We hear so much about “teamwork” and being a “team player” these days. But have you really stopped to think about what the term really means? It’s typically defined as a group of people working toward a common goal. Let that sink in.
With public safety, teamwork is critical in both the communications center and in the field. We spend a lot of time together, especially with 12-hour shifts becoming the norm across the country. If one member of the team isn’t operating at peak performance levels, the results can be devastating, if not fatal in rare occasions. In the field, we have to be able to trust our shift partner, our squad and our department—and if we don’t, we don’t feel safe. We can’t effectively do our job if we have to worry about our partner being competent or trustworthy. Likewise, in the communication center, it’s difficult to be efficient if we have to worry that our co-worker isn’t proficient in their duties. In a perfect world, we’d all be trained at the highest standard possible. But let’s face it, this isn’t always the case.
How to Be a Team Player
Have you really thought about what it means to be a team player? Here are some suggestions on ways to improve.
Consider this: Do you call in sick when you’re not really sick? Maybe you feel you need a mental health day or deserve a day off that didn’t get approved. I worked in a center where if we had a particularly rough day or there was a spat among certain co-workers, I could bet you a paycheck that one of them was going to bang out the next shift. Maybe they were disciplined or disgruntled for whatever reason. Or maybe they were having a tough time at home. Whatever the reason, we all work with those folks that build up their sick time only to take it as soon as they accrue enough to get paid for it.
Now, if you’re one of those people, think about how that affects your shift. You leave them shorthanded when a member of the team is missing. The rest of your co-workers have to work a little harder to get the job done and your department has to pay overtime. Not to mention, you’re the subject of conversation, which is never good no matter where you work. Your co-workers are probably going to pay a little more attention to when you’re late, leave early or call in sick. Is this a good example of teamwork? No.
Do you abuse any flexibility that may be afforded to you? Have you ever had a co-worker come in late, (whether they call ahead or not) only to see that they stopped to get food on their way in? Have you ever been granted a little leeway for a special circumstance and then taken advantage of the situation? There’s a difference between sudden incidents and failing to plan ahead. Do you make your doctor appointments on your days off? Do you wait until the last minute to ask for time off? When you do this, you put your co-workers and supervisors in a bad situation.
In the comms center, do you help out your co-workers during non-peak hours, as well the busy times? Something as simple as making a phone call for them when they are tied up is sometimes much appreciated. If your channel is slow and not much is really happening, do you stop and pay attention when your co-worker’s channel starts to get busy or goes emergency traffic? Or do you just keep reading your book, watching your show, paying cards or whatever is allowed in your center? I’ve worked with call takers that will take the time to research something for the public/callers if they don’t really know the answers rather than just passing them along to the next department or division only for them to get more and more frustrated with the system.
If you’re in the field, do you pick up that call for your shift partner if his calls start to stack up and your district is quiet? (And I mean before you’re asked to!) I have a couple of deputies that will call the complainant back on the non-priority or possible civil calls to see if they can help them over the phone. Most of the time, they just need to talk to an LEO for advice rather than truly needing a physical response.
Are you required to do these things? Maybe, maybe not. But wouldn’t it be nice if everyone took that extra step now and again? If we all just took the time to not only do our jobs correctly but to operate at our peak every day, can you imagine how our work environment would change for the better? Positive work environments lead to positive attitudes and positive attitudes lead to happy and productive team members.
Supervisors: Food for Thought
If you’re a supervisor, you should ask yourself: Am I a good team leader? Are you available to your subordinates? Do you get in the trenches and get dirty when your team needs that extra hand to get the job done? Do you project a positive attitude and treat everyone on your team fairly? Are you a buffer for your team members? Do you ask questions and investigate complaints and concerns before you react? Respect is earned. Your team will respect you if you treat them with respect. Jumping to conclusions without all the details is the quickest way to lose that. Taking care of problem employees in a timely manner is also crucial. Nothing spreads contempt quicker than the appearance of favoritism. A bad attitude and morale is contagious in any work environment. Follow-through is key. If you say it, do it!
Every member of the team is important. Whether you’re the team leader or the most junior rookie, you should be professional, kind, and most of all, a valuable partner! Remember: We’re all on the same team. Be Safe!