Every day, two or three times a day, people meet to be told what happened between tours, and to identify what needs to happen that day. Routine, yes? The agenda of every briefing is what’s happened since we last met and what are we going to do about it while also preparing to deal with whatever comes before we go home. ‘Twas ever thus.
Meanwhile, the entire room is still focussed on what happened yesterday/last week/last month that they are still dealing with, with (usually administrative) deadlines pressurising them. With threats of disciplinary action peppered around failure to deliver on those (often artificial) deadlines. Yes, we do that.
Stress. And as outlined in paragraph one, stress that is created because we give no thought to an alternative, slightly less stressful, and arguably more professionally respectful approach.
Which is to discuss what the shift’s current workloads, appointments and commitments are well before addressing, even identifying any new problems.
Now, before you start, I acknowledge that stuff happens and I, too, have experienced the day when you’re just settling in when it hits the fan and that’s your day gone. (Great fun!) But they are always genuine emergencies, not system-imposed activity.
But imagine you have a list of things to do and the briefing sergeant asks what they are before allocating ‘new’? How would you feel? As a supervisor, how do you think your team would feel? Let me tell you.
The team would feel cared about, validated, and calm. The supervisor would be seen as someone who understands and remembers what it was like when they were the doers and not the tellers.
And oddly, even if work is then allocated as demand requires, the mere knowledge that their needs have been considered creates a greater sense of calm.
Now, to be frank, this can only work in an atmosphere of trust. Trust that the team members will ‘confess’ when they aren’t over-committed so that they can take the slack for those who are. Day by day. If you can’t trust a team member to support the others you, as a supervisor, have to adapt. But that’s why you are a supervisor, innit?
Remember how you felt when you had a plan and – emergencies (fun) aside – you were granted the opportunity* to do something else that was not fun, and which caused a straw-level increase on a workload that was already spine-threatening?
Utterly deflated. Sergeants – watch the shoulders droop when you give a stressed officer/colleague a new opportunity.
Stress is caused by a number of factors, but trauma aside is caused by the feeling that you are out of control. Notwithstanding the severe and debilitating lack of training in task- and self-management provided by the service, each new task dilutes the ability to deal with everything, including that task. And conflicting priorities that are routinely created by new impositions, create more stress. It’s inevitable.
Want the cure? Try the reverse briefing process and see if there is an improvement in the response, the productivity, and the attendance of your team.
*The phrase used by politically astute senior officers when granted a political powder keg job like DV, or a non-starter like dog thefts during a pandemic.
For more on this idea, read Police Time Management, available inexpensively from Amazon.