News from the CRC

Coaching and mentoring are relationship-based activities that require cooperation. Photo: Department of Biodiversity, Conversations and Attractions WA.

Coaching and mentoring are relationship-based activities that require cooperation. Photo: Department of Biodiversity, Conversations and Attractions WA.
Coaching and mentoring are relationship-based activities that require cooperation. Photo: Department of Biodiversity, Conversations and Attractions WA.
Release date
01 Jun 2018

Resource explores coaching and mentoring opportunities for IMTs

By Brenda Leahy. This article first appeared in Issue Two 2018 of Fire Australia.

What’s the difference between a coach and mentor? And how do you match and manage these relationships successfully to build incident management team (IMT) capability? These are some of the key questions addressed in a new, research utilisation resource on coaching and mentoring for IMTs and emergency management organisations prepared by Dr Peter Hayes of RMIT University for AFAC Members.

Coaching and mentoring for incident management teams – research insights for good practice, developed by AFAC, provides an overview of coaching and mentoring concepts, examines practical frameworks and approaches relevant to IMTs, evaluates the current knowledge and research, details useful models and tools, and offers guidance for operations. This landmark research utilisation resource on coaching and mentoring has been purpose-designed for use within fire and land management agencies, or those consulting to the sector.

The goal was to deliver a resource – based on the available science and current knowledge – for agencies to draw upon when developing and implementing effective coaching and mentoring programs for AIIMS IMTs, says AFAC’s Director of Workforce Development Sandra Lunardi. However, the ideas, concepts and frameworks featured in the resource also applied more broadly within the emergency management sector. Tools and guidance, directly based on the resource, will be co-developed and trialed in future with relevant end users across AFAC’s collaboration group network.

To develop the coaching and mentoring resource, Dr Hayes reviewed the current research literature and supplemented these findings with a survey of AFAC member agencies. Key stakeholders from fields such as human resource development, learning and development and training, were consulted for their observations on the barriers and opportunities for IMT development.

Among its key findings, the research indicated:

  • There was sound evidence (from a range of meta-analytic research and other studies) that coaching and mentoring offers significant benefits to the organisation, coach/mentor, and mentee/coachee.
  • Coaching and mentoring are fundamentally relationship-based activities, shaped by social behaviours such as rapport, trust, empathy, and cooperation. The quality of relationships between coach/coachee and mentor/mentee are central to the success of these activities.

The survey of AFAC member agencies highlighted:

  • There is considerable variation in the types of coaching and mentoring offered within agencies.
  • Mentoring has been more widely adopted by AFAC member agencies than coaching.
  • The programs in place are mostly informal.
  • There is a degree of confusion about the distinction between coaching and mentoring and their applications and benefits.
  • The present use of mentoring in agencies could help inform the design of coaching and mentoring programs for IMTs.

Recent research by the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre (e.g. Bearman et al., 2017) provided valuable guidance and tools to help coaches and team leaders better understand the teamwork dynamics important for effective IMT functioning.

In the coaching and mentoring resource, Dr Hayes provides comprehensive definitions, explains the types and interprets the science and theory behind the key concepts. One handy overview is Bresser and Wilson’s car analogy (2016), which compares coaching, counseling, psychotherapy and mentoring:

“A therapist will explore what is stopping you from driving your car. A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car, a mentor will share tips from his or her own experience of driving cars, a consultant will advise you on how to drive the car, and a coach will encourage and support you in driving the car.”

As a general principle, coaches and mentors support and facilitate learning and development, he explains.

“Coaching and mentoring relationships are used in a broad range of ways to support on-the-job learning, training, exercising and simulation and facilitate succession planning. Examples of applications include building operational skills and expertise in the use of AIIMS and incident management systems and processes, developing leadership and teamwork skills and enabling growth in human factors capabilities, such as thinking, decision making and communication.”

According to the resource, several factors have driven interest in and use of coaching and mentoring within fire and emergency management organisations in recent years. These factors include the unique demands on IMT roles, a changing, diversifying and aging workforce, the increasing complexity of incidents and an increasing move towards greater interoperability.

“There has been a recent move within fire and emergency services towards an integrated approach to the development of people, reflecting the maturity of the profession, incident management and the sector generally,” it states.

“At the same time, there has been an increasing shift in responsibility for professional development from the organisation to the individual.

“The AFAC Leadership Capability Framework, the Emergency Management Professionalisation Scheme’s evidence-based capabilities, and their alignment to AIIMS 2017, together with this coaching and mentoring resource, reflect a growing recognition that multiple strategies are required to meet the needs of incident managers,” the publications reads.

The coaching and mentoring resource is available in the AFAC shop at

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Index of Editions

Issue Two of Fire Australia for 2018 includes a look at two checklists that are helping emergency management teams when there's a breakdown in communication, the findings on community preparedness after three catastrophic bushfires swept across NSW in early 2017, four utilisation case studies that are helping agencies and incident management tools to enhance communication and capability
Issue One of Fire Australia for 2018 includes a recap of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, investigates what catastrophic flooding could look like in Sydney, asks if your coastal community can cope with rising sea levels, highlights our research in incident management development and looks at predicting blow up bushfires.
Issue Four 2017 of Fire Australia includes research on including animals in emergency planning, details from AFAC17, new priorities in natural hazards research, and a Black Saturday case study to develop guidelines for improved community messaging in bushfires.
Issue Three of Fire Australia for 2017 features new prediction software for predictions of bushfire spread, how NSW's geography curriculum allows students to become agents of change for community resilience, suggestions for reducing the risks involved in prescribed burning, research on the impacts of severe wind during Cyclone Debbie, and new natural hazards science at the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.
Issue Two of Fire Australia for 2017 features information about a weather phenomena called a mountain wave that produces severe fire behaviour, an analysis of flood fatalities in Australia, what we can learn about disaster preparation from Indonesia, and leadership for our emergency service volunteers.
Issue One of Fire Australia for 2017 features firestorms, disaster resilience, fire preparation in Bangladesh and the International Day for Disaster Reduction.
PhD progress, human factors and decision-making capabilities, asbestos risk and the role of pharmacies in disasters are showcased in the Spring 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine.
The Winter 2016 edition of Fire Australia magazine highlights important research including reducing hazard impacts with smarter spending, fire modelling and wind behaviour as well as the rewarding experience of PhD student placements in the sector.
Mitigating disasters: how damage from floods, fires and storms can be prevented through careful planning and investment; a new approach to flood forecasting using remote sensing data; and case studies from the CRC are highlighting paths to integrate bushfire science into government policy and planning.
Developing a smartphone app to measure fuels for bushfire, 2015's International Day for Disaster Reduction, a case study on the Be Ready Warrandyte initiative and a look at what could happen if Adelaide was hit by a large earthquake.