In his book "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," Patrick Lencioni defines a team as being "a relatively small number of people...that shares common goals as well as rewards and responsibilities for achieving them." If we accept this definition, then most agencies can't be considered a team because of their organization, hierarchy, and large numbers. But an agency's structure doesn't stop it from using teamwork in smaller cells.
Certainly a street drug unit can function as a team during a surveillance and subsequent takedown. Road patrol squads routinely use teamwork in concert with aviation and K-9 units to apprehend suspects during in-progress calls. Many agencies assemble teams to handle specific problems like policy and procedure issues.
In his book "Teamwork 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know," John Maxwell suggests that teamwork is nothing more than working together with other people to achieve a common goal. Adopting that definition makes teamwork a more plausible concept for an agency as a whole. It may seem that I'm splitting hairs, but let me explain further. At the agency level, the command staff makes decisions for you. There may not be an 'I' or a 'U' in team but there is no "they" either. And "they" make the agency-wide decisions that we follow. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just that we need to learn the differences between being an organization, a team, and using teamwork.
Sometimes the best way to learn about something is to first identify what it's not. Another way to learn is to identify the problems associated with it. If I learn the pitfalls then I know what to avoid. Patrick Lencioni's book has already established five team dysfunctions (pitfalls) for you.
The first is an absence of trust. The fear of being vulnerable within the team prevents the building of trust. If you've developed trust then you don't have to be protective and careful with what you say. It's hard to do your job when you have to split your attention between the mission and watching your back.
The second is a fear of conflict. Since no one wants to rock the boat, an artificial harmony is created but nothing is ever discussed in earnest. You want to emerge from heated debates knowing that there are no residual feelings that can bury you later. It is very possible to agree to disagree in a professional manner.
The third is having a lack of commitment. It's all about the mission and choosing the best course of action. It's not what's best for you but for the agency as a whole. However, there does need to be a sense that you have a voice and that your opinions are valued. In the end, everyone wins.
The fourth is the avoidance of accountability. You must be able to hold each other accountable and avoid hurting the team and its results. Being accountable translates into respect for each other and holding the team to higher standards. If there were more accountability in law enforcement, we'd have fewer problems.
The last dysfunction is inattention to results. You must have clearly defined objectives, defined outcomes, and be honest with your results. If you are not going to take a long hard look at your results and evaluate yourselves, what was the point? If all you are looking for is a paper tiger, count me out; I have better things to do with my time.
Laws of Teamwork
Another useful reference is "The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork," by John Maxwell. Though I won't be going over all 17 laws, there are a few that you could use now. You don't have to be on a team to be a team player.
The Law of the Big Picture: The goal is more important than the role. Individual accomplishments help the ego but it takes everyone working on the goal to get it accomplished. If you're not helping to accomplish the mission, then you're not helping at all.
The Law of the Chain: The strength of the team is impacted by its weakest link. Who hasn't been affected by this in one form or another? You have to know when to raise the bar or face being left behind. You shouldn't have to pick up anybody's slack. Get the slacker up to speed or get someone else.
The Law of the Bad Apple: Simply put, dealing with a bad attitude is like having a boat anchor around everyone's neck. I don't care how talented or in shape you are. If you act like a prima donna, can't play well with others, and all you do is complain, I don't need you. Prima donnas are great for reality TV but lousy for law enforcement. I'll take an average person with a good attitude and willingness to learn any day.
The Law of Communication: Creating change in an organization requires communication. You must be able to communicate effectively with your peers and supervisors. If your lines of communication are restricted, closed, or merely pretend, there will be no change.
Putting it to Use
Understanding the makeup of a team and how to use teamwork will make us all more effective. We need to dump tribal myth and stop just repeating what sounds good. We need to stop tolerating posers and develop real skill sets. As law enforcement officers we need to strive to be more team-like, and definitely use more teamwork in our day-to-day operations. Leave infomercials where they belong and focus on accomplishing the mission by using true teamwork and becoming a better team player.
Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office. He has 24 years of law enforcement experience, is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, and has been a lifelong student of martial arts.