Does our Emergency Management Office Need a “Team B?”


In the emergency management field, we live and die on lessons learned. I am currently teaching a Managing Emergency Response Course at Ohio Christian University and this past weeks readings focused on Pamela Varley’s work, Keeping an Open Mind in an Emergency[1]. This research focused on the Center for Disease Control’s “Team B” concept.

What is a Team B?

The idea of a Team B is in place to reveal novelty ideas where otherwise a person would stay stuck in the deluge of their day-to-day work, and the insistency of "doing it like we always have.” Varley lays out that the approach the CDC took was to use a “Brainstorming team” or a Team B. The agency brought together a diverse group of experts who were disconnected from the event and able to take a fresh look at the issues. A Team B is not encumbered by anything apart from finding a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. This is what makes them so good.

Should we be doing this?

I would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Anytime you can create a space for individuals to think “outside the box” about anything you are going to benefit. Within the EM field there exists a militant adherence to doing things “the way we have always done them.” This has a lot to do with our appreciation of “Lessons Learned” but at some point, we need to move away from this and towards something a little more creative and unfettered. If we elect to continue approaching things the same way each time, we will begin to fail, and without some alternative we will be incapable of doing anything else.

The traditional approach has worked in the past, may occasionally work now, but since situations are changing rapidly and are very fluid; it might not work in the future. If this is how we approach our work, then eventually we will stop being effective and people will suffer. I would much rather bring in a Team B that will snap me out of the “We have always done it this way” approach and into something, new, creative, and that works. Using a Team B would deliver new approaches, and new ways to get to our destination, like this:

As Emergency Managers, we need to be learning new approaches and new ways of looking at things. It is not to say that we need to throw out the old ideas for the sometimes-untested new ones, but I do think that we need to consider adding them to our tool belt.

[1] Varley, Pamela, (2007) Managing Crises, Keeping an Open Mind in an Emergency, CQ Press, Washington DC.

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