He could have snapped me like a twig.

This is part 2 in our 2-part series about how to provide backup correctly. 

In the last email in this series, we talked about what a backup staff member should NOT do.


I was meeting with an intern at the shelter when the phone call came in:

“Ryan, get outside quick! There’s a guy having a psychotic break!”

I told the intern to back me up. We ran outside to intercept the gentleman experiencing a psychotic episode.

When we got outside, I realized that the gentleman was:

  • 20 years younger than me.
  • 4 inches taller than me.
  • 50 pounds heavier than me.

He could snap me like a twig if he wanted to.

I took the lead staff member role, and the intern took the backup role.

The intern stood quietly a short distance away. He was ready to help me if I asked for help, but he didn’t say anything.

The conversation with the gentleman was tense at times but went well. He didn’t try to hurt me. In the end, we reunited the man with his family who could care for him better than we could.

But… if the intern had not known how to provide backup it could have ended very badly for all of us.

The Lesson

Let’s talk about how staff SHOULD provide backup for one another.

There are two very specific roles:

  • Lead staff

The lead staff person is in charge and talks to the customer.

  • Backup staff

The backup staff person should:

  • Stand 8-10 feet away.
  • Call the police if the lead staff person asks them to do so.
  • Keep others from interfering (and distracting the lead staff person).

What should you do with this information?

Do ALL of your coworkers know this? Forward this email or bring it to a staff meeting and have a conversation about how to backup one another.

Have a great Fourth of July (if you live in the United States)!



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