Cultivating a Winning Team

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In the Harvard Business Review article, "The Secrets of Great Teamwork," writers Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen introduce the research of J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior who began studying teams in the 1970s, and how in 40 years of team research, Hackman landed on one chief insight about teams:

What matters most to collaboration is not the personalities, attitudes, or behavioral styles of team members. Instead, what teams need to thrive are certain “enabling conditions.”

Haas and Mortensen continue to expand on the four enabling conditions which create a climate that helps diverse, dispersed, digital, dynamic teams attain high performance. In each condition noted here, we'll speak to how Brewster Ambulance Service contributes to those four enabling conditions to cultivate a winning team.


Condition #1: Compelling Direction

The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if they don’t know what they’re working toward and don’t have explicit goals. Those goals should be challenging (modest ones don’t motivate) but not so difficult that the team becomes dispirited. They also must be consequential: People have to care about achieving a goal, whether because they stand to gain extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promotions; or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and a sense of meaning.

At Brewster Ambulance is a clear, consistent direction set by leadership that delivering quality patient care and excellent customer service are daily goals held by the entire company. These two aspects are more than performance goals at Brewster—it's a way of being which is modeled by the Brewster family leadership and held throughout the organization.

Although studies have shown time and again that inspiring the workforce with monetary reward is secondary to their desire to have a greater impact and feel valued, we still invest financially in the company and our team. This year we increased pay for the team preceded by an improved benefits package and are now the leader in the marketplace for EMS pay and benefits.


Condition #2: Strong Structure

Teams also need the right mix and number of members, optimally designed tasks and processes, and norms that discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics.

High-performing teams include members with a balance of skills. Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both. Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.

Brewster Ambulance has created and continues to build on the organization's levels of leadership, mentorship and training, encouraging cross training as well as cross functional support.

Common in the EMS industry is a high proportion of per diem (per hour) worker, which makes scheduling challenging at times. Many of our people at Brewster are not only full time paramedics, but they also have shifts on local fire departments or at hospitals. Our goal is to support not only the career objectives of our team, but to also provide them the flexibility and options often demanded by today's EMS professional.

In addition, Brewster's purchase of CMTI has enabled the company to offer a wide variety of training and recertification programs to the team as they require to keep up their skills or broaden their skill sets. We encourage the sharing of knowledge and working together in partnership among the ranks to discover better ways of caring for patients and making an often very stress-ridden vocation easier.


Condition #3: Supportive Context

Having the right support is the third condition that enables team effectiveness. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and last—but not least—securing the material resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place from the start.

We create a structure that supports the diverse needs of shifts, team preferences regarding how and when they work, as well as empower leadership to creatively staff shifts so Brewster can consistently and reliably provide excellent service and response to customers.

This year alone, we added mid-level supervisory positions to mentor, guide and support the team at each location, which has already shown notable increase in knowledge-share, better attendance and performance across all locations. This translates to better service to all of our customers and patients.

We regularly acknowledge our team for outstanding performance, kindness and fast action during some of the most stressful calls, and invite the community and our customers to recognize the team. Whether a fun contest with Dunkin' Donuts gift cards (as in our Movember contest) or by giving away turkeys for Thanksgiving and Family Fun Day, Brewster is consistently finding new and fun ways to give back and recognize the great work the team is doing on a daily basis.


Condition #4: Shared Mindset

Establishing the first three enabling conditions will pave the way for team success, as Hackman and his colleagues showed. But our research indicates that today’s teams need something more. Distance and diversity, as well as digital communication and changing membership, make them especially prone to the problems of “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. The solution to both is developing a shared mindset among team members—something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.

It is a fast lesson that working for Brewster Ambulance is about professionalism, cleanliness, excellent clinical patient care and customer service. This is demonstrated by how our team presents themselves to the cleanliness of our trucks to the courtesy exhibited by our EMTs, chair car drivers and paramedics in the field to dispatch and internal departments at headquarters.

However, being a distributed company with multiple locations spread throughout southeaster Massachusetts and Rhode Island makes keeping the "family feel" Brewster is known for alive and flowing throughout the organization. This impacts mindset, as well as attitude about the work our team does in the field.

Because of this challenge in dispersement, we place extra effort toward ways we can "close the gap" and make everyone feel connected and part of an important family, whether it's at a base in Norwood, the fire station in Plymouth or at the headquarters in Weymouth. One new initiative launching in 2018 is a customized, twice-monthly newsletter called "The Dispatch," which will share content curated specifically for the team that serves to create a greater sense of "family" and connection throughout the workforce.


The HBR article concludes that continuous evaluation of the team on output, collaborative ability, and members’ individual development will lead to innovative ways to continue cultivating an engaged and thriving team.

We know at Brewster that our success is due to our team's commitment, "show-up" fortitude and commonly shared desire to serve. Without their expertise, diversity and caring hearts, our company would not have had the year-over-year success we've experienced since 2010. Every member of the Brewster and EasCare teams is a valued, appreciated and supported member of the Brewster family and will continue to be as we grow and evolve our company.