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Developing teams – a fire officer’s view


In this contributed member feature, an experienced operational Fire Officer looks at the issues involved in running a successful team in critical situations.

As an experienced operational Fire Officer (of some 24 years), the main aspects about a strong team that come through at every incident I attend or command are:

1. Effective communication

2. Sharing a common goal!

3. Accepting that each member of the team has an equally important part to play and should be listened to if they feel they have a valuable contribution to make.

4. Strong leadership demonstrated through a committed approach to problem solving and decision making - even if on occasions those decisions are wrong!

5. Finally, (re-visiting point 1) the leader of any team at any situation must accept that there are only so many lines of communication that anyone can maintain at any one time. This means that others in the team have to be trusted to undertake their delegated role or area of responsibility.

However, when the emergency has been successfully tackled and we are all back at the fire station, the team takes on a much more open structure. What I mean by this is there is more room for debate, decisions can be questioned and explained, de-briefs can be held and reflective learning can take place. Where possible, leadership becomes more transformational creating a sense of ownership that is transferred to the skills base of the team and used next time the team goes into action.

At this stage I feel though that I must issue a warning to aspiring team leaders. The transformational approach to teams may not suit everybody in the team and every situation, the emergency situation is a prime example of that. Imagine the chaos if incident commanders at emergencies employed the 'Sgt Wilson' approach!

In any team there is almost always a proportion of that team who like to know where they stand at all times, they like to be led - the transactional approach. This I guess can be linked to the teachings of Belbin. Finally, I have found (sometimes through bitter experience) that "you can only take people as far as they want to go, not as far as you sometimes want to go." Heard that one before?

Peter House
Service Delivery Support Officer
Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service

What makes teams work for you? Post your comments below or email the editor.


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