Whether you're the new guy/girl to a crew, the senior member or an officer taking on the "new guy/girl", it is important to understand the phases of group development and how to be the best version of your self during each phase! I'm sure most of us have seen the group development model developed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. His theory states that there are 4 phases (Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing) that are inevitable and necessary in order for a team to grow and effectively accomplish missions. As a 3 or 4-person crew in the fire service, it is imperative to work our way through these stages and become a "well-oiled machine" for when Mrs. Smith calls and is having the worst day of her life!
The first phase in this group development model is Forming. This phase is where the group meets and learns of the challenges that lie ahead of them and then agrees on common goals and begins tackling tasks. Most of the time in the fire service, we don't have an option at this phase, we are usually assigned our crews, our station, or our shift. This is the imperative phase where the officer lays out their expectations to help guide the crew through the next few phases because most members tend to behave independently. Most members tend to be quiet and a little easier going as they figure each other out and how they're going to fit in to this crew.
The second phase is Storming. In this phase "...participants form opinions about the character and integrity of the other participants and feel compelled to voice these opinions if they find someone shirking responsibility or attempting to dominate. Sometimes participants question the actions or decision of the leader as the expedition grows harder...". This is the phase where the "Pecking Order" is established and most times, the hardest phase to go through, but don't be discouraged, the best is yet to come! During this phase, all disagreements and personality conflicts must be resolved or else you'll never move out of this phase. Trust me, I understand this is easier said than done, but this is where as leaders (whether you hold rank or not), we need to step up and try to resolve these disagreements or personality conflicts to the best of our ability. It may not be exactly what you want to do, but for the betterment of the team, you understand it is necessary so that you can move on to the next phase and provide the best service possible to the customers we serve. Keep in mind, it is possible to revisit this phase over time when new disagreements or as problems arise, but all problems can be worked through when you remind yourself that most of us are there for the same mission and want the same results. When you look at the root of most problems in this phase, it is a "personality conflict" issue or a lack of communication. When you are able to understand the root cause and learn how the other person "ticks", you are able to overcome this phase and move on.
The third phase is Norming. In this phase, "Resolved disagreements and personality clashes result in greater intimacy, and a spirit of co-operation emerges." This is the phase where the crew begins to accept responsibility for their respective roles and work towards the common goal or mission. Crew members begin to tolerate the differences they have with each other and accept them for who they are and make an effort to move on. During this phase, station life usually becomes better as we get to know each other for "who" we are and learn the details of our family members and our life. You will notice an increase in motivation during this phase as you take pride in each other, your crew, and your fire department.
The fourth and final phase is Performing. In this phase, "Group norms and roles are established, group members focus on achieving common goals, often reaching an unexpectedly high level of success." This is the phase that every crew should strive for! During this phase, members become competent and are able to make decisions without the need of supervision. Usually this is the phase where you are able to jump off the truck and not have to say much to each other because you are already anticipating each other’s next move. You have trained together and been through similar situations before, and know what needs to be done. You know what the expectations are and how you are going to complete the mission. For those of us lucky enough to have been on crews like this, we know there is no better feeling than waking up in the morning and knowing you get to go to work with your best friends!
Keep in mind that there is no certain timeline that dictates how long each phase takes. In fact, some crews skip phases and are able to go directly to the next. It is imperative that we are able to look inside ourselves and ask the hard questions, "What am I doing to be a positive member of the crew?", "Am I helping my crew advance through these phases or am I the one holding the group up from going on to the next phase?", or "What can I do to help the crew be the best version of itself that it can be?" The minute you are able to put the needs of the team above your own, is the day you become a leader. No matter which phase of this group development you find yourself or your crew in, it is critical that you remind yourself about the power of a positive attitude! ATTITUDES ARE CONTAGIOUS! Keep up the good fight my brothers and sisters and be safe as you work your way through these phases.
Tommy Goran is the Founder of Flashover Leadership, a Fire Engineer/EMT with Columbia MO Fire Department with 9 years in the fire service and a Rescue Specialist for MOTF1. Tommy is also a member of ISFSI and an Advocate for Safety Net of Missouri.