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Back to Archives | Back to April 2006 Contents 

How to Implement Shared Leadership

reating a cross-functional steering team can be an effective method of engaging the talents and experience of employees more directly in the decision-making process of an organization. The steering team approach has the potential to solve organizational problems at the same time that it builds a sense of employee ownership. In 2003 the Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Police Department (BAPD) adopted such a strategy when it created the BAPD Leadership Team.

During its three years of operation, the BAPD Leadership Team has made sweeping changes to everything from promotional procedures to disciplinary policy and in the process has had some dramatic effects on officer morale, labor-management relations, and productivity. During a recent work shop, the BAPD Leadership Team summarized some of the barriers, success factors, and guidelines law enforcement agencies should consider for implementation of high involvement strategies of this kind.

Design of the Team
How many members should a steering team have?
The team should be an accurate representation of the various units and functions of the agency and yet small enough to be manageable. Typically, this number should range from 10 to 15 members.

How should members be appointed?
The BAPD system incorporates several methods of appointment to ensure a varied representation. Sixty percent are appointed by either the chief or the police union; 40 percent are elected by their peers. The goal should be diversity in function, knowledge, and demographic representation. Filling more than 40 percent of the positions by election may result in popularity winning out over utility. In addition, consideration should be given to appointing one or two who can fill the devil’s advocate role to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink.

How should the team be led?
The chief should not sit on the team directly, as this may unduly sway the group or give it the appearance of a rubber stamp committee. A dual-chairman arrangement involving one senior manager and one per son selected by the police union seems to work well.

How long should members serve?
The BAPD Leadership Team felt that two years was about the right length of time for members to serve. At one year, the group is only beginning to reach its optimal functionality. But terms longer than two years may result in the development of embedded interests, the isolation of the group, and member burnout. Regular, orderly rotation of members will revitalize the team and offer opportunity for others at the same time as it rolls out a new generation of organizational leaders' selection?

Certainly, knowledge and experience (three to five years with agency) are important, but traits such as honesty, positive attitude, and motivation may be more important attributes of effective team members. In addition, members should already have the respect of their peers, since individual credibility will enhance team credibility.

How should decisions be made?
Ultimately, the decision process should be determined by the team itself. The BAPD Leadership Team settled on a two-thirds # majority vote for all decisions, setting these guidelines in policy.

What should the chief's role be?
In Broken Arrow, the chief has no direct role in the team other than control of the agenda. This arrangement helps establish the team's legitimacy as an independent decision-making body. But the chief plays a vital role in supporting the team, facilitating its decisions, providing motivation, and managing its interactions across organizational boundaries. In some cases, the chief plays a moderating role when the enthusiasm of team members may cause them to set unrealistic standards or expectations. The BAPD Leadership Team endorsed the chief’s strategic role in defining agency values, goals, and resource management.

What should be the role of the team chairperson?
It is important that the chairman or co chairmen act primarily as facilitators and not dictators. They should be adept at recognizing strengths and weaknesses of team members, encouraging participation, and keeping the group on task. Balance is the key, as both leader and facilitator and between administration and union interests.

What is the role of team members?
Team members are first and foremost representatives of their coworkers. They must communicate in team meetings and then report back to their peers. They must participate actively. For this reason, BAPD Leader ship Team policy provides for removal of members who fail to participative, who are disruptive, or whose behavior is detrimental to the team.

Tasks and Meetings
What issues are appropriate for team consideration?
Generally, all policies, procedures, training, equipment, awards, or problems identified by any member of the department, and referred by the chief (the agenda setter), are appropriate subjects for team intervention. Individual personnel matters, however, are not appropriate, because employees are entitled to privacy in these matters. It is natural that the most fundamental and important issues will be tackled by the first steering team the agency forms.
Subsequent teams will have more routine matters to deal with. Therefore, it is important that the role of the team be institutionalized in policy and practice. Eventually, new issues and change initiatives will emerge that will breath new life into the teams mission.

How often should the team meet?
In Broken Arrow, the team meets three times a month, and meetings generally do not exceed two hours. The agenda is made available to the entire department before every meeting, and minutes are published afterward. Frequent meetings are important at the outset to help the team get into a rhythm, form relationships among members, and forge progress on projects.

Should the meetings be open or closed to non-members?
At least one meeting per month should be open to all department members for observation purposes. Privacy is important to conduct frank discussion on some times emotional issues, but too much closed-door business can create suspicion and separation from the rest of the organization. Middle managers in particular should be encouraged to participate in meetings whenever possible in order to take their critical perspective into consideration and to avoid alienating this group. When issues directly affect specific units of the department, members of these units should be included in the discussion and offered voting representation. Ad hoc committees of subject experts can also serve this function.

How important is team training to overall success? What type of training should this be?
Training is an essential component of any high-involvement human resource strategy. The BAPD Leadership Team reported that the early training they received in group dynamics, communications, problem solving, creative thinking, decision making, and conflict resolution was critical to their success. They found adult-based and problem-based learning modules to be particularly effective methods of instruction. For instance, one important facet of the first training session was the opportunity for the team to develop its own vision, mission, and policies. This served to define the group identity and forge common values. In the words of one member, "We entered the training as a group and emerged as a team.

Looking to the Future
The Broken Arrow Police Department Leadership Team is an ongoing experiment in empowerment. Currently, the second generation of the team is in progress due to a scheduled turnover of a significant number of original members. This new group appears to be picking up where the first team left off and is conducting what has now become business as usual.

A recent spin-off of the project has been the formation of semiautonomous work groups at the unit level that are still loosely connected to the BAPD Leadership Team. This may lead to a sort of webbed organization with concentric rings of autonomy emanating from the BAPD Leadership Team.

There is tremendous potential for various levels and degrees of employee involvement. A steering team approach seems to work well for the BAPD. Regardless, it seems evident that empowerment does indeed have a place in police organizations.

For more information on the Broken Arrow Leadership Team please write to Chief Todd Wuestewald at , or Dr. Brigitte Steinheider at (



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 4, April 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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