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Many of my columns are about problem-solving, usually at the organizational level. This month’s column is different. This time, I discuss problem-solving at the personal level, in situations where you don’t have the time or distance to shield you from the impact of your problem-solving decisions.
In the workaday world of your fire department, you interact continually with the small group of people with whom you are assigned. In a career department, those of you riding the right-front seat usually deal with the same firefighters on a continuing basis. This familiarity helps you become familiar with each person’s individual role in the success (or failure) of your unit. This knowledge can help you monitor people so that you may be able to head off problems before they grow to a disruptive level.
Volunteer fire departments present a different challenge. You never really know who will end up riding the right-front seat. In addition, you can never forecast who your crew will be if you end up riding the right-front seat on one of your department’s firefighting units. This means you are going to have to learn more about the people in your organization so you can assess the people with whom you end up serving.
This is not so great a problem in fire departments that operate from a single station. And if you think about it, even in those situations where there are two or more stations, the problems you face will be problems created by members of the units that are responding from your station. It is not common for members from one station to respond and ride the right-front seat of units assigned to another station. This is not to say that it cannot happen, but the chances of that are not all that great.
You need to be continually scanning the environment in your station or among the members of your group. You must assess the attitudes and motivation of your people on a continuing basis. Your environmental scan should take the occasional look at the world around you, for nothing you and your people do occurs in a vacuum, devoid of the influence of the outside world. Doing this lets you see the storm clouds of trouble as they begin to develop out there on the horizon.
Even at those times when you have a hunch that something may be wrong it could take you some time to put the pieces of the puzzle together. However, once you make your decision that something is amiss, it is then time to begin the process of solving the problem you have identified. Let me share an important piece of information with you here. I suggest that should you ignore it, you do so at your own peril. Regardless of the number of people living within your “right-front-seat” world, the process of problem-solving is the same as it is for situations on the major level. Whether there are two people or twelve people, you must still use the same process.
Your first step is to define the problem. Be sure that what you are looking at is an actual problem and not a symptom of a problem. Treat the pinched nerve that is causing the headache instead of just taking aspirin for the pain.
Perhaps the attitude among your team members suddenly takes a turn of the cold-shoulder variety. Let us say, for example, that your normally tight-knit group suddenly finds itself shunning one member of the team, excluding them from the coffee table conversations and generally doing what they can to stay away from that person. This is not out of the question. I have seen it happen.
Don’t ignore problems
As the right-front-seat leader, it is up to you to find out what’s going on. Let me assure you of one critical fact of life. If you choose to ignore a problem, it will not go away. I can almost promise you that it will get worse. In a situation like this you need to collect information that can help you in getting to the root cause of the problem. Until you do this, you will not be able to develop any sort of solution to the problem at hand. This is truly the first part of solving problems of any kind.