Defining Excellent Teams

- December 2020 -

Written By: Bill Pierce

We will transition our discussions from leadership to teamwork, although they are bound together as we will see as we continue our discussions.

Teamwork can be defined as Two or more people who are dependent on each other to accomplish common goals efficiently and effectively.

Excellent teams will have distributed participation and leadership. In other words everyone is involved in all aspects of the team and everyone assumes a leadership role on the team when it is needed. For example, you might be attending a planning or budget meeting at your Park as a representative of your division. If you are a member of an excellent team you are responsible to speak up if the meeting gets off course or bogs down without accomplishing the objectives established. For example we were searching for a lost hiker in Olympic National Park a number of years ago and after two days of searching with no clues being found we held our normal planning meeting that evening. One of the Park Biologists spoke up during the meeting and explained why he thought we were searching in the wrong areas. He was not part of the planning team but he spoke up and as we listened we realized he had excellent information based on his years of experience in the area we were searching. We shifted our plans for the next day based on his input and found the subject alive in the area the biologist thought he would be.

The basic ingredients for any successful team are resources, relationships and results or said another way: people, process and product. The team’s strengths are the commitment and competency that each team member brings to the problem/opportunity at hand. Each team member is responsible for the desired results and the goals are accomplished through the application of resources, time, direction and delegation. Each member has to know their job well and know the other jobs well enough to actively participate in the process to be successful in accomplishing the mission.

The guiding principle behind any successful team is that the team is stronger and better than any one person on the team. Team strength is created through communication, delegation, facilitation and evaluation. This strength is applied to all portions of the problem; from issue identification and analysis through decision making and implementation.

The best example of a successful team I have found is an incident management team (IMT) responding to any emergency or special event in your Park. The team is made up of the incident commander, operations chief, planning chief, finance chief and logistics chief. Once they arrive at the incident and meet with the Park staff they sit down and jointly develop their incident objectives based on the Park needs and their initial assessment of the incident. An Incident Action Plan is developed for the next operational period. The entire team participates in this plan development with strategies, tactics, safety, cost, logistics, Park concerns, neighbors concerns and more as the team selects the best alternative based on all the information they have on hand. They then implement the plan, measure the results and start the process all over again for the next operational period.

One team I was on was searching for a 66 year old local woman just outside Shenandoah National Park. Sixteen operational periods (8 days) were planned and implemented before she was found in good condition. The daily planning meetings by the IMT, Sheriff and family were key in the success of this incident. The objectives, strategies and tactics were reviewed daily with extensive analysis of the areas searched, the subject profile and the containment perimeter to determine the plan for the next operational period. This high level of communication between the IMT, Sheriff and family was key to maintaining urgency, recruiting volunteers, maintaining containment and managing the media on a long search.

Next time we will discuss the Principles of excellent teamwork and dig deeper into the factors that are needed for an excellent team. In future discussions we will look at team ground rules, ideal team standards and the characteristics and traits of successful teams.

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