Firefighters hear how important teamwork is from their first day in the academy. Much of what firefighters do on a daily basis consists of teamwork, so why do some companies perform well and others barely perform? What influence does the company officer have on teams?
Increasingly, more groups and teams are built for non-emergency functions within the fire service, such as vehicle committees or policy development. Should we manage these teams any differently than our emergency teams? How does technology influence a team’s performance?
According to Merriam-Webster, a team is a number of people associated together in work or activity—a crew or gang. A group is defined as a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship.
Management philosophy teaches that groups occur from an organizational perspective, but teams are built by management. We can think of a group of people as our firefighting company, but for the company to meet a common goal, we must build a team.
We've all experienced fire companies that have a reputation that precedes them—sometimes that they're very skilled and proficient, sometimes that the company will be the last to arrive and dodge work for the entire incident. How can someone who was once a member of the company that failed at nearly every incident join a high-performing team and transform into an outstanding firefighter? Did the firefighter not want to perform well before?
Likely, that firefighter had a few things that made him or her want to be a part of something bigger—the team. What people commonly desire from a team include:
- Increased abilities to utilize skills
- A value of the skills delivered by other team members
- A sense of being held in higher esteem because of team affiliation
Think about how you felt when you became part of the fire department—a sense of superiority to the average citizen. After all, not everyone can be a firefighter.
Now think about how you felt when you received your company assignment and came in for your first shift. Did the crew welcome you? Did the crew appear interested in responding to calls and performing during training evolutions?
Maybe you were unlucky and found a crew that barely checked the truck, didn’t do any training and complained about responding to calls. How could that crew let you utilize your skills and have them appreciated? How could you feel a sense of higher esteem?
On the Bus and in the Right Seat
Many officers have heard the cliché that you need to get everyone on the bus going to the same place, but I would suggest that we also need them do the right jobs while they're heading in the right direction.
As company officers, hopefully we had input into the strategic planning of the organization and even more input on the work plans that will fulfill the strategic plan. But even if we didn’t get a word towards either plan, we have a duty to support the strategic and work plans that will help to deliver the service desired by the public.
To do this we need everyone focusing on the objectives and tasks that deliver this service.
Additionally, if we want the best team performance, we must understand our people and their desires, strengths and weaknesses. Giving a firefighter oversight for a computer program and data entry if he or she has difficulty turning on a computer isn't going to deliver the desired results. This isn’t to say you shouldn't work with the firefighter on computer capabilities. But this firefighter may be the best mechanical person on your team and can fix nearly anything on the fire engine.
Know your personnel and take advantage of their talents and preferences. If they're good at something and like it, they're much more likely to complete the task and go above and beyond without prompting than if they're working on something you dread.
Today’s business environment requires the use of technology to save time and for productivity. Technology has the ability to enhance teamwork, but it can also become a distracter.
Some technologies to consider when using teams, especially in the non-emergency setting, are collaboration software, such as Microsoft’s tracking features in Word, and Google sites, which permit users to see documents, team progress, assignments, etc.
Web conferencing, such as GoToMeeting.com and WebEx, can help alleviate the problem with personnel working a 24/48 schedule by allowing meeting attendance anywhere you can carry a tablet computer.
The trick to adding technology is planning how to integrate the technology without the technology becoming a distraction. I suggest adding one technology at a time, as managing and planning for many technology additions can become a disaster, defeating the team’s ability to produce the desired results.
Company Officer Influence
Successful teams rely on a leader and will only perform as well as the weakest member. A company officer can best know their personnel's strengths and weaknesses and put them in positions that allow them to excel. Whether you're managing a project or leading a company at a structure fire, you must understand the situation, the expected or desired outcome, and know how to assign your personnel to deliver the expected outcome.
A short list of tasks for a company officer includes:
- Learn your personnel’s strengths, weaknesses and likes.
- Train your personnel to meet a minimum level in all types of services provided.
- Find ways to have each member excel in one area, such as pump operations, EMS, IT support, etc.
- Find ways to provide the needed resources and often a member's desired resources.
- Track and work with the members to overcome hurdles in progress.
- Provide positive coaching and find an opportunity to recognize the efforts and success of the members.
Remember the phrase:
When something's wrong, it’s your fault; when something's right, your team members made it happen.
Your members rely on you and want to work for a successful company, project, etc. It's the company officer’s job to ensure that occurs. Find good people, provide them direction and resources and let them make you look like a great officer.