Teams: A Pathway to Organizational Success
By Dan Bradley, M.S., and James A. Jancewicz
Leadership development proves critical to individual performance and organizational success. Law enforcement agencies often build leaders through training, continuing education, and developmental programs; however, they sometimes overlook team participation as an opportunity to help advance individuals.
The mission, rules, and structure of organizations often facilitate leadership development through team membership. In some cases, commitment to these opportunities can enhance or replace existing or costly formal leadership development platforms.
Law enforcement agencies often face ongoing and ever-changing threats that result in critical incidents. Many situations require coordinated efforts of small units with specialized skills. These “action teams” necessitate a high degree of technical specialization and extensive coordination with other work units.1 Such groups usually engage in brief events, often replicated under new conditions that necessitate extensive training or preparation.2
Participation in these teams provides opportunities to enhance individual leadership qualities. The skills and abilities developed from being a specialty-team member contribute to long-term organizational success. Participation often increases an officer’s motivation and job satisfaction.
Many law enforcement organizations staff tactical, crisis negotiation, evidence response, and special investigative teams with volunteers. The ability to apply and gain selection to these groups correlates to the “bottom-up process” job-design perspective.3 This approach supports the idea that employees who proactively change or redesign their jobs boost their motivation and engagement.4
Officers perform team responsibilities in addition to their normal assignments and often require extensive time and dedication to achieve proficiency. However, before undertaking collateral duties, officers should achieve performance excellence and demonstrated success.
Law enforcement officers should not view collateral duties as replacements for normal assignments. This would prove a disservice to the organization.
Certain core skills—competence, commitment, collaboration, adaptability, and self-improvement—cultivate effective teamwork.5 In law enforcement, these characteristics provide a symbiotic relationship between collateral duties and an officer’s regular assignments.
Similar to team sports, officers must achieve competence in their roles before the team can realize success. This benefits the individual’s work and impacts the whole group. Law enforcement officers show their commitment through exhaustive preparation and real-world replication. To achieve a high level of proficiency, nothing substitutes for repetition. Individuals constantly must prepare themselves if they want to become skillful at any task.6 Commitment combined with practice results in competence across the spectrum of officers’ assignments.
Special Agent Jancewicz serves with the FBI’s Buffalo, New York, office.
To attain commitment, officers must trust their personal values and their teammates.7 Officers’ dedication to team participation should emerge genuinely. Their devotion occurs after listening to teammates, believing in each other, and trusting the team members and leader to make the best decisions for the group.8
Throughout their careers law enforcement officers may challenge the organizational mission; however, personal commitment allows them to remain focused and unwavering. The bond between the individual and the organization becomes evident following an officer’s role as a team member during a critical incident.
Crisis situations often serve as defining moments for a law enforcement agency’s culture because officers endorse the organization’s core values. During a critical incident, cultural rhetoric becomes apparent not only through words but also by leaders’ behaviors. These events regenerate individuals’ emotional connections to the organization.9 Such associations provide value to the person, team, and agency for the duration of the officer’s career.
As the essence of teamwork, collaboration entails working together to achieve a common goal. Synergy and individual contributions define collaborative teams and contribute to the group’s success.10 These teams view themselves as single units with members who understand and trust each other and support a purposeful mission.
Collaboration among today’s law enforcement organizations constitutes an important factor in public safety. The value of cooperation appears in successful teams, such as specialized task forces or joint investigative efforts, where each agency contributes individual skills and resources toward the ultimate successful resolution of an investigation.
Emotional security and service mindedness result in adaptability that enables the team to accept change and make the best decisions.11 Successful organizational transition occurs due to team members.12
Specialty law enforcement teams must work together to achieve the best solution to the problem. Adaptability proves important because facts and circumstances often evolve that require officers to engage quickly in decision making. Recent dramatic events and varying threats forced many law enforcement organizations to change rapidly.
“The mission, rules, and structure of organizations often facilitate leadership development through team membership.”
Teams must develop self-enhancing behavior, take time to honestly and constructively evaluate group performance, and seek new areas to increase individuals’ skills. Self-improving team members push each other outside emotional comfort zones through open and frank performance discussions.13 Consistent self-enrichment results in better individual and team performance.
Learning experiences rarely occur as isolated events; rather, individuals connect current and past knowledge and realize potential future implications.14 It appears that some law enforcement officers may evade regular self-improving behavior. However, value results from actions taken during long-term investigations and critical incidents. Discussions on the processes used in these situations significantly contribute to professional development and improved results.
Every collateral-duty assignment serves as a valuable developmental experience that involves preparation and repetition and garners important leadership lessons. Law enforcement leaders understand the value of maximizing experiences and lessons learned for the long-term benefit of the officer and organization. They have the opportunity to accelerate the learning of team members by making the effort to identify and capitalize on these moments.
Supervisors should commit to outlining technical skills and educational benefits gained from collateral duties to understand how these apply to the organization. Officers could implement skills learned from assignments with specialty teams. For example, abilities acquired through SWAT team membership might contribute to safer execution of routine arrest and enforcement operations.
Leadership abilities realized through cooperative assignments may serve as a platform for future applications within the organization. Exposure to challenges, such as decision making dilemmas, resembles those faced within formal leadership roles. Collateral-duty assignments provide unique opportunities to acquire technical skills, leadership experience, connection to the organization’s core values, and renewed motivation, which otherwise could prove difficult to initiate and foster.
Core team skills comprise the same characteristics necessary to accomplish a law enforcement organization’s mission. An officer’s interest and participation in a collateral-duty assignment contribute significantly to the positive impact made by the profession. These duties also provide opportunities to develop individual abilities and leadership skills. Every law enforcement agency should strive to build effective teams to develop its officers and the organization.
Special Agent Bradley may be contacted at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org and Special Agent Jancewicz at email@example.com.
“Similar to team sports, officers must achieve competence in their roles before the team can realize success.”