level with a “Talking makes sense“ approach.

2) Proposing a way to make better decisions by using a practical 5 step decision making protocol, originally developed for the high risk industry to avoid mental and social traps and to manage (time) pressure.

We have written these articles especially for mountain professionals because of their prolonged exposure to (residual) mountain risks, and the thinking and acting habits that may have well slipped into daily practice. If you are long enough en routein the mountains, one day you will surely meet that unique combination of factors and conditions that will make up for a treacherous, easily underestimated situation. This however does not mean that the presented tools cannot be applied by anyone who wants to improve his/her risk management in a mountain environment.

Part 1: Examining your “personal snow pit“

Using psychometric tools

How can we signal the possible at risk situations in an early stage or on the spot, instead of realizing the danger afterwards?

On the physical and/or emotional level things are constantly changing: think only of our energy level, states of excitement, fear, uncertainty, euphoria, tiredness. On a more psychological level there are drives like the need for recognition, pride, wanting to be the best, just wanting to reach the col, feeling reluctant to speak out etc. And even on a group level we have to recognize – or maybe sense – that the group is getting out of control and losing all discipline, or just becomes very quiet, reluctant to question any decisions taken.

We propose to use a structured way of introspection to help us bypass our own specific blind spots in decision making. This may require more than just a checklist. Mindfulness is required to identify and acknowledge risks. We need a trained mindset to continually shift attention from “outside in” and “inside out“. This means to observe, think, reflect, feel or intuitively sense what is going on, outside in the terrain, and inside, within yourself or in the group.

So let us start with looking at ourselves. Do we see and seek risk as something positive or are we more reluctant? Do we know where, when and in what specific social settings we are more prone to make a mistake? How do traits of our own unique personality influence our decisions? And if so, have we discussed these insights with anyone?

In this part of the article we want to show the advantages of more thoroughly exploring, sharing and learning from our own possible pitfalls and blind spots in our perception, risk tolerance and decision making.

At the moment we are experimenting with an exploration of what drives a leader (or potential leader) in the following 3 stages.

  • 1: Personality traits (self)assessment – compare 3×3 – before your trip / regional stage)
  • 2: Field work: Assessment of your state of mind, your feeling/mindset and possible distractions during your day in the mountains (3×3 local and zonal stage)
  • 3: An after action review – reflection & learning (“compare to “4×3”)

First stage: Personality (self)assessment

We suggest to start with a personality assessment during the basic training program for mountain professionals.

There are numerous practical personality models on the market based on an accompanying questionnaire. Think of models like “Profile Dynamics Motivational Scan“, “Insides”, “DISC”, “MBTI“ etc. These models are often used in management or organizational training.

Possible flaws in these kind of tests may be their self-referential method: we sometimes fill in characteristics that we wish to have, instead of the ones we actually have. With an additional ‚360 degree exchange‘ of individual profiles within a group or team of colleagues or friends who know each other well, this can be compensated for. We have extensive experience with such useful exchanges within e.g. police counter terror teams, or process operator teams in chemical industries.

For our goal it is important that an assessment should give insight in:

  • A person’s decision making behavior in normal situations as well as under (extreme) stress.
  • His or her relation to risk: risk tolerance / risk averseness
  • His or her drive to learn from complex experiences and situations
  • His or her ‘stability’ (for example some people are very well able to leave their domestic problems at home once they are in the mountains, others have more difficulty doing this)

The outcome of the assessment can provide valuable input for reflection and decision making training such as suggested in the next part of this article.

The perfect test is probably not yet available. To make a pragmatic start we have opted for the “Profile Dynamics Motivational Scan“ because this tool does not pinpoint a person’s preferences to only one type or cluster. It provides a more in-depth and nuanced view of a person’s motivational drives, including opposing drives or dilemmas. But, whichever tool you choose, you will use a profile or scan as a starting point for further exploration, not as an objective or ‚truth‘ in itself.

What is a motivational drive?
The notion of a motivational drive is introduced, because it can be a good predictor of daily – often unconscious – behaviour, and will be part of the internal processes going on in a person or a group.

