Principles of cooperation also known as group norms, are beliefs and codes of conduct that identify what an organization holds to be important and non-negotiable. These principles shape behaviors and demonstrate how life is on a daily basis. The six core principles that boost team cooperation are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.

Copyright © TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton


Reprint of an Article Published in American Firefights and Response Teams



The tide is changing. Privatization, community-based emergency management partnerships, and health care mergers can cause dangerous undertows for response teams set adrift in changing times. The undertows come from financial decisions that look good on paper, but fail to prepare for human relationships. Lack of appropriate preparation can drain resources and influence worker morale, how people make decisions, resolve conflicts, solve problems, and trust future relationships.

Does this cost money? Sure. Does it affect patient services and response times? It can. Enthusiastic people who trust and are proud of the organization they work for act differently in the field than people who suffer from low morale and feelings of betrayal.

Field professionals are not immune to collapsing values. What was once considered a bastion of stability and as predictable as red fire trucks and apple pie can fall prey to incomplete growth strategies or divisive leadership practices. The good news is that with proper planning and cooperation principled outcomes, success can be achieved.

Principles of cooperation also known as group norms, are beliefs and codes of conduct that identify what an organization holds to be important and non-negotiable. These principles shape behaviors and demonstrate how life is on a daily basis. The six core principles that boost team cooperation are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success.

Trust is the belief and confidence in the integrity, reliability, and fairness of a person or an organization. It is also an essential human need. Group psychologists claim that trust in one’s self and other people is so important to human relationships that it influences everything a person thinks, feels, says and does. Trust also blends with all other values and is viewed as a basic human need. This means that trust is necessary for a person to mature to be all he or she can be. This also translates to groups.

One helicopter ambulance service that tackled trust issues that surfaced during a merger is Northwest MedStar. Serving Eastern Washington State, Northeast Oregon, Idaho, and Western Montana, Northwest MedStar was formed by combining two Inland Empire critical care airlift ambulance services. A division of Inland Northwest Health Services,Northwest MedStar’s mission is to provide safe emergency air and ground transport services to patients of all ages.  An elite team of critical care nursing, respiratory, and dispatch professionals staff the company.

When two or more competing organizations merge, turning the focus of competition away from each other and onto a new set of goals and the creation of a new and improved culture is the key.

Northwest MedStar achieved this.

The company worked hard to develop a mission which all employees contributed to. The mission supports collaboration between all employees and the surrounding rural and urban communities in order to strengthen the overall regional health care system. Northwest MedStar employees identified principles behavior that supported the mission and identified behaviors that demonstrated the values both in leadership and maintenance operations. The company is founded on participatory leadership principles and is a fine benchmark for other newly merging emergency response teams.

In many ways, trust is like oil necessary for keeping expensive engines running when parts rub together causing friction. For emergency response teams, it is critical when danger, conflict and misunderstandings arise. Like oil it is hard to salvage when spilled.  And when trust runs too low, teams freeze up and sometimes melt down.

In practical terms no police officer, fire fighter, or response crew member would run headlong into a life threatening situation with unreliable equipment or with untrustworthy team back up. In emergency response situations, faith in a partner can make or break successful rescues.

Trust is also influenced with the following:

During the development and deployment of proper agency policies and procedures
When clear policies are in place, a firefighter can function at his or her optimum ability. Agency policies help people do what they are suppose to do and create predictability from unpredictable situations.

In the development of thorough, experiential-based training programs
Agencies that provide practice instill confidence.

In effective leadership practices
Trust flows from the top of the organization down. If management is unpredictable, unfair, reactive, or unskilled in communicating with the teams or in solving problems, trust will be shaky at the bottom level too. Weak trust is seen when team members spend their down time complaining about how thing are rather than putting their energy into making things better.

In effective protocols
If one team responds to situations in one way and another team responds differently and one fails — without protocols, it is difficult to debrief a situation so that responses are successful in the future. Protocols create consistency.  In those situations where protocols must be abandoned, teams can debrief it for what it was. If teams approach the fire in different ways rather than one way, what could occur is a systematic controlled burn to the ground.

In behavior predictability
Predictable behavior falls both on staff in the field and on superiors. Responses will often sabotage trust if behavior becomes wishy-washy, strongly competitive, or combative. How people are recognized and promoted into leadership positions is important to the outworking of trust. When people assume leadership positions without training in good leadership skills, look for trust issues to eventually surface.

Asking for help
Leaders who surround themselves with professionals who know their jobs, and who are willing to ask for suggestions build team trust and confidence that they can deliver the goods.

These situations also translate to other emergency response crews. In general, the following questionnaire provides a check-list to help you sort through behaviors and procedures that support trust.

In order to correct problems that affect the core value and cooperative principles, trust, administrators, response crew leaders and team members must commit to trustworthy practices. The commitment is carried out in deeds and in appropriate behaviors that are modeled daily.

Many emergency response organizations recognize trust and trustworthiness in their mission statements. Those able to point to specific actions that anchor and elevate trust within daily operations experience trust.

The good news is that change and growth strategies that include mergers and strategic partnerships can be achieved with trust intact. Core principled decisions, effective systems, good planning and a reward and recognition process favoring behavior that constructively builds trust makes for smooth sailing.

To learn more about building trust on you team and with your customers and affordable tools that will help you do that click here.