In an earlier article, I outlined what I believe to be the six basic essentials of leadership. In this article, I’ll address teamwork.
Successful organizations have a strong team spirit. They interact in complementary and supportive ways. Individuals in the group work hard at placing the welfare of the group above their selfish interests. I define team as: “A group of people who subordinate their personal interests to the welfare of the entire group.”
6 Essentials of Leadership
1. Provide clear direction;
2. Develop a team spirit;
3. Ensure continuing development/improvement of staff;
4. Cultivate shared values and principles;
5. Promote open communication; and
6. Establish controls to ensure execution.
Working together as a team doesn’t come naturally. Typically, our first instinct is to “look out for No. 1.” It’s natural: Putting the team’s interests first goes against human nature. For this reason, unhealthy competition, blaming, bickering and “buck passing” will occur. Strong leadership must be exercised to prevent this from happening.
A great example of the devastating impact of a lack of teamwork occurred with a popular college football team. The team was well on its way to the playoffs.They seemed invincible: undefeated with only a few games left in the season.
Then something threw it all into a tailspin. The star tailback of the team was interviewed by a reporter interested in his remarkable rushing record and his predicted Heisman trophy.
A reporter asked the athlete about his dependence on the “front four” blocking linemen. He jokingly remarked that he really didn’t need them. As you can imagine, the linemen didn’t appreciate the tailback’s humor. For the next two weeks, they demonstrated just how important their blocking was to his success. The tailback’s yards gained by running with the ball came to a screeching halt. The team lost the next two games and didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
What happened? Individual members became interested in proving their own importance.
Closer to Home
The importance of team spirit is obvious in athletic competition, but its value may not be so easily recognized in a police agency. Officers are trained to perform police work as one- or two-person units. Although an individual officer may perform duties effectively, they may be unaware of actions they can take to make officers in other assignments more successful.
Also, most police agencies organize to some degree in a manner that allows some specialization—e.g., traffic officers, follow-up investigators and school resource officers. Specialization allows for the building of expertise and efficiency, but it can also result in compartmentalized thinking. Officers in specialized assignments often narrow their focus of attention and lose their team spirit.
To counteract this, law enforcement leaders must place high value on “complementary action,” which occurs when units and/or individuals see themselves as an interacting part of the main organization. Complementary action means the specialized individual is conscious of the impact of their actions on other entities in the organization. They deliberately consider the interests of other members of the team. They are concerned about the success of the total team, not just themselves. Following are suggestions for building team spirit.
• Meetings: Conduct meetings between the various units wherein specific coordination issues are addressed.
• Positive reinforcement: Reward units and individuals that perform complementary actions. Discover situations where a unit goes the extra mile to support another unit. Include team spirit as a factor in performance evaluations.
• Cross-training loans: Use temporary assignments to move employees from one specialty to another to develop empathy.
• Publicize success: Write up and disseminate cases where teamwork has resulted in success. Draw attention to the value of that teamwork.
• Sanctions: Establish zero tolerance for unhealthy competition and buck passing. Leaders cannot allow followers to operate as independent contractors. Actions that impede or undercut the objectives of other units or individuals must not be tolerated.
Synergy can be a powerful resource. And team spirit is a prerequisite for synergy to occur in organizational life. Wise leaders recognize this and work hard at establishing a strong team spirit.–On Point.