People turn out to be differently motivated – having a unique set and combination of different motivational clusters – , and thus having different inclinations or tendencies to look for e.g. challenges, risks or thrills, to adapt, to structure planning & execution, to decide and make a choice, and/or to look for other perspectives and learn from former experiences.

The Graves Model identifies seven individual or collective clusters of motivational drives, that greatly influence or even determine the thinking feeling and acting of each individual human being. These seven clusters with corresponding values and behavior are symbolized with seven different colors. Each of us can be characterized with a set or combination of these seven motivational drives.

Benefits of personality assessments

The goal is that the outcomes of the assessment will make the participants more aware of their specific mental or social habits and challenges (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) related to the activity they are about to engage in.

Graves‘ Profile Dynamics Model identifies seven individual- or group-oriented drive patterns that significantly determine how people think and act.

Experiences in practice

In the Dutch UIMLA International Mountain Leader training program by NLAIML all participants fill out an online Profile Dynamics questionnaire (this takes 20-30 minutes) and the profiles enter the training program as a basis for further exploration and discussion. For the trainers it is a great plus to have this information while it helps with setting up and simulating precisely the kind of learning situation or challenge that will produce optimal learning experiences. The outcomes also indicate preferred learning styles. The profiles are always ‚calibrated‘ with the participant in an exchange and if necessary adjusted and not taken for absolute truth.

Examples of motivational profiles

An example of a profile on the INDIVIDUAL level

Graves‘ Profile Dynamics Model for „Hans“. High on orange and red, low on blue and green: „Let’s go, now!“

“Hans“ –  high on “orange and red, low on blue and green“: “Yes Let’s do it! Now!“

qualities:swift decision making and focus on action and result, “driven to be the best“, improvising, extravert, competitive, challenging style, ‘’can-do mentality’’, turning back is often felt as a lesser option.

pitfalls & blind spots: acting before thinking, ‚binary thinking‘ – yes-or-no, impatient, result/thrill seeking orientation dominates process/group orientation, doubt and insecurity  under stress overtaken by action or “impulse driven, egocentric“ behavior, flexible and improvising style, not necessarily well organized or sticking to the plan, not keen on keeping communication channels open within the group. (which traits do you recognize?)

Professional education can offer precisely the simulated situations where this person is likely to fall in his/her pitfall resulting in poor decision making, with the objective to learn from it: e.g. testing ‚Hans‘ in a very competitive situation with complex terrain conditions where careful risk management is needed, may result in surprising (=risky) behavior. lessons never to forget

Helping to make this process explicit and inviting him/her to discover what really goes on can effectively help the candidate improve his/her decision making.

Two examples of a profile on GROUP Level

Group A  “high on blue and purple, low on orange and red“

Graves‘ Profile Dynamics model for „Group A.“ High for blue and purple, low for orange and red: „We stick together and follow the rules“.

qualities:keen eye for mutual trust and preference for familiar situations & groups, structure driven, accurate preparations, social, friendly, modest, calm;

pitfalls & blind spots: holding on to old traditions and standard practices and techniques, (if the protocol says ‚yes‘ limited extra observations & assessments during trip and we stick to the plan), rigidity, slow “group decision making“, slow adapting to new conditions if unplanned, reluctant to share doubts on decisions, respecting hierarchy and the leaders choice; not speaking out when in – perceived as – risky situations because of concern not wanting to ’spoil the group’s atmosphere or the leader’s reputation“; indecisive behavior; being focused on the group / other persons and not seeing changes of circumstances ( e.g. changing weather or snow conditions); “the group decides, everyone must agree“, which does not necessarily results in the best solutions.

