What Is Teamwork?

Being a team player is critical in public safety

We hear so much about “teamwork” and being a “team player” these days. We see it in ads for employment, we see it in our evaluations, and we even see it on motivational posters. There’s no “I” in TEAM after all. But have you really stopped to think about what the term teamwork really means? It’s typically defined as a group of people working toward a common goal.

For public safety, teamwork is critical, both in the communications center and in the field. If one member of the team is not operating at peak performance levels then the results can be devastating, if not fatal. In the field, we have to be able to trust our shift partner, our squad, our “team member” or we don’t feel safe. We can’t do our job effectively if we have to worry about our partner’s competence or teamwork. The same is true in the communication center; it’s difficult to be efficient if we have to worry that our coworker is not proficient in their duties. In a perfect world, we would all be trained at the highest possible standard—unfortunately this isn’t a perfect world.

We often hear that communication personnel don’t necessarily get along well. In my articles “How to Avoid Divisiveness in the Comm Center” and “Us vs. Them“, I touch on this subject. When you put all those type A’s in one room together, personalities sometimes clash and feelings get hurt. Sometimes PST’s don’t feel appreciated by field personnel and field personnel don’t feel that PST’s really understand them or their job. I often hear “Well, when the $%^& hits the fan, we all come together as a team to get the job done”. That’s wonderful and all, but what about the rest of the time? What happens when the critical incident is over? How do we act in our “downtime”?

Public safety workers spend an awful lot of time together. Twelve-hour shifts are becoming the norm across the country. That’s a long time to spend with someone, especially someone you don’t get along with.

Have we really thought about what it means to be a team player? Consider this: Do you call in sick when you’re not really sick? Maybe you feel that you need that mental health day or deserve that 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 between certain coworkers, I could bet you a paycheck that one of them was going to skip out on the next shift. It’s possible they had been disciplined or were disgruntled from some reason. Maybe they were having a tough time at home. Whatever the reason, we all work with those folks that build up their sick time just to use it as soon as they have enough accrued to cover the time off.

Think about how that affects your shift. Calling in sick when you aren’t leaves your team short a member. The rest of your team has to work a little harder to get the job done. The department has to pay overtime, you become the topic of conversation—which is never a good thing— and your co-workers are now paying a little more attention to when you are late, leave early, or call in sick. Are you being a good team member?

Do you abuse any flexibility you are afforded? Have you ever had a coworker 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 maybe taken advantage of the situation? There is 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 things like this, you put your coworkers and supervisors in a bad situation.

Do you help your co-workers during non-peak hours as well the busy times? Something as simple as making a phone call for them when they’re tied up can make a big difference. If your channel is slow and not much is really happening, do you stop and pay attention when your coworker’s channel starts to get busy or goes emergency traffic? Or do you just keep reading your book, watching your show, playing cards or just hanging out?

If you are in the field, do you pick up that call for your shift partner if their calls start to stack up and your district is quiet— before you’re asked to? I have a couple deputies who return calls to the complainant on non-priority or civil calls to see if they can help them over the phone. Most of the time, they just need to talk to a LEO for “advice” rather than truly needing a physical response.

I have worked with calltakers who 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. 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 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, ask yourselves this: 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? Your team will respect you if you treat them with respect— respect is earned. Jumping to conclusions without all the details is the quickest way to lose respect. 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/or morale is contagious in any work environment. Follow through is also key. If you say it, do it!

Every member of the team is important, from the team leader to the most junior rookie. Be professional, be kind, and most of all be a valuable member of the team! Remember, we are all on the same team.

Be Safe!

About the Author

Cindra Dunaway is a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the Lee County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. Contact her via e-mail at cdunaway@sheriffleefl.org.


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