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Team Development: More than just numbers
By Jessica Herbert
Published: 11/25/2013

Teamwork b At a simplistic level, the team in your agency may be defined by the shift schedule; however, this does not define the team. Staffing requirements and security policies often define who is on what shift – X number of females, Y number of emergency response team members, Z number of supervisors. While meeting these quotas are important, they do not ensure you will in fact have a safely staffed team.

Over the course of my career, I have been privileged to develop or influence a variety of teams – small and large. Some may believe small teams are easier to organize and develop; however, the actual number is irrelevant. Factors, such as the intended goal or purpose, are important; however, the keys to successful team development (first two stages – forming and norming) are communication and role definition.

As a facilitator in training courses, these key factors can be easily established within a short time frame for the purpose of practical exercises. For these short-term goals, they are delivered in the exercise instructions, any questions are quickly addressed or clarified, and the team develops in order to work through a scenario. Conflicts may not reveal themselves, as the team will only function as a unit for short period of time.

As a leader of multiple teams or larger teams for long-term assignments, the same factors may take months to fully develop, as personnel settle into their roles and work out a structure for the team. The assignment of roles may need to be adjusted, conflicts will arise and require solutions, and the end goal may be lost in the noise of day-to-day activity. Direct communication, either one-on-one or as a group, requires more attention during these events. Conflicts will need to be quickly addressed and solutions implemented for team members to continue toward a goal. Incremental reminders of the end goal and acknowledgement of successes along the way will reinvigorate the team during frustrating moments and focus members on positive aspects.

The transparency of expectations, not just to an individual, but also to all personnel, is essential during this development. Individuals want to know why they were chosen for a team and what their role will be as part of that team. Communicating this basic information – “you were chosen because of your knowledge X subject matter and would like you to be the point of contact for this matter on this squad” (i.e. Training Coordinator) – can easily empower the employee and opens the door for them to be successful team member. If this is not communicated to them, you allow misperceptions to enter the situation – “they just switched me to a different rotation to mess up my schedule” – and this will cause disruption to team members and can derail any progress.

Communication to the entire team about other personnel is equally important. If you tell personnel they are going to the point of contact for a squad on a particular matter, but no one on the squad knows it, clearly this role will not succeed. More importantly, the ability for the personnel to communicate to a large team to explain this role may be hindered by confusion or negativity of other team members.

Each situation will define the best approach of communication – directly to a team, or facilitated by leadership and shared with the individual. Supporting this person in either communication is key for leadership. For direct communication, introduce the new person to the team, provide details about their expertise and define the role to the team. If the situation warrants facilitation, introduce the person and then give them the opportunity to speak to the entire team. This approach is two-fold: 1) provides the individual the opportunity to express their perspective and purpose and 2) educates those on the team on a resource they can reach to for information.

Team development requires individual and group efforts from all personnel involved. For long-term efforts, there will always be disruptions; however, communication at various stages can minimize these disruptions and keep all moving toward the end goal. Communication, both hierarchical and laterally, will enable a team to work together, meet common goals and maintain safe practices. Informal leaders, mentors and coaches will develop within large teams that encourage a strong foundation and bond members. These supportive roles assist the true leadership in communication and expectations.

Corrections.com author, Jessica Herbert, currently works in the private industry. She supports the law enforcement community through education and training as the primary instructor for 3D Professional Training and Consulting and as an adjunct professor for a criminal justice program. She actively mentors women entering and within the workforce for many professions.

Other articles by Herbert:


  1. keatonjefferson on 04/05/2020:

    There is a lot to do if people want to learn how to make use of custom elearning development. But there are many other factors which come into play for the use of it.

  2. booch on 11/28/2013:

    Thank you for sharing your insights into a very demanding field that is always underfunded and understaffed. The techniques offer a thinking of how to develop, motivate, and keep skilled employees. Sincerely, Paul O. Barone

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