Group B “high on yellow-orange, low on blue and purple”

Graves‘ Profile Dynamics Model for „Group A“. High for blue and purple, low for orange and red: “you only live once, and obstacles are there to overcome“.

qualities: active and positive, result oriented, group looking for challenges and adventure, ‘can do’ mentality, flexible and easily improvising to make things work, pushing the limits, often abstract understanding of snow dynamics; risk perceived as something positive, challenging and something to discover and to understand.

pitfalls and blind spots: trippreparation often only on rough scale, often missing the details; self confidence in improvising on the spot; group members verbally strong; strong confidence in ability to sort things out; thrill and/or flow seeking;possibledistraction caused by internal competition and search for personal recognition; in case of doubt or uncertainty inclined to “flee forward“ – looking for solutions in the ‚terrain higher up or around the corner‘; when meeting ambiguity, uncertainty or feeling uncomfortable tendency to (individually) think and combining models and often forgetting to actually “feeling and testing “ the snow; possibility of breaking up of the group when every member thinks to know best; group members will respect and easily follow the most skillful skiing/climbing person, especially when in thrill or flow mindset. Group risk assessment abilities can vary importantly;  Poor information sharing within the group; Prone to ‚ballistic-missile-group-dynamics‘. (which traits did you recognize?)

Second stage: Field work

Once you have done an assessment of yourself and the group you will have a better insight in what drives you and you might recognize certain settings as potentially dangerous for your decision making ability. However as we know already: digging one snow pit is not enough to evaluate the whole slope.

Evaluating your state of mind and your feeling is an ongoing process. Some years ago the Swiss authors Markus Müller and Thomas Theurillat introduced a tool for evaluating and improving leadership skills during a trip.

We suggest to use this tool in training situations in the terrain, combined with a simple checklist such as outlined below. This will give you more insights in your actual state of being that of course will differ from day to day and maybe even moment to moment.

Simple checklist for „mental/emotional/physical distractions that can and will affect your situational awareness and decision making.“

After extensive training a more shortened version might also be used, for example by raising the following question within the group:

How do I evaluate my mental, emotional and physical condition at this moment? Am I fit to make good judgements and good decisions?

10 seconds to reflect and then simultaneously everyone puts:

  • Thumb up (I am fit)
  • Thumb horizontally (mixed feelings)
  • Thumb down (I am not mentally, emotionally of physically fit enough).

Then discuss.

Third stage: After action reviews

A next step to take (or the next snow pit that you should dig) is to organize ‚after action reviews‘, or an ‚after season review‘. When we – the authors – look back at our season (summer and winter) we often must concede that there have been moments where we have put ourselves – and maybe even others –  in situations that, from our armchair at home, we would not have considered as ‘wise’. What made us engage in these actions? Did we feel pressure, were we distracted or…?

Recognizing and even sharing these situations might make us feel uncomfortable. However these “near miss situations“ also might give us great insights into what drives us (and can be made into positive learning experiences). This is the meta-tactic of creating more learning experiences and testing our abilities.

In our opinion there is a clear need for better professional after action reviews where people can talk freely about these kind of things and learn from them.

To conclude

In this article we have introduced tools to better understand your personal snow pit. Crucial and conditional factors may well be mindfulness and self-reflection of the individual in acknowledging the problems related to his or her human factor and the curiosity and drive to deal with it, even if you are a 30+ years experienced mountain pro. The tools proposed are meant to steepen the learning curve and make the learning more effective, on an individual and perhaps even more on a team level.

Part 2: Making better decisions, managing time pressure and mental traps

In the previous article we have suggested tools to obtain better insights into mental and emotional snow pits and to assess group dynamics that might occur. But how to proceed? We will by now recognize some of the mental and social traps we may encounter, but how to actually avoid them as best as possible? How do we make the best possible decision, accepting that we operate in a high risk and high uncertainty environment, with many unknowns and constantly varying factors?

In our opinion sound decision making is a skill, that can – and should – be trained.

Every mountain professional that works in snowy mountain conditions spends at least a day or two per year to refresh his/her avalanche basics, rescue and first aid skills. But we hardly ever train to make good decisions avoiding mental traps and managing time pressure or the pressure clients or (economic) circumstances put on us, as is common in many other high risk industries like aviation. Isn’t this as if we are training clients on a snow slope to come to a stop after a slip without teaching them to properly walk on snow and make a stable track?

In this part of the article we propose a five step decision making protocol to help mountain professionals and recreational mountaineers to actually make better decisions. These decisions will be made regional, local and zonal (using the 3×3 analogy).

