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Collaboration: The Human Element

Collaboration has found increasing importance in emergency services in the recent years, as doing more with less has become the norm in government. Collaboration is a process, but more importantly, it becomes an interaction between people.

A recent PhD dissertation examined collaboration between the emergency management agency and the fire department to find the leadership, management and personal traits that increase collaboration. Through the research, communication with emphasis on listening, management of processes and personnel, and trust were found as the leadership, management and personal traits, respectively.

An Executive Chief Officer Leadership Symposium session at Fire-Rescue International 2015 convened a panel of fire chiefs who have experience in collaboration though consolidations, mergers and mutual/automatic aid arrangements. Their goal was to determine if the research findings extend into these situations.

The session found that the chiefs agreed with all of the findings and reiterated that collaboration relies on personnel willing to work together for the betterment of the public. All of the chiefs recognized that the process often occurred over time and involved exterior forces.

One outliers in the research involved interview participants stating that subject-matter expertise and increased education was the knowledge, skill or trait that increased collaboration the most, despite not appearing in the previous themes.

The fire chiefs agreed with this and one of the panelist chiefs explained why he felt this finding was valid. He described education as not a piece of paper or post-nominals added to a person’s name, but rather a change in a person’s understanding and behavior as a result of the knowledge gained throughout the process of attaining the education.

If you will enter into a collaboration situation, ask yourself if you have trust in the other individuals, if you can communicate, and more importantly, if you can listen and are ready to manage the processes needed to make the collaboration work.

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