Stormin’ Normington

In 1965, Dr Bruce Tuckman published a model which explains how teams behave. I had the pleasure of learning about this at Bramshill as part of their Leadership and Teams module and I remember thinking, as we went through it, that it applied to every single team I had ever worked with.

Essentially, it describes how a team starts in chaos and then progresses through four stages (he later added a fifth in the 1970’s but I will stick with the four for now) until it reaches a point where it is fully functional and doing well.

At Stage 1 the team is highly dependent on its leader. There is little or no agreement on anything other than direction given from the leader. The team have lots of questions about their purpose and will test their leader. Processes are ignored.

At Stage 2 things aren’t much better – if anything they are worse. Decisions are difficult. People vie for position within the team and leadership is challenged. Factions can form and there will be power struggles. A team can be completely distracted by internal politics and it is time to compromise. Progress is difficult.

At Stage 3 things begin to settle down. Agreements are formed. Roles and responsibilities become clear. Decisions are made; there is delegation; the leadership is trusted and commitment and unity are strong. The team even begins to get along and possibly enjoy some social activities together.

At Stage 4 the team becomes strategically aware. They know what they are doing and why they are doing it. There is a shared vision; there is trust; the leader can lead and the team gets on with it. Goals are clear and everyone is working – together – to achieve them. The team is now a team and it is functioning well.

I would now like to introduce you to the Police Federation of England and Wales and invite you to consider – at what stage on the Tuckman model is that organisation right now?

It won’t take too much thought to identify that the Federation is squarely stuck at Stage 2 at the moment and facing something of an existential crisis.

Now I would like to point out a delicious irony which led to the title of this particular blog.

Tuckman gave these four stages a name and the word play with reality here is just wonderful (well – I think so.) Tuckman labelled the stages thus:

Forming ​– Stage 1
Storming​– Stage 2
Norming ​– Stage 3
Performing ​– Stage 4

Now – simply replace Norming – with Normington.

Sir David Normington is the man responsible for the Independent Review into the Police Federation. It was initiated at the behest of the retiring Chair, Steve Williams, and comprises of over 80 pages of mostly uncomfortable reading.

It is required reading for anyone attending this year’s Police Federation Conference next week.

Sir David has not pulled his punches in the content of his report. The evidence he and his team accumulated whilst compiling the report present the picture of an organisation which has entirely lost its way; is riddled with in-fighting and power struggles; where leadership is challenged; and where focus on mission has become almost entirely obscured by internal politics. In other words – see Stage 2 above.

Nevermind the sections on financial governance which are confusing and ugly enough – the main thrust of the report is that the Police Federation has become a completely dysfunctional outfit which has lost the trust of its members and those it deals with. It has consequently lost its voice and its credibility.

This should seriously worry anyone who wishes to represent the brave and tireless officers who comprise the Federated ranks of the Police Service of England and Wales.

Chapter 1 presents the case for change and it is compelling.

It outlines the fact that the local branches do not trust the central committee and vice versa. It points out that the three rank central committees don’t seem to get on that well either and that one central committee seems to be acting in almost complete autonomy from the rest of the organisation.

No organisation can possibly operate successfully with that level of distrust, secrecy and confused line of command.

The report states that the tactics adopted to try and resist government reform and the Winsor Reviews pretty much arose out of a complete lack of strategy. It further points out that the tactics themselves were to play the man instead of the ball, to attack and undermine and that the Federation failed entirely to present a compelling case to the public – or anyone else for that matter – that the proposed reforms were a bad idea.

The report points out that there are many within the organisation who believe that this was still the right way to go about things. That is fine except for one detail – it didn’t work. And it didn’t “not work” by a little bit – the Winsor reforms are here, we all earn less money and it has actually led to a position where officers have been imprisoned or faced with disciplinary sanctions.

More importantly it informs us that many of the members, the ones who ultimately pay for its services, are utterly disillusioned with the Federation.

At the conclusion of chapter 1, the reader is left with no doubt that things simply cannot continue in this vain. The Police Federation, as it stands, is broken and on the verge of irrelevance and oblivion.

