How often do we actually train on performing as a team? How often do we examine what we do as a team that makes us function effectively or fail effectively? As firefighters we train constantly to function as part of a team, however, do we always carry that to the field? When a team has worked together and has bonded, they seem to function as the right hand knows without saying what the left hand is doing. A fire brother on mine, David Bullard, provided me with the analogy that the “crew that eats ice cream together, talks less at fires.” His point is that the crew that truly bonds, learns each other’s weaknesses and strengths is accomplished through building the crew relationship. In addition, one major aspect of teamwork is understanding how to talk to an individual when offering a suggestion or concern. Having and showing mutual respect for all members on the team is essential to the team excelling and practicing leadership-followership techniques.
A leader must understand that every team will go through stages of team building. These stages will not always look the same depending on various factors, however; we all know what a good team looks like. Bruce Tuckman named these stages forming, storming, norming, performing – in the order they occur. The leader must understand this will occur. We will all disagree at some point, however, if we trust each other and understand each other’s experiences and point of reference, we will respect our peers and are more open to change and feedback. These team building drills, along with experience, will exhibit our strengths and weaknesses. The value in this, is that we can now optimize the strengths of each person and be aware of the weaknesses of each person.
For example, while all of my special operation’s team members can perform every task required during a rescue situation. There are a few who excel at rigging, a few at packaging, and a few at commanding the incident. One of my processes for developing the skills of each individual, yet, also displaying who possesses what strength, is a simple (fun) competition. I set them up in two different formats, one is a one on one competition and the other is a two on two format. It doesn’t matter what the actual drill is but we will use a simple Z-Rig with a change of direction set up. I allow the individuals to discover the value of teamwork for themselves without anyone else having to teach it. Both groups want to win and I want them to be successful, so I allow them to stage all parts they will need and prepare their strategy for deployment. Their desire to win the head-to-head competition directs them to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each member and how they will transition through each step of the task.
Although, above I called the Z-Rig a simple task it requires a series of steps which some can be performed simultaneously, others must be performed sequentially. For example, one member must establish the anchor, while the other deploys the actual rope in a Z pattern and determine where the pulleys and Kong Duck (rope grab) must be placed. One of the transition points is where the rope deployment and anchor must be combined using the Petzl I’D (tool which grabs the rope and keeps from descending but allows members to pull through the tool when ascending). If the rope is not established properly or if the anchor man does not pay attention to the direction of the rope (which side is the load side) the system will not work at all. The last transition is demonstrating the raising and lowering of the rescuer. All of these components are valuable and not one of them can be shortcut, left out, or improperly applied. In addition to just deploying the system, there are several safety factors which must be recognized and thought through, making this a (good) stressful situation. However, at the end of the competition everyone starts to learn each other’s skills and learns how to improve their own abilities. We typically will perform these competitions 10 – 15 times in a row; however, you may only work with the same person twice. This approach forces you to communicate and adapt based on your partner’s capabilities. This approach can be used in many different formats and does not have to be used just as a rope competition. Other examples would be deploying various hose loads, staging primary searches in fire station, deploying standpipe operations, VEIS operations with a training tower.
The team is your greatest asset and should always be built up to succeed. Leaders must understand how teams form and how to navigate through the storming portion. True leaders understand the value of those around them and know that the leader is only as good as those who support them. Take time to develop your team today – be the Barn Boss!
Be Safe and Train Hard!
Barn Boss Leadership can be reviewed here: https://www.createspace.com/5952190
Barn Boss Leadership, August 2016 publication – A unique blend of fire, science, psychology and fire service history provided by an author who has worked in the largest of metropolitan to the smallest of volunteer departments. True leaders develop their power long before they receive a promotion. This text is designed to provide a guide and self-awareness gut check for individuals of all ranks. However, the emphasis of this text is for the informal leader in the organization, who is the catalyst for action. This text is for the individual who considers mastery the minimum standard.
Brian Ward, Author of Fire Engineering - Training Officer’s Toolbox and Managing Editor/Author for the Training Officer’s Desk Reference by Jones and Bartlett. Brian facilitates programs around the country on emergency response, training and leadership topics in the public and private sector. Founder of FireServiceSLT.com and BarnBossLeadership.com.