Law Enforcement Team Building: Bridging the Gap Between Members and Leaders
To build and maintain a successful law enforcement team, members and leaders must work together. Though they may not realize it, employees and managers are focused on the same outcomes: job performance and organizational commitment. Most employees want to perform their jobs well and to remain a member of an organization they respect. Most managers want to maximize job performance and ensure good employees stay with the team for a significant length of time. The outcomes are the same – only the motivations are different. This article sheds light on the view that teams can be more successful if managers and employees function as allies rather than adversaries.
At the end of the day, most team members and leaders want the same outcomes – they want to do a good job and maintain a successful team. It helps when members and leaders recognize that they can perform more proficiently by working as allies instead of adversaries. Years ago, as a raw, unproven police commander, I found myself sitting across the table from one of my employees in a grievance hearing. Officer “Bob” (not his real name) had filed a grievance after being denied overtime pay for driving his marked police car to and from a training class. During the hearing, Bob went off track a number of times to make bitter accusations about being treated unfairly by “management.” When given the chance to respond, I looked the officer in the eye and said, “Bob… I’m not your enemy.” Touching the shield on my blue polyester shirt, I continued, “we are wearing the same uniform… we are on the same team. The fact is, you’re a good officer and I appreciate the work you do. Believe it or not, I’ve got more important things to do than trying to figure out how to make your life miserable. This grievance is not about whether management is out to get you, it’s about whether you should be paid for driving your car to training.”
Bob seemed a bit put off by my remarks, but reiterated firmly that management was always looking for opportunities to hound him. I countered with, “Bob, I am management,” then asked, “what have I done to harass you?” He tried to explain that it wasn’t me specifically, but management in general that was out to get him. In the end, I offered to pay the overtime with the stipulation that he would not drive his patrol car to training in the future. He retorted that he did not want to cause other officers to lose the use of their cars. I then clarified, “this does not affect the other officers… just you. Apparently, you’re the only one who has a problem with it. The others seem more than happy to drive their squad cars home and let the agency pay for the gas. At the same time, I prefer that everyone have their cars on hand in case of an emergency.”
Maybe he realized management was not trying to take advantage of him. Or perhaps he didn’t want to incur the expense of driving a personally owned vehicle. It could be that his family didn’t have an extra car to spare. Most likely he didn’t want to be the only officer at the training site without a patrol car. Hopefully, he saw that it was mutually beneficial for the officers and the agency. Whatever the reason, Bob withdrew his grievance.
Most people have two main goals in their professional lives – to have steady employment with a respectable organization and to do a good job. Interestingly enough, team leaders have similar goals – they want to retain good employees and build or maintain a successful team. One of my favorite sayings is, “if you don’t trust your people, they won’t trust you back.” That works both up and down the chain. Team members and team leaders must show respect in order to receive respect. Before taking for granted that a team member or leader has bad intentions, we should start by assuming innocence. In the end, most of us want the same things: to be a valued member of a successful team and to do a good job.
Kinicki, A. & Kreitner, R. (2008). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills, & best practices, 3rd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill