Know How to Avoid Teamwork Pitfalls
*This article is part of IPS’ August focus on teambuilding and its impact on public safety.*
By Michelle Beshears, professor of Criminal Justice at American Military University
Teamwork, especially among law enforcement officers, is a crucial aspect of the job. However, the effectiveness of teams is largely dependent on leadership’s commitment to teamwork and the willingness of individuals to be strong team members.
[Related Article: Strong Teamwork Needed to Solve Violent Crimes]
Police leaders need to be aware of five distinct dysfunctions that could threaten effective teamwork within agencies. These dysfunctions are highlighted by author, Patrick Lencioni, and illustrated in the chart below.
Absence of Trust
Trust is not only important amongst individual law enforcement officers, but within the leadership structure as well. Leaders are ultimately the ones responsible for building and maintaining trust throughout the entire agency.
One way to accomplish trust is for agencies to move from an authoritarian to a collaborative approach in leadership style. While policing organizations may encounter some resistance when shifting to this leadership approach, it can be an effective way for leaders to become more attuned to people and to help build trust among officers.
[Related Article: Transformational Leadership and the Impact on Morale, Satisfaction]
Another way to build trust within a policing agency is to encourage officers and leaders to expose their vulnerabilities to teammates and subordinates and work to accept the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of each other. The purpose of such an exercise is to build trust within an organization by helping people learn to be open and accepting of one another and capitalize on each other’s strengths while lifting up their weaknesses.
Conflict, or the fear of conflict, is another obstacle impeding effective teamwork. Officers, like most people, want to get along with others so they may not raise issues for fear of upsetting others. This conflict avoidance within the ranks may be more common among officers than other professionals, since officers often adopt a mentality of us versus them.
Silence can be detrimental to the effectiveness of teams. Healthy debate and agreeing to disagree within a team should be encouraged. The Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument (TKI) is a great tool to help team members recognize patterns within themselves when faced with conflict and how different styles can impact interpersonal and group dynamics.
Lack of Commitment
Lack of commitment is another huge hurdle that must be overcome if a law enforcement agency wishes to promote effective teamwork. While it is understood that individual voices are important, the ultimate goal is finding what is best for the team and the organization as a whole.
Staying on a committed path toward achieving the team’s goals is paramount, which is something driven from leaders down the ranks. Leadership that encourages and sustains commitment in observance of what is best for the organization will no doubt foster effective teams.
Peer accountability is critical in law enforcement. If leadership holds each other, as well as their subordinates, accountable then peers are more likely to hold one another accountable. This type of accountability promotes respect and trust. Officers must understand that when they hold each other accountable they are showing respect and helping to ensure the team is being held a high standard.
Last, but not least, is the importance of paying attention to the results. If the results are not discussed and accomplishments are not recognized, this may nullify the team’s efforts.
Teams must have easily understood goals and objectives and ways to measure results. Leadership must help to define goals and to encourage an honest look at the results so that continuous improvement can be achieved by the team.
Leaders and individual members alike must be committed to teamwork to achieve success. When leadership can effectively manage communication, collaboration, and consensus among team members, that’s when real progress and growth can begin.
About the Author: Dr. Michelle L. Beshears earned her baccalaureate degrees in social psychology and criminal justice and graduate degrees in human resource development and criminology from Indiana State University. She earned her Ph.D. from Northcentral University. Mrs. Beshears served in the U.S. Army for 11 years. She obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia where she earned her commission. As a commissioned officer Mrs. Beshears has led numerous criminal investigations and worked with several external agencies as well. As a civilian she has worked with the local sheriff’s department, state drug task force and FBI. Michelle resides with her husband Michael, their son Hunter, and daughter Malia near Norfork and Bull Shoals Lakes, in Clarkridge, Arkansas. Mrs. Beshears is currently an assistant Professor of criminal justice at American Military University & American Public University and is full-time faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies. You can contact her at michelle.beshears(at)mycampus.apus.edu.