Explanation of the five steps

Let us look back at the example of Chris, the guide that wants to traverse the col to the next hut with a group of clients, clouds coming in and a possible wide spread old snow problem (see also page…). Chris needs to make a decision whether or not to traverse to the next hut. He has some highly motivated and skilled group members. They ski with above average speed, look for thrill and challenges and are sometimes engaged in an unspoken competition (showing the others how well they are at this sport). There is a lot of shouting out thrill and exhilaration.

The aim of the five step method

is to mitigate risks by acknowledging and counterbalancing mental traps and to make better decisions given the unknowns, time pressure and lack of resources that are part of the challenge when we are in the mountains. Like the 3×3 method the five step tool should be trained inbefore using it in real high risk situations.

Starting point: What is the risk and what are elements I do not know?

In winter this can for example consist of the usual assessment of the (avalanche) risk using the appropriate tools such as 3×3 or Snowcard. In addition it is very helpful to know your own profile as a leader (the things that drive you) as well as the group’s profile. Your decision making ability is situationally influenced by and is strongly related to your character and actual state of mind. Do the test – for example use the checklist with ‘distractors’ as mentioned above – and improve your awareness! Take into account that conditions may be constantly changing.

When mountain guide Chris thinks back on his personal profile, evaluates his group and the state they are in at this moment he acknowledges that this kind of group behavior could easily result in little sharing and asking questions, spiraling up to more and more risk exposure, taking not much time for assessing of or adapting to changing conditions. He is conscious that they may engage in ballistic behavior, taking no time to reflect and evaluate the risk. He decides to use the five steps to maximize his chance to make a successful decision that is not biased.

Step 1: Give yourself time

Mental or group pitfalls will occur sooner under a lot of -real or imagined- time pressure. You have (or want?) to be back at the car park at a certain time. You need to traverse a certain slope before the sun gets in. Your clients need to catch a plane this evening. A very cold wind is blowing and your clients are ready to move on, but you have your doubts about the slope that will bring you to the next mountain hut.

Which of these are real deadlines and which are self-imposed? Think about what you can do to reduce this time pressure and take appropriate measures. Such as: put your clients in a group shelter out of the wind to drink a sip of tea while taking the time to dig a few holes, check the map (your apps/ GPS) and the weather, and simply create time for decision making.

Chris recognizes that he will need some time to evaluate the snow slope. There is no wind and he invites his clients to have a drink. Next to this he challenges his clients to come up with the names of some peaks that are visible in the southerly direction. Thus creating time-space.

Step 2: Look for different perspectives

In order to avoid decision making errors and your specific pitfalls it has proven to be important to have different perspectives. In a mountain hut you will naturally consult the warden, but also colleague guides and others who are present. After some catastrophic accidents on Mont Blanc in 2012 French guides decided to organize hut consultation moments in order to share information and opinions about the conditions.

Before going on tour a briefing is an excellent moment to get perspectives from your group participants. Of course, this does not turn the actual decision making into a democratic process. The aim is that the leader will get a broader scope. You might – in the meantime – also explain that you are a human being that can make mistakes and that it is therefore important that everyone keeps his senses open and shares important information about risks.

While his clients are studying the map and their phones, Chris checks his app to be sure of the precise  angle of the slope ahead, and he digs a snow pit. Because he still is not sure about this particular passage, he decides to make a quick phone call to a befriended colleague who has done this same trajectory two days ago.

Step 3: Think in scenarios and consider your options

Think in scenarios and be as concrete as possible. Think through the details of each scenario (including the worst case scenario). For each trip, make it a standard procedure to consider at least two worthy alternativesand be prepared to actually change your itinerary if necessary (i.e. contingency planning). For you as a guide it will make it much easier to turn back from a tour if you have a set of „bad weather activities“ right at hand from building an igloo to going to the local sauna, giving participants a great experience, even though they had to stay in the hut or in the valley due to the avalanche risk.

As an experienced mountain professional Chris has already warned his clients about the possibility of not traversing this specific col. The night before he has proposed different options, two alternative itineraries, and the additional logistics. These options were developed in the kitchen of the hut, talking to the warden and a colleague.

