The Captain's College - Part 2

Team building has never been one of those classes most fire service personnel take as part of their fire service education.


This article is the first in a series of articles based on the "Captain's College" webcast presented on Firehouse TrainingLIVE.

In this second installment for the Captain College articles, we will cover the need for the newly promoted or soon to be promoted company officer to develop his/her skill sets in team building, and company cohesion.

These skill sets are something of an enigma in the fire service. Team building has never been one of those classes most fire service personnel take as part of their fire service education. Yet, in the private industry it is viewed by management circles as critical in the development of a cohesive and productive unit.

Often we view the lack of dissension among the troops or the lack of bitterness as a success model for team building. However, in the team building model, it is the complete and full utilization of all members in the pursuit of the goal as well as the comprehensive use of their talents as a success model for team development.

In simpler terms, when all members based upon the presenting objective have a shared and equal voice and all members are fully engaged utilizing their individual talents to their fullest, these are the beginning elements of a cohesive team. Now arguably on the fireground we will shift away to a differing approach, but the full engagement and the use of individual talents will bleed through as a result of the ground work that was laid during the team building process.

The Decision Process: A Group Effort

If one were to look at the 21st Century leadership model, the team building process utilizes shared and equal input from all involved. It is the team that makes the decision in that process. However, it does not preclude the leader from establishing the defined guidelines, while establishing clear explicit direction and boundaries. Those boundaries are based upon policy and regulation as well as the best use of resource allocation.

For example, a newly promoted company officer has a specified workload that must be accomplished as part of the company's functional duties. The newly promoted officer has two members of his company currently preparing to take that next set of promotional exams wishing to use time during the day to prepare for those exam processes. This is a perfect opportunity for the company officer to utilize the team building model to establish the team development process.

Through discussion and prioritizing with the entire group, identifying pending deadlines and specified priorities, the team or group determine the days activity base. Often, the officer will find that allowing the team to determine the schedule, they will be willing to work longer and more productively to accomplish all the stated goals of the day in order to accommodate both parties. The key is letting the team set the pace.

It is important to note, the leader of the team must remain consistent with their behavior throughout the process. As long as the team is working within the defined boundaries and guidelines set forth in the beginning of the process, the leader must understand the negative effects of overriding the team progression because it doesn't fit well with leader. There may come a point where the leader will feel uneasy about the direction the team may be going or possibly the leaders global perspective identifies an issue in the direction.

It is at this point the leader must clearly identify the issue with the team and again, work with the team to find resolution; hence, this becomes an issue of conflict resolution. The leader must have sound basis for this to occur, his or her personal preference may, and I repeat, may be at issue here, but using this as an excuse to run his or her own train down the tracks will derail the team building process.

Getting Away from Groupthink

Groupthink is a dual edged sword in the fire service. As we work to develop company cohesion and work teams in our companies, often the issue of groupthink can take over with negative effects. It is absolute cohesive groups generally have a common goal, set of values, work within an established set of norms, while operating within an institution of tradition and commonality.

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