Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Teamwork on the Fly

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.  Abraham Lincoln
"The issues we face today are so big and so challenging, it becomes quite clear we can't do it alone, and so there is a certain humility in knowing you have to invite people in."
I recently read a statement by Granite Mountain Hotshot survivor Brendan McDonough. He stated, "We have gone from a fire season to a fire year." There is always a fire season somewhere; however, where there were fire seasons with the occasional off-season response, we now have year-round responses. This presents a myriad of problems. For this blog installment, I want to talk about the effect on our teams and the importance of leadership in today's wildland fire service.
Some of you are well-versed in team formation or group development. One of the most notable models is Psychologist Bruce Tuckman's stages:
  • Forming
  • Storming
  • Norming
  • Performing
  • Adjourning, Transforming, and Mourning (later addition with Mary Ann Jensen)
If you don't have much experience with Tuckman's work, I suggest you dive into a little research as you craft your leadership art. Tuckman's work, however, is not the focus of this blog. I want to ask a question, "How has team formation changed?" Are we creating teams (static entities) or are we "teaming."

One of my favorite leadership experts, Amy Edmundson, has me thinking we are "teaming." In her book Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, Amy Edmondson defines teaming as "an active process, not a static entity." 

The wildland fire service will forever be on a quest for the perfect team composition. Complexity aside, I don't view our teams as static entities. We seem to possess more of a revolving door philosophy as compared to retinal or fingerprint access.


Have you seen a Type I team roster lately? What used to be a one-page document is now a mass scroll down the webpage. We have short teams and long teams, depending on the need. Back in the day, the roster didn't have backups; most positions had a single person identified. Why the change? I have my theories; I am guessing you do, too. That is another blog...

I digress. How does my door analogy relate to team formation? I see our teams as dynamic entities—revolving doors. Rarely, if ever, do our IMTs come together with the same "cast of characters" as the previous mobilization. You may formalized rosters with trainess, but I consider them a place to start. Your retina isn't scanned nor are your fingerprints taken prior to becoming a member of the team (or are they?...)

All joking aside, our IMTs come together for a short time and then disband until the next mobilization. We aren't forming static teams; we are "teaming." We might even be taking a bunch of strangers and turning them into a team.

As I dive into Amy's book, I challenge you to watch "How to Turn a Group of Strangers into a Team" that become my inspiration for this blog.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to say our teams our ineffective. The intent is to open a discussion to a possible mindset change in how we view team development.

Wildland Fire Leadership Challenge - Digging a Little Deeper
  • Review the Florence Fire Tree Strike Fatality FLA. How might a lack of psychological safety influenced this tragedy?
  • Read Amy Edmondson's book Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.
  • What are you doing on your team to ensure a foundation of trust is built between team members?
  • How does this concept fit with how you feel teams are built and function?
  • What factors can you identify that may impede your team from accomplishing its mission?
  • How cohesive is your team? What makes it so or what is lacking?

2018 National Wildland Fire Leadership Campaign: Leading Through Relationships
About the Author: Pam McDonald is a writer/editor for BLM Wildland Fire Training and Workforce Development and member of the NWCG Leadership Subcommittee. The expressions are those of the author.

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