Step 4: Consult the devil’s advocate

In order to avoid mental and social pitfalls it is crucial to consult the devil’s advocate. You might do this through internal dialogue or you might give this role to a colleague or group member. In training situations you might even give an attribute (like little devil’s horns) to this person to emphasize that he or she is not just trying to spoil a nice day of powder skiing by asking uncomfortable questions. The role of devil’s advocate needs to be trained in, because we are usually more willing to support decisions taken by leaders in situations with a lot of uncertainty and dependence than to question them openly.

Typical devil’s advocate questions are:

  • What will a judge think of your decision when an avalanche or other accident does occur? Can you explain and defend your decision in court and/or towards your peers?
  • Would you take your own family members in this terrain?
  • How certain is the information on the table – like the accuracy of the snow & avalanche report and the weather forecast?
  • What if things go wrong? Will you be able to keep everybody safe? Will your group be able to save you when under a layer of snow? (analysis of the potential consequences)
  • Pre mortem check: OK, suppose in 5 minutes we are under an avalanche. What information have we missed, how could that ever happen? What should we do to minimize this risk?
  • Is this really the option that will give us the highest chance for not having an accident / survival?
  • What is the nature of our decision? did it come up on impulse (“OMG THAT is a lovely slope”) or was it planned and checked beforehand?

Chris already knows that going back to the same hut will be problematic (the hut is fully booked). However, there is always a chance that other groups cancel their reservation as well and choosing this fall back option the worst that could happen is an uncomfortable night. Through internal dialogue he understands that the worst case scenario is a multi-burial avalanche accident and he feels that he would not send his own 17 year old son into this slope.

Step 5: Monitor

Circumstances may change quickly. Your evaluation, although it was done with care, might be wrong or not applicable anymore: be always willing to adapt your opinion and decisions to new information about the actual risk. At critical decision making nodes / points of no return: do not only reconsider the terrain and the risk, but also evaluate your own mental state and the factors that drive you at this actual moment (are you stressed, irritated by a specific client, scared? Etc. And what can be done about this?). Define the points of no return.

Chris has chosen the option to return to the same hut, have a soup and to go and make first tracks on another face in the beginning of the afternoon. When he announces his decision to the group he notices that some of the people are very disappointed. The group discipline when skiing down is poor. When one of his clients takes a big fall, Chris recognizes that this behavior is becoming accident-prone. He decides to stop for a moment to share thoughts and feelings, boost the morale, and to redefine the protocol for the descent. Because he notices that he himself is also disappointed and irritated he tries to do something about this by joking with one of his regular clients.

In the late afternoon, back in the hut, Chris notices that he feels more relaxed. The tension fades away now the clients are safe behind a beer. He feels okay with the decision he took earlier. The skiing later on in the afternoon on the other slope turned out to be great. Chris decides to do an after action review with his team to distillate the lessons learned.

To conclude

We can’t always avoid the distortions ingrained in the way our minds work, but we can build in tools to make our decision-making processes more reliable, thus improving the quality of the choices we make. This is called debiasing and in for example the banking sector this strategy is more and more used to prevent huge failures and costs. The five step decision making scheme has been developed in order to help us make better decisions.

Note: The different steps have been identified as the necessary ingredients that facilitate a successful decision making process. The steps are meant as an iterative process: sometimes you have to go back to a previous step and sometimes you will have to repeat the whole process because the situation changes. It is however important to pay attention to every step and not to overlook one of the ingredients.

Background of the five step decision making tool

The five step decision making tool and the card game that goes with it have been originally designed for resilient decision making in the high hazard industry (chemical and petrochemical industry, windmills at sea, etc.). Resilient decision making is needed in high hazard surroundings, with a lot of change, time pressure and unknown factors on the one hand  and with limited resources on the other. Within this research also highly experienced mountain guides and expedition climbers have been interviewed on decision making (such as Lionel Daudet, French adventurer and winner of the Piolet d’Or and seasoned expedition climber Katja Staartjes).

