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Tips for EMS teambuilding

Understanding each others’ personalities fosters openness and trust, different approaches to a problem, and allows for alignment of strengths with team tasks

Updated June 2015

The laughter was spontaneous, and maybe a little nervous, as our staff sat around the conference table, reading descriptions of themselves and the people they work with. “That is so true—I am a complete freak about planning things out ahead,” one of our staffers said. “And you’re the opposite,” she noted, speaking to a colleague after reviewing his description. “No wonder you drive me crazy.” Then she had a flash of insight. “And you probably think I don’t have a spontaneous bone in my body!”

The occasion was a company-wide review of what it means to be a highly functioning team, starting with understanding how each of us is hard-wired to see the world in a certain way. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve likely had a personality index assigned to you at some point in your career. In our case, we were using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The last time I’d done this was with a different company 20 years ago and it had the same impact—it’s as if people were seeing themselves, and their colleagues, for the first time.

We had some fun with the descriptions, but our facilitator drove home serious points: Our preferences for how we take in information, where we get our energy, how we make decisions and our lifestyle result in 16 different personality types in the MBTI lexicon. However, that doesn’t mean we’re locked into certain behaviors: Yes, our personality type dictates what is natural for us, our fallback position, but it doesn’t predetermine every action. As an INSJ (in MBTI speak), I’m an introvert and I recharge my batteries by being by myself, but I’ve learned to be comfortable speaking in front of groups and being “on”—extroverted—when the job demands it.

Understanding each others’ preferences helps build strong teams in a few ways. It fosters openness and trust. It provides a neutral way to discuss different approaches (there isn’t one “right” way; there is only your way). It underscores the importance of diversity in terms of making better decisions, and it allows for alignment of strengths with team tasks.

Back to openness and trust. In his great book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Pat Lencioni holds out trust as the foundation that makes or breaks a team. By trust, he means not just trusting that someone will do what he says he’ll do, but having a willingness to be vulnerable—to admit you’ve made a mistake or need help, and to be confident in the knowledge that others will be sympathetic and non-judgmental. You can trust the team to “have your back.”

According to Lencioni, there are five main ways in which members of a cohesive team behave:

  • They trust one another.
  • They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.
  • They commit to decisions and plans of action.
  • They hold one another accountable for delivering on those plans.
  • They focus on achieving collective results.

How does your team measure up?

Produced in partnership with NEMSMA, Paramedic Chief: Best Practices for the Progressive EMS Leader provides the latest research and most relevant leadership advice to EMS managers and executives. From emerging trends to analysis and insight, practical case studies to leadership development advice, Paramedic Chief is packed with useful, valuable ideas you simply can’t get anywhere else.
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