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‘It’s about treating people in a grown-up way’

January 11, 2017

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Dave Curry, Chief Officer of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, on how he built successful, thriving teams

Building thriving, successful, collaborative teams isn’t something that happens overnight. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that genuine cultural change takes a huge amount of time to get right. It has taken us more than a decade to see and feel the change organisationally.

So, this is not something where you should expect quick fixes; it is often about slow and incremental changes, and it can be very hard work.

Face-to-face as a priority

We’ve really focused on building our face-to-face contact with stations and teams. I now meet all the teams within Hampshire and the Isle of Wight twice a year. It can be challenging when you’re meeting in, say, the middle of the New Forest on a rainy winter’s night. But it is so important.

It gives teams a chance to have any concerns listened to, whether it’s about kit or processes or whatever it might be. It is about being patient, supportive and encouraging.

You need to spend time, first, thinking about yourself and understanding who you really are as a leader because you will be found out if you’re not being ‘you’. You cannot create a team culture, a team ethos and spirit, unless it is truly part of you. It has to be authentic, and so it needs to start off with who you are as a person, and the type of leader that you are.

Trust, lead, and learn

It is also important to build a team around you that you trust, who trusts you, and which is completely bought into your vision. That doesn’t mean they need to mirror or be like you – in fact it’s better if they’re diverse and reflective of your organisation and wider community. But you need to be creating the best environment in which to allow them to lead, and lead well.

That can mean ensuring the senior leadership team has the capacity to get out there, to be face-to-face. It is also about ensuring your leaders have the right skills, including the most effective communication skills.

Be ready to change the language used

Sometimes, too, it can be about challenging seemingly quite little things. For example, it used to be that, when you signed up to attend a course, the joining instructions would all be stiff, starchy and formal. It would be ‘arrive at 0900 hours, in full uniform, report to instructor x’ and so on. So it was culturally misaligned with the rest of the organisation. What was wrong with just having a more friendly, welcoming note?

Often, too, it can be about changing the language of the organisation. We, for example, have a communications bulletin that goes out every week. It occasionally runs obituaries, which it used to do under the headline ‘Death notifications’, which just felt very formal and distant. Why not just say something like ‘we’re really sorry to let you know…’? So it can be simply about honing in on details like that.

As a leader, you need your managers to be able to sit across the table with people from any level, to be able to build trust, confidence, skills and capability; to generate a genuine dialogue and engagement. You want your leaders to be people who can deliver both good and bad news effectively and constructively. Ultimately, it’s about treating people in a grown-up way and, from there, gaining that trust and sense of empowerment back.

Read the Little Book Dave has co-authored, sharing his team building success criteria, along with key best practices from leading researchers on why building thriving teams is crucial for all organisations to grow and succeed in the future.

Download The Little Book For… The Thriving Team. How to build brilliant teams that harness the importance of working collaboratively.

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