14 Ways to Create a Positive Squad Culture

“Workplace perks, which have been popular approaches to boosting workplace morale, ‘do not compare to the employee enjoying and feeling engaged in their work.'”   ~Doug Dickerson

Creating a positive squad culture must be at the top of the TBL Leader’s agenda. By frequently asking, “What can I do to enhance and support a positive squad culture?” the TBL Leader is steering the direction his officer’s actions and attitudes will go for not only that shift, but well beyond.

Below are some specific actions that a TBL Leader can take to begin establishing, reengaging, or retaining a positive squad culture. These have been broken down into two categories – Macro and Micro Ideas. Macro are big, overall picture ideas and micro are small specific ideas. Both are necessary to achieving the overall goal of creating a positive squad culture.

MACRO IDEAS – The Big Picture

1. Don’t allow persistent negativity to permeate briefings. Identify issues, address them as a squad, and move on. In paramilitary organizations there is only so much control officers and sergeants have beyond themselves. Focus on your squad’s strengths and always ask what can we do better this shift. Nothing breeds positive squad culture as effectively as success.

2. Know the career goals of the officers on your squad. Continually be looking for ways to develop and promote them within the organization. Goal-specific trainings, temporary duty assignments, and public praise to higher-ups in the chain of command take very little effort on your part, but can yield great results.

3. Stop the gossip. Gossip is a killer within any organization by breeding mistrust and negativity. There will always be problems and frustrations, especially in law enforcement, but when the issue is being fueled by officers that have no way of or intention to solve the problem, then they are gossiping. If your squad has a gossip problem or a specific issue is creating gossip, step in quickly and either bring parties together that can address the issue directly or take the concern higher up the chain of command. Both of these options are moving towards a solution as opposed to just creating a larger contingent of gossipers. Once it is dealt with, it is done.

4. Be authentic with the officers on your squad. Share your values, goals, knowledge, and self on a regular basis. Tell officers about your family, calls you have experienced, mistakes you have made, and successes you have had. Leadership author Michael Hyatt says, “give them the gift of going second.” In other words, by going first you give your officers permission to trust, believe, and follow your leadership and then share themselves with you. As trained observers, it does not take a detective to pick up on a leader that it being guarded or has selfish motives.

5. Set clear expectations with your squad. Develop a framework for officers to work within so it is clear when they are meeting your expectations and know exactly what winning looks like under your leadership. There should be no guessing game when it comes to being successful. After reading this blog, write down 5 traits that define what a “rock star” officer would look like to you and then share that with your squad. If there is a vision you want officers to meet, it cannot be a secret.

6. Do not allow passivity and mediocrity. By allowing those behaviors to survive without consequence you are giving others permission to be that way as well. In the book EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey he writes, “If you as a leader allow people to halfway do their jobs and don’t demand excellence as a prerequisite to keeping their job, you will create a culture of mediocrity. If you allow people to misbehave, under achieve, have a bad attitude, gossip, and generally avoid excellence, please don’t expect to attract and keep great talent. Please don’t expect to have a great culture.” What you inspire, you will create – this works for both positivity and negativity.

7. Have follow through. Just like pitching a baseball, without a good follow through, you have no idea where the ball is going to end up – over the catchers head, in the dirt, or in the batter’s ear. Every action you request or vision you share must be followed up on at regular intervals. Make your expectations known and then allow your officers to use their own ingenuity to accomplish the task or solve the problem. If you never come back to the request and just let it dissipate, your officers will feel like they have wasted their time, effort, and energy. How do you avoid this? Set clear expectations. Check in regularly. Praise progress. Reward results. Share success with your squad and give credit where credit is due.

MICRO IDEAS – The Close-Up Picture

1. Be the first one in the briefing room. Make this your priority, then being on time or even early will become the norm for your officers because you have set the example. Practice what you preach.

2. Set the tone with some good upbeat music prior to the start of briefing. You are in the briefing room early, might as well press play. Imagine walking into a briefing room with some AC/DC “Back in Black” playing or other artist depending on the taste of your squad – wouldn’t you feel more pumped up for the start of a shift? Stop the music just before you are ready to begin and it signifies to those in the room that you are ready to go.

3. Motivate with silent messages. Most briefing rooms have a white board or someplace where a good quote could be posted that speaks of hard work, motivation, success, officer safety, team work, leadership, etc. The best part is that you do not even have to say a word about it; just post it up and leave it for the week. With very little effort you have sent a message to your officers about what you believe. How many times do you think your officers will read it during that time? For example . . .

“What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” ~Stephen Covey

Unless you feel like it, you do not even have to search for the quotes – just follow @tbl_leadership on Twitter for multiple quote ideas each week.

4. Brief with a purpose. Take the time to plan out topics in advance that you would like to discuss with your squad throughout the week or, even better, the month. The key is to not be satisfied with briefings being a 30 minute “bull session” before hitting the road every day. Pulling up the occasional Police One video, while better than nothing, is still a far cry from what can be accomplished with advanced planning and a specific purpose. Obviously, given the fluidity of police work it is important to maintaining flexibility to allow for discussion regarding recent calls, successes, or issues that come up unexpectedly. Always be looking for “teachable” moments you can have with your squad.

5. Have your officers set weekly goals and share them with you. At the beginning of each week, have your officers email you or write down 2 – 3 goals/projects they want to focus that week that are strengths of theirs – making more traffic stops, check subjects, contacting business owners, working a trouble address, spending more time in a particular neighborhood, finding DUIs, etc. It only takes them a couple of minutes, but provides you the invaluable opportunity to support/coach them on those goals/projects throughout the week. By having consistent, on-going interactions with your officers regarding their weekly focus, you are in an excellent position to catch them doing good and making the most of their strengths. It also creates an easy conversation starter by saying something like, “Hey, how is it going in that neighborhood? Anything I can do to help you with that?”

6. Recognize success, winning, and commendations regularly in briefing. Read positive letters from citizens aloud and make them a big deal. Give out handwritten notes when you want to recognize an officer’s hard work, birthday, or support them through a rough time. Brag about an officer when a family member or friend comes on a ride-along. Post pictures up in the briefing room of officers after making a big arrest, demonstrating teamwork, initiative, or showing they are winning based on your definition. Simply put, spend more time catching people doing good rather than focusing on the negatives. Baseball players are All Stars for hitting the ball 3 out of every 10 at bats. A much higher success rate is expected of officers and their lives depend on it. Never talk down about the work done on a daily basis by your officers by using the excuse of “he just did his job.”

7. Identify the leader(s) on your squad. When something needs to change or a new policy implemented, talk to your squad leader(s) first and get them on board. Explain what the change is, how it is going to work, and then why it is important/necessary. The explanation must contain all 3 parts: what, how, and why in order for it to be effective. The squad leader(s) can then work behind the scenes to make the change or transition to the new policy a much smoother one than if it is just thrown out there and officers are told to “follow it or else.”

Inevitably, bad days and negative incidents are going to happen. As stated in last week’s blog, Robert Collier said “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.” By taking the time and making the extra effort to create a positive squad culture, a TBL Leader’s squad will be better prepared to “weather the storm” when those things that are out of your control present themselves. Why are they better prepared??? Because the TBL Leader’s officers believe in them and will do whatever it takes to protect the positive culture the squad has established.

What other ideas do you have for creating a positive squad culture?

Share your ideas and comments with us below or on our Facebook page.

The next blog at Thin Blue Line of Leadership will describe one way to establish a framework for squad expectations without setting quotas or limits . . . Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!


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