High risk decision making card game

To train with the five step decision making tool, a card pack is available. Participants will learn about the qualities that are needed for resilient decision making. While simulating situations in the mountains where difficult decisions have to be made, participants (6-10 persons) will be faced with mental biases, the influence of time pressure, options, uncertainty and sheer luck. The card pack can also be used to do after action reviews.


In these articles we have introduced hands-on tools to get better insights into personal drives and group dynamics. Thus being able to pinpoint the most relevant human factor errors that may affect us personally. Next we have explained the five steps towards better decision making in high pressure situations. Combining these tools will hopefully provide us with a more integral and effective approach in mitigating risks and unpredictable conditions.

However, there is still a lot to be done. Our pragmatic approach needs more experience from the field and (scientific) research. For example, there may be better personality tests to assess and predict behavior in high pressure circumstances.

If you are interested to join and share your thoughts and experience we would welcome your feedback.

Note: using these tools can evoke resistance
1: We have been brought up with certain ideas about being a good leader, such as ‘do not show your decision uncertainty towards your client or colleague’ or even ‘a leader is master in everything and does not have uncertainties or weak spots’. It might not be easy to change to another perspective in which for example your ability to create options adapted to the conditions and ‘sell them” to your clients is highly valued.

2: Our clients also have their personal expectations about the role and image of the leader. They are on holiday and may have left their brains at home on their nightstand. You will have to disappoint them and wake them up.

3: Introducing and using these tools will take time. Be prepared for discussions. But we have experienced that it is like a LVS check: at a certain point it will be part of the daily routine and you will have found ways to do it quickly and easily.


  2. Benjamin Zweifel in bergundsteigen 4/16, „Bist du auf deiner Tour SOCIAL?’’
  3. Mannberg Andrea e.a. bergundsteigen 4/17 „Who is at risk in the backcountry?’’
  4. Jan Mersch und Hans Christian Hocke in bergundsteigen #97 (2016), S. 35.
  5. Romain Ferlay, Cecile Radiguet de La Bastaie. Accidents des guides de haute montagne français de 2003 à 2013: Étude rétrospective de 286 cas et de leurs conséquences. Médecine humaine et pathologie. 2015.
  6. Human Faktor 2.0,
  7. Human Factor 2.0 – Manuel Genswein SLF on residual risk and exposure in time:
  8. bergundsteigen 4/18, Mannberg Andrea e.a. ‘’Are you keeping up with Jeremy Jones’’ – on the role of social comparison and the influence of what other people around you do.
  9. siehe Homepage Profile Dynamics
  10. bergundsteigen 4/12 “Mehr Mensch als Faktor“; Müller MarkusTheurillat Thomas; Seite 84-89.
  11. bergundsteigen 2/16, Würtl Walter, Plattner Peter, „Wieder nichts gelernt“
  12. In einigen niederländischen spezialisierten Polizeiteams werden Betriebsleiter ausgebildet, um diese komprimierten und konkreten „After-Action-Reviews“(oder vielleicht: … konkreten Assessments der Einsätze) mit ihren Teams durchzuführen. Ziel ist es, von jedem Einsatz zu lernen und diese zu verbessern. Führungskräfte sind eingeladen, sich als diese weiterzuentwickeln und dann ihr Team um Feedback zu fragen.
  13. Siehe auch bergundsteigen #101, Stephan Harvey „Entscheiden im Einzelhang“ und Benjamin Reuter/Chris Semmel „Gefahren, Konsequenzen, Massnahmen & Risiko“.
  14. Z.B.
  15. Die Instrumenten wurden von Anne van Galen im Auftrag von und in Zusammenarbeit mit Dr. Linda Bellamy (White Queen B.V.), dem niederländischen Nationalen Institut für öffentliche Gesundheit und Umwelt (RIVM) und einem Sounding Board von 20 Unternehmen entwickelt. Die Instrumenten basieren auf einem europäischen Safera-Forschungsprogramm für eine belastbare Entscheidungsfindung. Siehe

Erschienen in der
Ausgabe #113 (Winter 20-21)