Alone together

Urgent needs do not conveniently clock on between nine and five,
Monday to Friday. So, for the past 20 years or so, full-time
emergency duty teams (EDTs) have provided out-of-hours

This might mean one or two team members working through the night,
weekends and bank holidays dealing with situations by phone and, if
essential, by visit. EDTs provide a crisis response to keep people
safe until the next working day when daytime staff can take over
the case.

“On average EDT workers might have 15 to 20 years’ experience,
often lone working through the night,” says Martin Smith,
practitioner-manager at Buckinghamshire EDT. “So, one is trying to
manage people who are strong-minded, independent thinking
individuals. You need autonomous people to work in EDT.”

But turning autonomous individuals into a team is a challenge in
itself. Smith says: “One of the management tasks is keeping a team
identity and ethos with people who don’t see each other much as a
team. Even if you’re on a shift with someone, you might be there an
hour and then be called out and not see them again that

Balancing the individual with the collective is a particular
feature. “We discuss endlessly at our fortnightly team meetings how
to maintain consistency, particularly with difficult, repeat
callers,” Smith says.

Buckinghamshire adopts a three-tier approach: seven full-time
workers, including Smith, are supported by a number of qualified
sessional social workers – daytime workers who can provide flexible
cover. Also, there are support workers – usually unqualified
(students, for example) – who can be appropriate adults for police
interviews, escort and transport people and occasionally carry out

Another crucial team-building aspect is the annual team day. Smith
says: “At least once a year we have an away day or think-tank to
generate ideas. This has been important for influencing the culture
and the way we want to go.”

The team also has an annual customer satisfaction survey as finding
out what people think about you as a team can help build an

Similarly, the team publishes an annual report that not only
details the previous year’s performance but sets out how it wishes
to develop.

To keep up to date with developments and to maintain good working
links and rapport, each EDT worker has a liaison role with
different daytime teams. “That is also a positive spin-off from
having sessional workers,” says Smith, “because they come from
daytime teams and help to keep the dialogue going.

Someone from our team will attend their team meetings and I’ll
liaise at team manager level.” These liaison roles are encouraged
by Smith through supervision and appraisal.

Given the experience of his workers, Smith’s credibility is
enhanced by his practitioner-manager role. He says that his staff
realise he knows about their jobs because he has done it as well.
“And through live supervision I can monitor quality: by sitting
next to somebody you hear what they say and see how they

A big difference Smith has experienced in moving from managing
daytime teams is work-planning. He says: “Previously in supervision
and meetings I’d be discussing cases, anticipating what a worker
might be doing with somebody, what we should do with X and Y and so
on. Whereas in EDTs there is no planned work to discuss. It is
about how can we work better with police, or home care, or section
12 doctors [who give medical recommendations for compulsory
admission to hospital].”

Smith believes his team really enjoy their work – not least because
they get a big say in when they work. “We agree our rotas among
ourselves – a shift pattern is worked out in accordance to
individual preferences, which are accommodated as best we can,” he

“I think EDTs hit the essential criteria about what people want out
of work. They like the independence, that they can make a
difference and have some control over when they are working.”

Curriculum vitae

Job: Practitioner-manager, Buckinghamshire
emergency duty team.
Qualifications: CQSW, BA (hons) applied social
work studies; MA social work, PhD social work and counselling; PQ
child care award.
Last job: Senior practitioner, mental health
First job: Bank clerk.


  • Work alongside your team doing what they do.
  • Discuss difficult issues face to face.
  • Attention feeds enthusiasm.


  • Reply to all e-mails immediately.
  • Ensure you selectively listen to one side of the story.
  • Don’t ask for opinions (but, if you do, don’t listen to

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