Whether you are a brand new law enforcement leader or one that has been around awhile, you must recognize the importance of developing a squad culture. If a squad culture is not developed intentionally, then the leader will be putting him or herself at the mercy of whatever fills that culture vacuum. So, the question becomes, how do you intentionally develop a squad culture?
Before getting into the nuts and bolts of developing a squad culture, there are two things that must be understood. The first thing to understand before developing a squad culture is the definition of culture. The culture of a group can be defined as the conglomeration of a group’s actions and attitudes over time; it’s atmosphere. The second thing to understand in developing a squad culture is that it doesn’t happen in a day, it has to happen every day. It must be taught, explained, reinforced, and made a priority in everything your squad does for it to take hold.
Here are 5 steps for developing a positive squad culture . . .
- Know what is already out there.
Before you can begin to establish your own culture, you have to have an idea of what is already out there within your organization. Study what is and what is not working. Then, seek out the leaders that are having success in developing their squad’s culture and talk to them about it. Save yourself some time and learn from their experience. Also, consider your own past experiences with law enforcement leaders. What did your previous sergeants do that made you feel like your work mattered and you were part of a team? Start isolating traits they had or things they did that helped to support the squad culture either positively or negatively. Sometimes your best learning experiences can come from the worst leaders by defining what you do not want to be or do.
- Identify what is important to you.
Now that you have seen what is out there and thought about past experiences, it is vital to identify what is important to you. What are the top 3 – 5 traits that you would want your squad to be known for – teamwork, officer safety, problem solving, being active, trust, positivity, treating people right, innovative, hardworking, caring about the community, responsive, rewarding, etc. Those are just a few of many words that could be used to describe a positive squad culture. The key is to settle on the ones that you want to make the focus of your squad.
- Visualize yourself in that environment.
After deciding on the 3 – 5 traits that you want your squad to be known for, you must now begin to visualize yourself being in and leading in that environment – see it, feel it, hear it. Start making your own personal actions match those traits you selected. If you chose teamwork, then it is imperative that you exemplify teamwork. Remember the definition of culture, it isn’t this ambiguous thing floating in the sky; it is the consistent actions and attitudes of your squad. Just as officers are told to play the “what if” game while thinking about calls they are responding to, the leader must play the “what if” game with the tough situations they may face as a leader and then look at them through the lens of the culture you desire to create. Ask yourself, how would having a strong, positive squad culture help deal with this? Walk through situations like an officer having a personal issue at home, handling an officer discipline situation, one of your officers involved in an officer-involved shooting, or dealing with a year without pay raises. Do the traits you chose to exemplify your squad’s culture support handling those types of scenarios? If not, refine them until they do.
- Put your culture into words.
Finally, it is time to take the traits you chose and put them into words that your officers can understand and relate to. Help them to understand why it is valuable to have a well-defined culture. As you create the wording to define your culture, keep the following questions in mind: Are they worded in a positive way? Avoid words like never, no, and don’t. Are they simple to understand? The less complicated the better; not because your officers aren’t smart, but because you want your culture to be easy to remember and adaptable to a multitude of situations. The more complicated you make them, the more restrictive they will become. Do they bring value to your officers? If they don’t, then what is the point in the first place? Do they have the potential to motivate and inspire? Ultimately, people decide if they want to be motivated or inspired, but that doesn’t mean your culture can’t be the fuel for motivation and inspiration. Does your culture provide opportunities for feedback? Feedback goes both directions; feedback for you and feedback for your officers. A solid culture is rich in trust which makes feedback able to be given and received without concern about negative ulterior motives.
- Develop a mechanism for reinforcing your culture.
As stated earlier, culture is not made in a day, it is made every day. You must teach your squad to look at every situation though the lens of the culture by talking them through incidents, scenarios, and calls for service with their relationship to the squad culture explained. Develop mechanisms to quickly reward officers when their actions and efforts support and build up the desired culture. (Also see blog: Law Enforcement Recognition: Idea #1) Vice versa, be willing to have the tough conversations when officers do things that do not support the culture. But, first and foremost, to support your desired culture, YOU must exemplify it in everything you do. Without that consistency from you, the leader, the squad will not take the culture seriously and you will run the risk of being labeled a hypocrite.
After going through the 5 steps listed above, you should have a good handle on the concepts you would want to base your own squad’s culture on. If you would like to see the results of me going through this same process, read the blog entitled Culture in Just 4 Words. I purposely chose to make my squad expectations the cornerstone for establishing my squad’s culture. Squad expectations should be about the culture; not policies and procedures. Cops know the policies and procedures through their General Orders. A strong, positive culture will support doing the job the right way without making officers feel like the rules are more important than they are as people.
The mission at Thin Blue Line of Leadership is to inspire law enforcement supervisors to be the best leaders they can be by providing positive leadership tactics and ideas. Positive leadership and creating a positive squad culture are on-going commitments that must be nurtured and developed over time and Thin Blue Line of Leadership is here to help.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have ideas to share or suggestions for improvement. Share your thoughts or comments on this blog below or on our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter at @tbl_leadership.
Continue saving the world one call at a time and as always, LEAD ON!