In a previous article, I discussed team building and Bruce Tuckman’s phases, which all teams journey through. This journey included the challenges, opportunities, developing strengths, and learning the individuals of your team. I also wrote about my three brothers and how we painfully and agonizingly developed as a team over the years. In this article, I am going to further breakdown the dynamics of the individuals in a team, the progression of a team over 20 years, and overcoming generational gaps, and I’m going to use my brothers as the example. It should be entertaining at the least.
To understand our life growing up, you first must understand our dad. He was born at the beginning of the Baby Boomer Era in 1947, growing up on a farm and enlisting in the Navy as a boiler technician, serving most of his time on the USS Law. After completing his naval service, he came back stateside and began to raise a family with his first two sons Jerry and Scott, who are early Gen Xers. Somewhere along the lines he had his favorite son, me, who is split on the line of Gen X and Y. And, for some unknown reason, he had a fourth son who is a Gen Y/Millennial. The generational span in years of age between us brothers is 18 years, which really corresponds with the experience difference from a station captain, lieutenant, engineer, and firefighter. I did ask my dad once why he spaced us out so far, and he said we were cheap labor. Looking back now, I realize he didn’t do a chore for a good 20 years.
Dad–aka, Chief–cooking for my promotional dinner at the fire station. (Photo by author.)
Now, where I want to go with this article is to examine a controlled group, the four brothers with the same last name. We grew up in different generations, different time periods of school/education, but similar geographical locations and demographics. However, we all turned out drastically different in some respects but similar in others. It is also interesting to look back over the 30-plus years of how we developed as a team with these drastic differences and how it corresponds to fire station teams. I encourage you to look at your station or department and compare your strengths and weaknesses to the story we are about to examine.
Early on, we tortured each other, as in mainly the two younger brothers were tortured by the two older. This division among (aka Storming) the team created havoc on all of us because our parents (chiefs) would make us all pay; however, for some reason the punishment seemed worth the fun. At the beginning of every team development, we are going to face differences among each other. The tension between us brothers was brought on mostly by lack of respect for each other, not understanding generational differences, not having a common vision, and seldom communicating in a positive manner. The critical aspect for any team is to ensure the exact opposite is done from how we four brothers conducted business.
This went on for a few years to the point where groups started to form between us. For some reason the middle and oldest and the youngest and second oldest started to create bonds and appreciation for what each other brought to the table. This probably took a good five years to establish naturally without team building exercises or having any clue of team building concepts. It is also important to call out that the two internal groups did not perform well together. There were many opportunities for dad, aka chief, to hand out disciplinary actions for each group. As we develop teams in the station, we start to see groups form but only where they appreciate each other, which can be for various reasons and can be difficult to predict. The group formations between the brothers was odd simply because of the age differences. However, I can remember that the one common bond between me at 10 years old and my oldest brother at 25 was going to the WCW wrestling matches back in the 1990s, when it was real. Wrestling was the common bond regardless of the age difference. I commonly speak on using the eight points of the Maltese cross as the common bond at the fire station.
Teamwork is best developed when we train together. This aligns us with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. (Photo by author.)
As time carried on and the two oldest brothers enlisted in the Navy and Army respectively, we saw less of each other for many years. As they returned and the two youngest brothers grew up, maturity of life experience assisted the bonding of the team between all four. It was more important to recognize the common bond for all of us to sit down at the kitchen table for holiday dinners and appreciate the fact that we had the opportunity. I also remember Scott bringing home a family crest from Ireland 20 years ago with what our family name stands for. Fire stations should operate in much of the same manner and show appreciation for each other. And, never forget the power of the kitchen table and having dinner together with your fire service family, as it creates a common bond along with the meaning of the Maltese Cross.
Fast forward 10 years to the current time; we still gather every holiday and have other functions as the four brothers and laugh about screw driver throwing, Cherokee Indian bow and arrow slinging, and locking in closet days. We moved past the differences of our team and started to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other. As our teams mature, we should understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We should be capable of asking for assistance while also pushing each other to be better than yesterday. As the four of us have worked through all our differences, there is no one else we would rather call in a time of need, support, or encouragement. Inside our stations, while understanding we are all human, we should exhibit the same behaviors and remember it is about the team and how each of us performs as part of the team. It took us 20-plus years for the brothers to figure out what a good team looks like; we don’t have 20 years at the station level to figure this out. Set the example by developing your team.