When I first read Normington I thought it presented a compelling case for change but a questionable roadmap for achieving it. Then I realised that I was missing the point.

Sir David has not attempted to provide the Federation with guidance on how to tackle negotiations in future (other than by saying that it should be done by forward scanning, negotiation and based on evidence.)

This report is not about what the Federation should DO – it is about HOW the Federation should BE.

Without going into the detail of it – it presents a series of recommendations which are intended to streamline the structure of the organisation; increase democracy; redistribute power more fairly and professionalise some of the executive functions. Importantly, it seeks to address a number of diversity and equality issues and provides an internal discipline system which is currently lacking.

I only take issue on one aspect of it. I think it slightly over plays the “public interest” factor.

There is no doubt that the Police Federation, directly and in-directly, receives funding from the tax-payer. This amounts to several hundreds of thousands of pounds directly from the Home Office for a variety of reasons as well as officer time. At present, at least three officers will be funded by their force for full-time Federation duties. Conference and JBB meetings are taken from “duty time.”

These are generous terms and the public have every right to expect the Federation to be accountable – both financially and ethically.

But, as John Humphreys said on Radio 4 yesterday morning as he discussed the Home Affairs Select Committee report on the Federation “are we not confusing the ‘Police Federation’ with ‘The Police’”

I do not argue that the two are not inextricably linked and that the standards of behaviour from Fed Reps at all levels should echo the values of the service and mirror the Code of Ethics but – the Federation’s primary purpose is to represent its members.

There is a massive “public interest” factor but the Federation is the ONLY legitimate means for police officers to have a voice against things they might not agree with. Such are the constraints placed on individual officers and the fact that there is no right to withdraw labour the Federation must reserve the right to disagree – publicly if necessary – with something its members feel is wrong.

I am therefore slightly under-sold on the idea that the members interests and public interest are on exact equal footing. The Police Federation remains a members organisation but one which owes a great deal to the public and should never forget that.

The Federation should be open, transparent, financially sensible and honest, professional and accountable. In ways, as Sir David says, which have hitherto not been acknowledged? We should welcome this and embrace it. It is happening to every single other organisation in the country and the Federation cannot expect to be treated differently.

If members interests do slightly edge it – then the Federation needs to remember that as well. Sir David absolutely slates “communications” within the Fed and he is absolutely right. I still find it hard to comprehend that the three main figures, the Chair, the Vice-Chair and the General Secretary do not have individual Twitter accounts. There is no way for the National to communicate directly with members on the front line. This HAS to change.

Frankly the whole decision making processes, rationale and general strategy of the National Committee needs to be communicated to the front line clearly and frequently. There will be times when confidentiality is needed but it IS our business and we need to understand what is going on – and why. This was particularly true during the recent Reform period and it didn’t happen. Now, most officers are wondering what they pay their subs for and questioning “what have the Fed ever done for me?”

The next step is for them to stop paying their subs and leave. Many are considering this.

If that wasn’t warning enough that fundamental change is necessary then you only need to look at the language of the Home Affairs Select Committee and other politicians, including the Home Secretary.

It may well be “Hobson’s Choice” but the message is clear –

“Adopt Normington for yourselves – or we will impose Normington (or possibly something else you REALLY will not like).”

I don’t know about you folks but I would prefer to have some control over my own destiny. Steve Williams is the current Chair. He was democratically elected under the system some wish so desperately to preserve. He commissioned the report. We should see it through. Steve saw what was needed and what was coming and for that he deserves recognition and respect.

The Normington report is about structural changes, communication, fiscal policy and professionalising the Police Federation. It doesn’t say anywhere within it that we have to agree with everything that ACPO, the College of Policing or the Home Office say.

We are allowed to have different opinions from these other bodies but – unless we change how we do things – these opinions will not be truly inclusive or representative and they will count for nothing. Mostly because no-one will listen.

Next week’s conference is the last chance the Police Federation will have to navigate its own path. The choice is clear.

We need to get out of STORMING and into NORMING(ton) and PERFORMING.

Our members deserve no less – nor does Steve Williams – and neither does the public.


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