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Pinnacle EMS 2018 Quick Take: The power of collaboration for EMS leaders

Jay Fitch, Ph.D., tells Pinnacle leaders that collaboration with colleagues and frenemies is critical to greater operational success


Jay Fitch, Ph.D., discussed the importance of working with colleagues who are both friends and enemies as a critical leadership skill in today’s interconnected world as part of the Pinnacle Leadership Series keynote presentation.

Photo courtesy of Pinnacle

PHOENIX — EMS leaders are regularly in situations inside and outside their organization which require collaboration. Jay Fitch, Ph.D., a founding partner of Fitch & Associates, discussed the importance of working with colleagues who are both friends and enemies as a critical leadership skill in today’s interconnected world as part of the Pinnacle Leadership Series keynote presentation.

Fitch described collaboration as an underdeveloped talent, with many leaders viewing other agencies, managers and team members as outright enemies, frenemies or competitors rather than having productive relationships as colleagues. Fitch used contemporary collaboration theories and emergency services examples to outline the practical skills EMS leaders can use in their office, at city hall or in the hospital board room.

Memorable quotes on collaboration with your frenemies

Fitch opened and closed the presentation with stories about one of his relatives, Aubrey Fitch, who graduated last in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy and went onto serve with distinction in World War II. Vice Admiral Fitch became the superintendent of the Naval Academy after the war. In between the anecdotes, Fitch described the need for collaboration and principles of effective collaboration. Here are four memorable quotes from Fitch’s presentation.

“Some of us are too busy to collaborate. We are too busy being busy.”

“You can’t do it all. In today’s complex world, a team is needed to tackle issues.”

“As a collaborative leader, it’s our job to turn frenemies into friends and collaborators.”

“Collaboration is hard. Collaboration is easy. You choose.”

Top takeaways on collaboration by EMS leaders

Here are four top takeaways on collaboration for leadership from Fitch’s presentation.

1. What is collaboration?

Collaboration is “doing together that which we can’t do alone,” Fitch said.

Collaboration is inherent in EMS with many examples occurring between EMS providers and their public safety partners in law enforcement, firefighting and dispatch. There is also internal collaboration between departments, such as operations and training working together to improve EMT and paramedic skills.

2. Barriers to collaboration

Unfortunately, there are barriers to collaboration. Fitch described these reasons for organizational non-collaboration:

  • Financial pressure.
  • Adversarial political system.
  • Media.
  • Hierarchy.
  • EMS/public safety idealization.
  • Constant change.
  • Bureaucratic.
  • Fear and self-interest.

Attendees were called on to make change by modeling collaborative leadership. Instead of saying “Do it this way,” leaders need to ask “What could we do?”

3. Fitch’s 10 reasons to collaborate

With many examples of collaborative success, Fitch described 10 reasons for EMS leaders to collaborate. Collaboration:

  1. Is more efficient.
  2. Takes advantage of multiple skills sets.
  3. Is faster.
  4. Promotes friendly pressure to get your piece done on time.
  5. Productivity doesn’t depend entirely on one person.
  6. Lets you take advantage of ongoing feedback.
  7. Increases learning opportunities.
  8. Can solidify accountability.
  9. Provides companions to share the lows and highs.
  10. Promotes synergy.

These reasons apply to internal and external collaboration partners. Successful collaborations can improve services, better use resources, share knowledge and support all collaborators. Resistance to change, conflict and outcomes unproportionate to the effort are risks to successful collaboration. Fitch described several successful collaborations, including the Little Rock, Ark., MEMS work to train law enforcement in bleeding control techniques. He also described how two competing hospital systems in Lubbock, Texas, came together to implement Priority Dispatch and showed attendees this video describing the successful implementation of a new response model.

4. Conflict is inevitable in successful collaboration

Fitch underscored that conflict is likely in collaborative efforts, but rather than avoiding or accommodating conflict, it needs to be managed. Resolving conflict can be hard or easy. According to Fitch, it’s up to leaders to decide if conflict is healthy and able to be resolved with a positive outcome.

Fitch described a conflict resolution skills ladder to conclude the presentation. The steps on the ladder are a leader who can:

  1. Contain and manage strong emotions.
  2. Verbally express thoughts and feelings.
  3. Identify and express their own interests.
  4. Empathize with all parties involved.
  5. Generate multiple solutions.
  6. Negotiate a win-win.

Learn more

To learn more about leadership and collaboration, read the articles in the Fitch & Associates Leadership Edge column on EMS1.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.