The Captain's College - Part 2

Sept. 17, 2007
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.

With this said, it is important for the leader to identify when the team has set into a groupthink attitude. This can be scene in certain behaviors that present in areas such as safety, culture, and station or shift climate. Better said, when the team begins to act out against others, or policy this can be an issue of groupthink in negative terms. Behaviors such as a strong safety culture and pride of service would be positive effects of the groupthink process.

If you look at organization such as Phoenix Fire Department (PFD), one would see were groupthink has had a positive impact on safety and service, PFD's culture did not occur overnight and is constantly being reviewed, evaluated and refined to maintain the positive nature of the process. Yet, all one has to do is read any online fire service magazine to identify a negative aspect of the Groupthink process.

As for safety, the lack of seatbelts being worn by firefighters is an indication the organization or at the very least the company responding has not embraced a safety culture. Or items such as sexual immorality within the confines of the station scream of a complete breakdown in the supervision of that company and the organization. Therefore, somewhere along the way the parties involved have determined this behavior is correct and allowable, even if it violates both policy and the god ole smell test.

The bottom line is, when a group of people fail to identify issues of safety and morality as a whole, one can only assume the group itself is defective and lacks supervision and has settled into the negative aspects of group think. Additionally, at issue is the group think process for this group is not inline with positive professional behaviors that should be defined by the organization and established by behavior and policy.

On the flip side of that coin is the positive aspects of group think. For this to occur the organization itself must establish the values, norm and traditions it demands from both supervisors and members. Clearly those values and norms must be shared by all and each and everyone in the organization held accountable for those behaviors. This is especially true for supervisors. Each and every supervisor must remain at 150% at all times in the areas defined by the organization. If not, the troops will see a lack of consistency and identify this with weak leadership and failed ability to remain true to the purpose and intent of those items.

Related Webast

Ed Hadfield, a Contributing Editor, has worked his way through the ranks of the fire service over the last 20 years from firefighter to battalion chief. He was a captain for the ISO Class 1 Huntington Beach, CA, Fire Department. He is the Lead Instructor for Firetown Training Specialist and was awarded the 2004 California Training Officer of the Year.

Ed is recognized for his tremendous accomplishments in the area of Truck Company Operations, Firefighter Safety and Survival, Rapid Intervention Tactics & Strategy, Command and Strategy at the scene of fireground emergencies and his overall leadership in the fire service.

Ed is contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine and The Orange County Firefighter. He is a adjunct /instructor to numerous fire science programs, and lead instructor for Firehouse Expo, FDIC West, and numerous fire service conferences nationwide. He holds an Associates Degree from Santa Ana College in Fire Administration, a Bachelors Degree in Organizational Leadership for Azusa Pacific University and a Chief Officers Certification from the California State Fire Marshal. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Leadership Studies.

You can contact Ed through his training website: Firetown Training Specialist.

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