Let’s be perfectly clear – we haven’t even been to Czechia yet (formerly known as the Czech Republic) for the Rallye Rejviz competition with Team Canada West, and I haven’t won a metal at all! Our team could come in last place in the competition but, based on getting ready for this competition and the comradery I have developed, the experience has been pure gold and this is what I am referring to.
I have really learned about how to be a team training for this competition, and will describe those things below but first, let me introduce you to the team:
From left to right here is Ron Van Houten, Captain Alex Mattes, Coach Clarke McGuire, Will Riordon, and myself.
Will and Ron are Advanced Care Paramedics (ACP), and Clarke, our manager and coach, retired from being an ACP a number of years ago after over 30 years. Alex, our team captain, is a Unit Chief of a Primary Care Paramedic station, and an incredible leader. In British Columbia we work in a tiered, targeted, paired ALS system with ALS deployment only in the major geographical centres. The majority of stations are manned by Primary Care Paramedics.
I am so fortunate to have been invited on that team. Let me tell you individually about my great teammates and coach:
Ron (above) was my ACP partner for a number of years, and it was the best time of my career. We always had a pact – if he got the station close to his home or I got air evac, we were going separate ways. He got his station a while before I got air evac so he ended up leaving for a great quality of life. Truth be told, I have a fiery personality so I bet he wanted to avoid the mælstrom I often cause. I laughed so hard working with him and training has been hilarious.
Will (above) was an ACP resident I worked with had who came from Calgary. He was quite experienced before he came to BC, but we practiced in a system with a different configuration to ours so I helped him to transfer to working well within ours. Will is the easiest going guy I know and I call him the Calgary Surfer Dude as he always strikes me as the Finding Nemo turtle Crush with his smooth supportive ways.
Clarke McGuire (above) is our team manager and coach. This guy does everything – from training, team apparel, getting us invited to meet dignitaries, see castles, organizing social events, and international judging. The guy has connection that are unbelievable (we jokingly say he is part of the Richmond paramedic mafia) and he is the epitome of a statesman.
Clarke asked me to be medical lead on the team but asked this guy – Alex Mattes (above) – to be our team captain. This was a brilliant suggestion as I will detail below. Alex has amazing leadership qualities, he is a calm cool collected guy and a laugh a minute. Alex and I will be touring Berlin and Amsterdam for a few days after the competitions and I have no doubts in my mind that we will have a great time. I also know he will do an amazing job in the competition.
This is what I have learned about how to be a team on this journey:
Leaders are not who have the some designated position of authority, have more training, have bobbly things on their uniform… it’s someone who can direct individuals and someone who others will recognize as a leader. As I mentioned, Alex is our team captain and oversees the call. He knows what needs to get done and assigns us to complete the things appropriately triaging us to the call. Alex is somebody I would follow into battle – his plans are well thought out, strategic, and he communicates them well. He is reasonable, calm, authoritative and he is someone I can learn leadership skills from.
To some, I am a scary guy. I am tall, outspoken, confident (perhaps too confident), and a natural debater (I probably debate too much. I play devil’s advocate to myself sometimes!). I tend to take leadership roles. One of the biggest things I have learned training for this competition is to be a follower. We have come up with a safe word on the team… and it is not “more”. When anyone one on the team yells out “Benoyt, Benoyt, Benoyt,” this is the signal we have come up with that I have gotten too uppity or argumentative and we have limited time for a task. Basically it is a “Gene shut up and do what we tell you to do” signal. It is the authority for others to have me assume a role of subservience and listen to whomever has called this out. To be honest, it is warranted. I pontificate and can be an argumentative ass. After developing this safety signal, I have also learned to trust Alex implicitly. I never had a problem with Alex as the Captain of the team – he is an excellent leader. What I have come to realize is that he sends me in on my role to assess and treat individual patients and he is overseeing everything going on. When I am busy treating one patient, I quickly loose situational awareness and it does not take a Critical Care Paramedic to have situational awareness. In fact, I may suggest I lack situational awareness as I am so caught up in the medical minutiae that I am less inclined to have situational awareness to begin with.
I have said this before, but I was burnt out when first asked to be on the team and suggested to Clarke he may want to consider someone else. Clarke adamantly believed in my abilities and ensured I would not walk away. By putting myself on the hotspot but in a safe place, I started to feel more and more capable and if I did fail, I picked myself up again with had such support of my colleagues. That brought me back to a strength and resilience I had not had in years. I would suggest for anyone to challenge themselves in this way as the only thing that comes from it is strength and improvement.
Ok… first things first. The level of detail Clarke brought on practice sims was unreal … he brought a FREAKIN’ hovercraft one day!!!! The scenario was a capsized boat, triage on the beach, and a landing involving a patient on board. This sim – in and of itself – made this entire many months of training worth it. However, imagine a scenario where where you cannot communicate because of the wind from turbines, noise, patients were spread around a large area, and there were many panicked actors. This scenario tested team performance and communication to the max.
Teams may form out of necessity and happenstance, but a team of experts is not an expert team. We were struggling for a while in our training and it just want starting to click on the day of this sim. There were still struggles this day to contend with, but a week earlier Clarke suggested a reconfiguration of roles, we worked on our communication and discussion of mental models and task breakdown and over time it came together. You have to work with the team that will be ultimately formed and work on team behaviour and performance issues. This is no-one’s strength – I believe this is learned behaviour. However, you can become strong in working together and trust grows when you do so. I trust these guys – all of them. I would trust them to treat my family, with my health, and an exciting competition. They are all medal winners and I am fortunate to call them “teammates”.
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