Teamwork DEFINED


CarolinaFireJournal - William Tatum
William Tatum
01/25/2021 -

For this article, I have a few questions for you to ponder and answer on your own. Once you do that, I hope you can utilize your answers to help foster an improved environment of teamwork. First, do you belong to a team and if so, what team is it? 

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Secondly, do you believe that the best team you belong to is your service, shift or battalion?

Teamwork is a must for success. Even if you ride alone in a QRV (Quick Response Vehicle) or are the sole telecommunicator in the Comm Center, you are still part of a team. Your team includes members from many aspects of public safety. We must look beyond the uniforms and apparatus in order get a true sense of teamwork and how it contributes to the final product.

Teamwork can be defined many ways in certain circles. Typically, they all encompass a meaning of working as a group to complete a task in an effective and efficient manner to achieve a common goal. Synonyms may include collaboration, cooperation and coordination. No matter which terms you choose to relate to, understand that it truly takes teamwork in our service lines. If we begin to “freelance” or go against the goal of the team, people can suffer, property can be destroyed and lives could end.

The makeup of your team brings members with varying strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, each member comes with different backgrounds, levels of education and life experiences in general. It takes many ingredients to make a perfect meal, right? The same reigns true with the development of a team. Teamwork requires trust, collaboration, respect, unity, consideration and understanding among its members. From the rookie EMT or probationary Fire Fighter to the most senior officer on a scene, everyone has something to contribute. We may encounter situations in the field we have not seen before, that’s a given. However, another member of your team may have. Allowing them to interject when appropriate will foster growth and trust.

A goal we all share in public safety is to ensure that our citizens receive the help they requested in a timely and efficient manner. We too must coordinate with other teammates such as law enforcement, other fire and medical teams, and on occasion public utilities that respond to a common scene. When seconds count, there is no time for internal disputes or power struggles.  Effective teams have clear goals, unified commitments, principled leadership and a result drive structure.

To achieve clear goals, your team needs to know what is expected of them and how they are to perform their duties. Policies and procedures (P&P) can be crafted with these goals and objectives in mind. Certainly, the P&Ps must be relevant, easy to understand and court defensible. When creating these, include all levels of experience in the planning and revision phases. Sometimes when we are not as engaged as we should be with field staff, we lose track of what truly is happening and therefore may not truly address accurate issues.

When a team gets a new member, that employee must understand the importance of their commitment to the job, the agency and the citizens they serve. They need to be clearly aware of what their position entails such as work hours and overtime, the work environment, conduct on and off duty and training requirements. Team members should understand as well that while they do not have to agree with everything, they must agree that providing the citizens with the best service is the responsibility of everyone on your team.

Principled leadership include promoting trust among their team members. Upper management also has an obligation to provide quality supervisory training to newly appointed leaders. Such training should include leadership styles, dealing with difficult employees, conflict resolution and cultural diversity. Leaders must display high personal standards such as honesty, integrity, brother and sisterhood, and most importantly, stewardship. By setting a positive example, leadership can motivate their team to achieve a higher level of professionalism.

A result-driven structure includes proper equipment and tools to do the work that is required. The team must also have a successful work environment. Team members should be asked for ways that workflows can be improved on a regular basis. This process has proven very worthy during this global pandemic. Processes we had ten months ago have truly changed. We all must be open to suggestions and process improvement ideas from all who are involved in service delivery.

One of the most important components of a team are qualified and well-trained team members. The days of “A patch and a pulse” are long gone. When faced with employee shortages as well as a less than stellar applicant pool, we must make decisions that will not impact the team negatively. Onboarding a new hire is not cheap. We must ensure we are investing in the right team member. When asked, many present employees would rather work a little overtime to cover open shifts rather than just putting an unqualified person in the slot to cover time. When you take time to explain the reality of situations to the entire team, their understanding is strengthened.

Final Thoughts

When 2020 began, I personally did not know how much importance would be placed on the concept of teamwork. Granted, it may have taken a pandemic to highlight the need of teamwork and the ever-present flexibility everyone must have. We all have been tossed curve balls this year and without a strong, teamwork-based approach, many public safety service lines would have crumbled. My New Year’s Resolution for 2021 will be to foster clear goals, reunify my team’s commitment, improve my principled leadership and strive for a result driven structure. 

William Tatum serves as President of the South Carolina EMS Association. He is also a career paramedic serving as the Communications Supervisor for Prisma Health Emergency Medical Services. In addition, he is the SC Membership Coordinator and one of the Region II Directors on the Executive Board for the National Association of EMT’s (NAEMT). Tatum is currently involved as an Adjunct Instructor for EMT programs in the upstate and is part of many EMS and Public Safety Advisory Committees. He can be reached via email at [email protected].
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