Team Literature, Police, and Inner-City Communities

I, like many others, are shaking our heads and going tsk, tsk, tsk over the events occurring throughout our country. Anger is all around us, and the pessimist within me is concerned over the future of our country. However, the positivist within me sees this as an opportunity.

What I would like to do with this blog today is apply elements of team management to the events occurring between the African-American community and the police. I do think this relationship, which is tenuous at best, is indicative of our country as a whole. Liberals are demonizing conservatives, conservatives are demonizing liberals, cops are feeling picked on, and the African-Americans are feeling attacked. It seems like there is a line drawn down the middle of our country and we are choosing up sides.

The first thing we do is try to fix blame. It’s Mr. Obama’s fault. I am amazed that the author that said this described President Obama as Mr. Obama. I think that was on purpose, and very disrespectful. Whether I agree with President Obama or not, he is my President. I will respect his title.

We can blame the cops. We can call them racist, and with the amount of police throughout this country, I would assume there are racist cops, but I can also assume there are racist African-Americans, as well as white people. So trying to fix blame on either cops violence, or black-on-black violence, is counter-productive.

Or what about inflammatory language? There is no accountability for what we put out in social media. We post crazy stuff, thinking there is no ramifications, and then complain because people use language that is hurtful.

During a segment on Good Morning America, several panelists were discussing next steps, as a result of Dallas, and all of the steps began with recognizing what the other is saying. Until we stop talking past each other we will never change. Bottom line, I think there are lessons to be learned from team literature that could help.

There are a plethora of team theorists to choose from, so when I say there are six elements that affect team performance I am giving my opinion. I do believe that Leigh Thompson is correct when describing the context leading to successful teams. It starts with the organizational context. The environment involves policy, infrastructure, and skill needed for teams to thrive. If an organization wants successful teams then a culture must be developed to allow those teams to emerge. Before we an even begin to discuss how change occurs we need to change the context.

I am an older white male. I have spent the summer thinking about what I, as a Christian, should do regarding race in this country. I had a friend tell me one time, “why is it that the only people who complain about racism in the United States is black people?” I am not saying this to put that person down, but I share that to indicate the lack of understanding within certain segments of our community.

I am a white male who lives in the suburbs. I have no idea what it is like being a young black male growing up in the inner city. I have been semi-mugged, but I have never experienced serious violence. I have been in fights before, but never life threatening. So I don’t know what it is like to experience that in school and on a daily basis. I don’t know what it is like to have someone look at me and crossover to the other side of the street because of my color.

As an old person, I have experienced other people’s assumptions. It really irritates mean when someone assumes I drive slow, or I can’t hear, but that is nothing compared to the institutionalized assumptions some people have about African-Americans. So, my conclusions over the summer include to decision that white privilege is a reality. Now what do I do with it? Let me go through the six elements that I think are important to successful teams to describe my conclusions about how team literature can apply to the negative relationship between the police and the African-American community. I know there are many others more qualified to discuss this, but I am a businessman and I think that communities are organizations too, just larger and more diverse.

First, for a team to be successful there needs to be a clear charter, not one that is just handed down by management, but one that has resulted from open dialog and analysis. The open dialog allows for the team to make sure there is a common language within the team that defines the assignment in common language. Seems to me that for racism to be conquered in our nation we need to have the uncomfortable conversations. I have had them in my classes and it is not comfortable for me, but I think it is important.

Second, there needs to be clear metrics. In any organizational situation if one does not know what needs to be done, then nothing gets accomplished. The concept of Management By Objective (MBO), states the best objectives are jointly developed between management and employee. I think this concept can be applied to our communities. The police and the community come together to decide how measurements will be developed and monitored.

Third, the dialog must be continuous, and there must be training. For teams to flourish they need time to develop. This is where organizations often fail. Management doesn’t allow the team to take the time to develop the common language and measurements. Our community needs to see change, but it needs to recognize that change takes time. Often helping people to see short-term gains is a good way to create patience.

Fourth, in organizations expansion of responsibility is a result of good performance. When teams take responsibility and demonstrate good decision-making they are rewarded with an expansion of decision-making freedoms. This would be an interesting concept applied to inner city law enforcement. Hmm, I’m going to have to think about that a bit.

Fifth, for any team to be successful, any employee for that matter, there needs to be rewards. These rewards are critical to the productivity of an organization. So how could that work within a community? If the community team meets is goals, whatever those are they get more money for schools? Health care? I do know that when communities become safer business begins to move into those areas, and people get better jobs. I don’t know what those rewards could be, but the community teams could develop those rewards.

Sixth, remember how I discussed culture above? An open culture, with a foundation of trust, is critical for the advancement of a team. Everything I’ve read about the police and the African-American community tells me the trust between those players is non-existent.

So there you have it. I am tired of the current rhetoric. If we are to rise above the problems facing us collectively, then we need to work at this collectively. I do think it is possible, and we have come a long way, but we have so much farther to go. As a Christian, I do believe it is what we are called to do, among other things.

And that is my thought for the day!

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