More About CRM – Shared Experience

The book Crew Resource Management: Principles and Practice shares that crew resource management was first developed by commercial airlines as a result of study into how teams should communicate more effectively to increase situational awareness.  Again, there are a number of aspects to the concept, but the basis in which we can find improved communication can be through sharing our understanding of the situation, respecting the diversity of opinion, removing boundaries to communication, and being able to speak candidly and appropriately about our observations so that our meaning is understood.

Beginning with the understanding of our shared experience, we can agree that every member of the team should have a vested interest in the positive outcome of the assigned mission.  Furthermore, everyone on the team has a responsibility to the other team members to contribute to their ability, if anything, because each perspective on the problem can provide a better solution.

For example, we were working a complicated automobile extrication one day and we were struggling with gaining access to the patient due to the car being lodged in the side of a building.  The least senior firefighter on the scene happened to have been a car salesman prior to coming on the job; he knew that the rear seat in this model could be opened from the trunk and the seat laid flat, which gave us excellent access.

We have to be familiar with the skills and strengths of the other members of the team and use those to our advantage, because we can’t all be experts in everything.  We also must have shared understanding of the likely result of taking specific actions, or taking no action, and contrast these to our desired outcome.  This requires that each member of the team be in possession of the strategy and the tactics involved to achieve the goal, and especially what each person’s role is and when they are supposed to take that action.

To utilize this in daily operations, consider that you are faced with any number of tasks that must be completed during the shift or your tour.  It might be your turn to conduct training night for the volunteers or you may have been assigned to pre-plan a building.  In any case, you may have subject matter experts in your midst, regardless of their rank or tenure, who can contribute positively toward completing the project.  Ignoring that expertise doesn’t make you a respected leader, it identifies your pigheadedness.

Even the military, and especially in Joint Force Operations and in Special Forces, transition to a flatter hierarchy in response to a more diverse mission is important.  The top-down traditional hierarchy simply won’t work when a commanding officer now has to deal with resources that traditionally fall outside their scope, or with non-governmental agencies on the ground like International Red Cross.  Civilian leaders don’t respect being told what to do, they respect being included in the process.  The result is that the more collaborative type of governance is utilized regularly in these complex situations.

Try listening to your people when they have ideas.  It doesn’t usually cost anything but time and who knows, they may even be able to save some of that in the long run.  As I have said before, leading doesn’t mean having all the answers; it means knowing where you can find them when you don’t.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Battalion Chief with Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire and Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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Although I am affiliated or employed by certain entities, I in no way speak in this forum or others on behalf of those entities unless I have specifically stated such. Any implication otherwise is doing so contrary to my agreements with those entities. The result is that the observations and opinions by myself or on behalf of Firehouse Zen are not sanctioned by any other entity other than Graffiti Train Sherpa Publications and are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America.

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