Imagine I’m in the back of an ambulance with my Paramedic partner. As an EMT, I don’t have the advanced training that he does—but we’ve worked together for x months or y years. We’re dealing with a sick patient. It’s not looking good. My partner is asking questions. He’s talking to the family. A firefighter is on the radio, calling the hospital. Another firefighter is taking vital signs. I’m trying to be useful—so I look for work. We’re probably going to start an IV—Set up and ready. Heart monitor—Check. Oxygen—Done. Closest hospital? How do I get there? Asked, and answered.

The moral of this illustration is that when we work closely with others the best way we find synergy—a combined effect that is greater than the sum of the parts—is to anticipate each other’s needs. Many of those needs are communicated implicitly. I’ve learned by watching and listening. We have a routine. I know what he wants. He knows, that I know, what to do. We trust each other. 

A similar thing happens on my SWAT team—when we clear a house, and my partner looks into one corner of a room, I look in another corner. All I need is to see a shift in their helmet to know which way they’re going, and I react instinctively because I can predict—and trust—that they have their side of the room covered.

In situations that a military or public safety member would begin to describe with the word “Cluster,” one of the themes that will often be discussed in the after-action is a lack of communication. It’s sometimes difficult to relay what we see, with a detailed course of action, in situations that are time-sensitive with competing priorities and conflicting information. Fog-and-Friction, right? 

Many management or command-and-control structures spend a lot of time dealing with internal interactions: We explain what we want done, and how, with approval from the top of the organization down. A better approach is to look outward, in an operational environment where individuals at all levels are exposed to a variety of situations (like my partners and I have been, in both examples above), so that we can create similar mental images or impressions through shared experience. The bonds of implicit communication and trust that evolve as a result help us anticipate each other’s needs and ensure that our actions will serve the common purpose. 

To get there, we need room to grow. The secret in such a system lies not in what is over-communicated, but from the implicit bonds and similar mental impressions we gain from experience. Without them, we magnify fog and friction, and the system comes unglued. 

Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle


Mike is a full-time police officer and tactical medic. He currently works as a K9 handler, SWAT team member, and Police Trainer. Mike started Tactical Tangents as part of his fundamental purpose to save lives. His goal is to enhance the survival of police officers and concerned citizens by helping them become better, smarter, faster, and more efficient. His opinions are for informational purposes only and do not reflect those of his employer or any other government agency.


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