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The Success of a Team
By Annalee Thomasson
Published: 11/23/2015


I recently attended a retirement party for one of my former Majors. Being the lowest on the ladder as a Detention Officer, I had quite a few supervisors... many of which were at this dinner. Of course it's weird to jump into a room of former supervisors from a job you so enthusiastically left. Some I've kept in touch with; others I've strategically avoided. Some I hope to continue learning from and others I hope could learn a thing or two from me.

Having been away for a while now, I've come to realize that everyone has a lot more to learn than I ever thought. I left this job, even though it was probably the job I've enjoyed most, simply because of the way I - and many others - were treated. Ironically, when I decided to leave, I was in the unit I had wanted to be in the most - working for the Sergeant and Lieutenant I respected the most. But one thing I couldn't get over, was the overall quality of the relationships.

The success of a team relies on the quality of their relationships.

They say that the first impression is everything. New staff would come in with enthusiasm, hopes of accomplishing goals, new ideas - what we called fresh blood. They would quickly be shot down by long time staff who were bored, frustrated, perhaps disappointed in their own placement. And so quickly, what you have there, is a never ending circle of…

I have an idea // That's a terrible idea.
I have dreams of accomplishing... // You'll never do that, don't even bother trying.
I think someone is having a problem, and I'd like to help. // We don't have time for that, ignore it.

The hardest part, was that no matter how hard I tried to stand up for myself, or to help others succeed, it was like I'd get hit even harder. The more I tried, the farther I was knocked down.

A relationship is based on intentional interaction.

From day one, I had a Lieutenant that I just could not please. We didn't see eye-to-eye on anything. We certainly didn't appreciate each other’s strengths, and we were easily irritated with each other’s weaknesses. This went on for about a year. One day, one of my greatest weaknesses at this job had to be highlighted in front of everyone.

Each year when it came time to do the POPAT (Police Officer's Physical Agility Test), I would practice on my own, or with one close friend. I'd pass with time to spare. But when I had to do the same test in front of my squad, I would completely shut down. In the days leading up to my in-service training, I would get sick at the thought of having to do the POPAT in front of everyone. I could break up a fight, calm a detoxing inmate, work with those with mental illness, and handle medical emergencies. But, ask me to pass a test in front of a lot of people? Nope. No way. No how. I just wanted out. I remember when they checked my blood pressure before the test, the trainer said that can't be right, I don't think that's possible. It was that bad, my blood pressure was that high.

A friend of mine, who was one of the Corporal Trainers, was a blessing. He reminded me that I didn't have to start until I was ready. After sitting in the car for a few minutes repeating my street names (which I remember 2.5 years later), I got out of the car, and ran. I was relieved to look to my left, and see him running next to me. He was my Corporal. But he had taken the time to get to know me. I trusted him, and he ran with me straight through the test.

Afterward, walking away trying really hard to avoid my Lieutenant, he caught up with me. He cut me off and said, let's chat. For the first time, he asked me what was wrong. He took the time to learn about my biggest fears, my greatest stresses. He took the time to ask why I feared this test so much, but also what I felt I was good at. He reminded me of all the ways I succeeded at my job and encouraged me to not let one struggle ruin my positivity, and enthusiasm for my work. He even reminded me that I finished all forty push ups - and quickly. Forty push ups that I didn’t even remember doing...

That day was a game changer. He saw me at my worst, and as a good supervisor and teammate would, he stood by me, encouraged me, and helped me reach the next day. From then on, everything was different. I had patience, trust, and an eagerness to work for someone I used to avoid. He began to let me take the lead - he encouraged my ideas, took chances to teach me. He started to pick up on a few of my stress triggers, and would intervene before they became too big to handle. I was encouraged, empowered, and had a great teammate. He learned that I performed better with certain squad members than others. I was the task oriented talker. I became the one they'd call to calm a situation, in efforts to avoid a physical altercation. I went from useless and afraid to useful and valued.

The day I left that job, I couldn't believe I had to leave such a great supervisor. I remember thinking about how far I'd come, and about how we'd developed an ability to work as a team. A Lieutenant whose squad I had begged to transfer from, became a Lieutenant I couldn't imagine leaving. The thing is, we were only two of hundreds. There are far more broken relationships on that team. Far more discouraging supervisors paired with enthusiastic new kids. Far more fears that can, and need, to be overcome.

After making the rounds at the retirement party, I found another of my Lieutenants who has recently been promoted to Captain. He spent quite a while telling me that he intends to do a lot of work on mending the broken relationships on that team. After losing more and more staff with potential, willingness to learn, and enthusiasm for the job, he's realizing that broken relationships lead to broken teams, and broken teams lead to fewer successes. Unfortunately, Law Enforcement is not a career with room for failures. More than any other career, Law Enforcement requires strong relationships, and an ability to understand your teammates, even when their strengths and weaknesses are entirely different from yours.

I learned a lot of things on the job, and I've learned even more since I left. But one thing that remains constant is that I understand the value of a good teammate. And that the success of a team relies on the quality of their relationships. Bad relationships can be changed; not everyone starts off on the right foot. But remember to encourage your teammates. Help them realize their strengths. Help them grow in their weaknesses. The success of a team relies on the quality of their relationships. So, make good ones.

A.C. Thomasson worked as a Detention Officer in North Carolina. Since leaving in 2015, Thomasson has worked in marketing and sales, and is the lead author at The Salt Water Blog. She can be reached at annaleethomasson@gmail.com.


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