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SIO Corner: The Team

This week, in a lengthier article, we continue the subject of The Team as without wishing to demean the already considerable knowledge and experience of the SIO and potential SIO, we remember to recognise that for example that no successful football team is built round 11 great strikers, but around a mix of skills .......

In this series we look at various aspects of life as an SIO. This includes the necessary skill sets for the successful SIO, the management of serious crime investigation and specific elements of investigative practice from initial response through crime scene examination and investigative strategies to dealing with suspects and the media. The articles are excerpts from the 2nd edition of Blackstone's, the 'Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook', written by two highly experienced SIOs (see 'About the Authors' at the end of the article).

Supervision And Support

Without wishing to belittle the already considerable knowledge and experience that SIO's and potential SIO's have, it is right to remember that an ability to supervise discreetly can sometimes be a great asset, provided swift action is taken when things are done incorrectly. This sends out the right message regarding (non-) acceptable professional standards.

Being able to pick up, read, and interpret signals is important—for example quickly noticing and acting when morale is dropping or complacency and lethargy are creeping in. This includes managing and dealing with tensions and inappropriate behaviour as and when they arise.
The SIO must know or find out what problems the team are facing and must never assume they know what it is like for their staff.

Teams will respect a leader who is willing to leave their comfort zone and put themselves out to see what working lives are like first-hand (often referred to as ‘management by walkabout’ or through the acronym ‘MBWA’). This is not ‘intrusive management’ but seeing the world through their eyes—for instance understanding why members of the public will not cooperate (eg cultural barriers, fear, or mistrust of the police, abusive and difficult people). Often the only way to understand is to go out there and find out.

Support must be provided to those who, for one reason or another, have suffered or had a difficult time during the enquiry. This gives reassurance so that staff understand they will not be abandoned by their leaders when the going gets tough, and it generates more loyalty, which is a better culture to work with. This extends to ensuring tasks are not overly hazardous and are properly risk-assessed by limiting or controlling any potential dangers.

Tasks that are repetitious and tedious can produce temptation and/or boredom. Some types of enquiry, such as tracing a large number of owners of a particular brand and size of training shoe, or sitting in a car taking vehicle registration numbers in the red light district (which Greater Manchester Police and West Yorkshire Police officers did during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in 1977/8), can be tedious and soul-destroying, yet still very important. The SIO must take steps to keep their teams motivated by regularly emphasizing and reminding staff of the importance of the task and swap duties around or provide breaks from monotonous or repetitive tasks.

Staying positive is also essential to maintaining morale. Using simple terms and language which emphasize what can be done rather than expressing and discussing things negatively, is preferable than dwelling on difficulties. It is always easier to detract than to construct and some team members may prefer to take the easier option of being destructive rather than constructive, if so this type of unhelpful attitude has to be deterred. Above all, it should be abundantly obvious that the SIO has strong professional pride and commitment for the very important and highly challenging yet rewarding task ahead. The truth remains that a good leader can and will make a difference to the motivational levels of their team simply by their own positive attitude and behaviour.

Mutual Accountability

The challenge is to create a sense of agreed mutual accountability, with everyone pulling in the same direction. An enquiry team should have a shared sense of direction and goals, deep commitment towards success, and a supportive rather than critical working environment. Everyone is accountable, working down through the chain of command, although the principle starts with the SIO.

Maximizing Potential

It is useful to have a good mix and spread of talents and attributes. Some, for example, may have a relaxed, easy communication style, readily adaptable to fit most circumstances, and like to be seen and heard. They are most likely to be extrovert personalities. Quieter, more introverted types may just get on with allocated tasks in a less obvious fashion and prefer to be left alone. Some thought has to go into understanding individuals and how best to motivate them. The skilful SIO will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of all their team and allocate tasks according to their attributes.

For example, trying to encourage and support potential witnesses to give evidence or information may be more suitable to some than others. Watching hours and hours of CCTV footage or ferreting out intelligence, although arguably core detective skills, may be better suited to particular types of individual.

SIOs should also be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses in order to build a team around them. This helps to identify gaps where an SIO’s needs are greatest. Taking responsibility for self-development, setting high personal standards, and ‘leading by example’ are important. This involves accepting liability when things go wrong or when others cannot handle situations. Giving credit, praise, and recognition for any effort, struggle, and determination is enormously beneficial to building team spirit.

Hard-to-solve cases require tenacity and the SIO must involve all the experience, empirical knowledge, and creative thinking from within their team. Dispelling a ridicule culture for any suggestions, however ‘off the wall’, is therefore vital. The best policy is to create an environment which rewards and supports the contribution of ideas so that stronger members do not dominate at the expense of others.


