Lessons in teamwork and decision making from the London Ambulance Service

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For those readers in the UK, like me you might have been watching the BBC’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the London Ambulance Service. Aside from the emotional aspect of the stories, it’s also a great overview of organisational life.

I tweeted on Tuesday that the LAS would make a great research project for a postgraduate student in organisational psychology. Here’s why I think that:

Teamwork – I’ve noticed three levels here. First, there’s the team (or duo) out in each ambulance. The camaraderie each of the crews share is fantastic – there’s humour, humility and vulnerability. To be vulnerable in front of a colleague shows that you trust them. Trust is crucial for high performing teams. Second, there’s the team in the call centre. Again, there’s humour, candour and the team members seem to look out for each other – particularly when they’ve taken a difficult call. And then there’s the teams working together as one big team, where the call handler liaises with the ambulance crew, keeping them updated with real-time, accurate communications.

Decision making – if you think you have a stressful job, then watch of this programme. There’s the call centre operator who has to decide whether a call is serious or not, or whether to reroute an ambulance to a more serious incident. There’s the paramedic who has to triage dozens of patients caught in a fire, where seconds could mean the difference between life or death. There’s the ambulance crew who have to decide whether to take someone to hospital or not, or who have to work out how to get an elderly patient down 14 floors when the lifts don’t work.

The one thing I haven’t seen yet and am particularly interested in, is the after care for the call centre operators and crews. In the last episode, one of the operators was on the phone for an hour to a suicidal man – keeping him calm and trying to prevent the man from killing himself. It was evident to me that the call had taken a toll on the operator and I wondered what was put in place to help team members cope with difficult and traumatic cases. Similar to psychologists who meet with a supervisor (often not a line manager) to discuss and work through difficult cases – a bit like therapy.

This is a programme well worth watching for those of you who work in and/or are interested in understanding more about teamwork, performance under pressure and decision making in a stressful environment. If you do manage to catch an episode, let me know what you think and the things you spot.

 

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