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Collaborative Problem Solving
By Carl ToersBijns, former deputy warden, ASPC Eyman, Florence AZ
Published: 09/15/2014


Working in corrections we engage in problem solving daily. In fact, we can go as far as saying a day or shift doesn’t pass in our professional lives when were aren’t faced with a multitude of issues that require making decisions especially those that involved others. Most of these decisions are relatively small but some may carry long term consequences or impacts if they are done inattentively or without taking into future considerations or ramifications.

The fact is, unless we work our shifts in total isolation, we do, by necessity, make decisions with others at some level in a regular part of our job. There are today two avenues you can take to make decisions. The first is from a position (the officer) and the second is a collaborative effort including others (teamwork) in the decision making.

Positional decision making is likely the most common as the officer is usually alone and makes the decision based on training, experience and knowledge of the rule sets. The second method of making collaborative decisions is based on time permitting scenarios and having the presence and readiness of others on a team or hierarchy to bounce the issue off and share their input for a final decision.

From the positional approach, you deal with the officer’s emotions, biases, temperament and fatigue factor which could inadvertly cause inconsistencies in shift operations and other staff who carry out their duties differently while still using empowerment or discretionary decision making techniques. Needless to say, it could produce unwise agreements and friction amongst coworkers as it is hard on the relationship when a disagreement occurs. One could also say that decision making from a position is absolute and often limited to rules understood or provide.

If the collaborative technique is chosen, the method of problem solving can be done by negotiating with others to find or come to a common solution. After all is said, the act to negotiate is basically the action of getting something from someone else and vice versa. It’s a back and forth process that is designed to reach an agreement or consensus on the matter discussed.. This something can be feedback, ideas, energy or experience. Fortunately the art of negotiating is limited or sparsely used on the job. Much of the decisions are based on policies and procedures as well as post orders or directives given to deal with the issue at hand. In some cases and time permitting negotiations can be effective. On the other hand, spending time to negotiate something may be deemed inefficient as there is little wiggle room on rules and regulations.

On the other hand, collaborative concepts are a more complete review of the issue and the problem solving process works hand in hand with others, side by side to meet or confer a solution and opportunities to explore options or alternatives allowed under policies and procedures written. Hence the advantages are potentially better [time permitting] and maximize solutions and create a win-win situation for most scenarios and are usually applied to long term issues. It also creates a greater sense of satisfaction and promotes positivity rather than negativity in the workplace.

Corrections.com author, Carl ToersBijns, (retired), has worked in corrections for over 25 yrs He held positions of a Correctional Officer I, II, III [Captain] Chief of Security Mental Health Treatment Center – Program Director – Associate Warden - Deputy Warden of Administration & Operations. Carl’s prison philosophy is all about the safety of the public, staff and inmates, "I believe my strongest quality is that I create strategies that are practical, functional and cost effective."


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