The importance of team cohesion and identity for emergency preparedness

Tony Zarola image
Dr Tony Zarola

As part of the ongoing resilience and capability monitoring process of Hazardous Area Response Teams (HARTs) and other Ambulance service responders, team cohesion and identity have been identified as core indicators of effective team working and important predictors of responder confidence, health, well-being and their general sense of resilience.  In this article, Dr Tony Zarola outlines why team cohesion and identity are so important for emergency responders.

Team working is an important feature of the response to major incidents and other forms of hazardous situations. Due to their potential to be an efficient way of reaching performance targets, teams are also a necessary feature of most workplaces. However, having a team formation or structure does not mean that all members of the team are aware of and  are all working towards some common goal, and that team members have similar values and norms that help them to achieve their team goals. Considering the need for coordinated and effective responses to major incidents, it is not difficult to understand the importance of effective team working for those who work in emergency situations.

In short, in order to get the best out of any team, building team cohesion and team identity is fundamental. Our research has found more cohesive groups are better at setting and achieving higher standards of performance and are perceived as more rewarding for members compared to less cohesive groups. We have also found that individuals that work within more cohesive teams identify more with their team members and have greater levels of interests in the overall team goals and achievements above and beyond their individual achievements. Individuals that are part of a cohesive group, and a group that they identify with, feel mutually accountable for the outcomes of the team and this results in members striving to behave in a way that is consistent with the group goals. We have also found team members put in greater effort to reach the team goals.  Finally, we have also found that team cohesion and identity has a number of physical, emotional and psychological benefits that can support responders’ sense of preparedness before incidents as well as their recovery after major incidents.

multiagency2As with all things, team cohesion and identity has to be managed carefully. Too much cohesion can sometimes lead to difficulty and can make some groups impermeable and difficult to deal with. This can also make it hard when new members join and try to fit into a new team or when change occurs that potentially challenges established group goals and their sense of identity. What matters here is effective team leadership. Leaders not only have to work hard to develop and maintain a strong sense of collective identity and cohesion in their teams, they also have to ensure team members adapt well to change and other ongoing situations. Understanding the leadership behaviours that influences group cohesion and identity is also an important part of our work with the Ambulance Services.  In the next issue of NARU e-news, Tony Zarola will outline some of the factors that his team have identified that help to establish and maintain team cohesion and identity.

If you have any comments on this article or wish to find out more about the work on team cohesion and identity, please contact Dr Tony Zarola at Zeal Solutions on tony@zealsolutions.co.uk