The stress of the first 18 months in the role was considerable. I had to draw on relationships from outside the team for my support and to remind myself that the team’s fantasy about me was just that, a fantasy, and that there were others that saw me in a more realistic light. There were two probation teams in the city at that time and I was assisted by the manager of the other team, who was experiencing similar dynamics. It may have been easier for our team members had my colleague and I not been so similar – both Oxbridge graduates of an intellectual turn of mind and so both threatening to the self worth of team members who felt less sure of their academic skills. All we could achieve at this time therefore was to establish some secure structures of supervision, team meetings, allocation processes etc around which we could work out how we could win the confidence of our teams.
One of the challenges in establishing these structures was to manage the pressure to hide the difference of role between manager and practitioner. This especially applied to decisions about allocating workload. There has always been a strong current of hostility to the idea of ‘management’ in probation – an irony in the light of other matters to which I shall return. The idea of ‘manager -less teams’ had some currency amongst ‘radical’ thinkers, and a good few managers colluded with this culture by taking on a caseload themselves. This had the advantage of their being seen visibly to take the strain when caseload demands were high, and sometimes to be protected from having to allocate cases to team members in the face of their opposition and hostility. If you feared as a manager that ‘management’ was a nuisance imposed on staff to satisfy the ‘powers that be’, and therefore to be exercised apologetically, you could take on a caseload and feel better about yourself.