Communication skills: good relationships and contacts need fostering.

People like to be able to put a ‘face to a name’ when they are being called upon to provide assistance. This is the same with experts or anyone who can provide help to an enquiry. Staff (and when appropriate the SIO) should be encouraged to try and meet with and speak face-to-face with people or agencies who may have other competing demands, in order to seek their commitment and willing co-operation. The personal touch can sometimes achieve a lot more. In an era of modern communications such as email and mobile phones, this can sometimes get overlooked.

Empowering Staff To Use Their Skills and Experience

It is essential in all investigations that investigative action is coordinated through the Major Incident Room (MIR) because failure to do so can lead to loss of focus, duplication of effort, and important information being overlooked. But this level of command and control should not seek to stifle an investigator’s natural desire to use their skills and experience to full advantage. Good SIOs empower their staff to apply their skills and experience within the SIO’s investigative strategy and the framework of action management imposed by the MIR. This will allow the team to realize their full potential and not only maintain a high standard of morale but also perform at the highest level.

Positive Thinking (The 3P Principle)

Positive thinking is always the best way to approach problems and maintain or build morale. Being negative and pessimistic is not going to influence others to do their best and work hard, whereas an optimistic and enthusiastic attitude from the SIO and their management will almost certainly have a significant and positive effect on the team. Positive attitudes provide for tasks to be approached with vigour, energy, and vitality, focusing on what can be achieved rather than what cannot.

Those members of the team who focus on and constantly display negativity traits should be asked to balance these views with positive ones. It is not good for the team to get constantly bogged down discussing hurdles and obstacles; focusing on solutions is always preferable. In such circumstances the SIO should regularly remind their staff to remember the 3P principle, which can be summed up in three very important words:


Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

This is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation. Although it may seem a bit academic the principles of this are so very basic and realistic it is worthy of inclusion and useful to remember when considering needs and their link to motivation. It must be remembered, however, that staff members are all individuals who have their own unique needs and differences, also that the items in the list can become relevant at different stages and times.

Maslow identified five motivating factors in his hierarchy of needs:

1. Physiological needs (including hunger, thirst, and rest)
2. Safety needs (security and protection from danger)
3. Social needs (belonging, acceptance, social life, friendship)
4. Self-esteem (self-respect, achievement, status, recognition)
5. Self-actualization (growth, accomplishment, personal development).

Checklist - Motivation

• The SIO and their management team need to show they are highly motivated.
• Job satisfaction is very important.
• Motivation not only comes from individuals but also the environment they operate in.
• Treat staff well. The SIO should try to be personable as well as maintaining a level of distance so people still look up to them.
• Checking on well-being and remembering personal details are small gestures that build good relationships between the SIO and their team.
• Physiological needs such as adequate food and drink are important.
• The SIO should always be positive, and encourage and remind their team to think likewise.
• Realists and pessimists are fine, but too much can damage morale. There is more to be gained from enthusiasm and optimism.
• Understanding individual temperaments can help in formulating ways to approach and treat individuals.
• Be observant and sensitive to people’s individual needs and temperaments.
• Set realistic and challenging tasks—too high-level a task creates feelings of non-achievement. More low-level, realistic tasks should be balanced against slightly higher targets to provide new challenges. Small task additions enrich job satisfaction.
• Consider job rotation for boring and repetitive tasks.
• Non-monetary rewards such as a thank-you note or words of praise can provide simple job enrichment.
• Remember empowerment—give responsibility to motivate.
• Penalizing individuals can demotivate a team. Control and management is preferable to imposing sanctions but the SIO must act swiftly when the need arises and not be seen as a ‘soft touch’.
• Try to understand when team members face difficult barriers and problems and get involved in finding ways of alleviating them.

Next week we will speak about team welfare and conclude on the subject of team strengths and weaknesses.

About the Authors: Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a CID officer with Greater Manchester Police for over 31 years until his retirement in 2009. During his time as an SIO, he led a number of high profile investigations including operations into gangland violence at Moss Side, the Bolton murder of a teenage girl in 2002, and the Denton strangling case. He was a trained assessor for promotion and a qualified Authorising Officer under RIPA. Tony received 14 commendations and a first-class BSc Honours degree in social sciences and a Diploma in Social Policy & Criminology from the Open University. Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit. With over 29 years in CID at all ranks Andy received the Homicide Working Group National Award for his Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Homicide in November 2006.

To see more details about the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook, or to purchase a copy, click here.

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