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How to support your teams

Creating effective teams is as simple as setting objectives, picking compatible people, and offering praise

By Laura Bedard, Ph.D.

Team building can be challenging for any leader, and that challenge is only magnified in an organization with a paramilitary structure. In this article, I’ll focus on several ways to keep your teams running smoothly.

First, why teams?
Teams help organizations achieve goals faster and more efficiently. By forming small groups that collaborate and work towards a common cause, you achieve “buy-in” from staff at all levels. When staff buy in and have a say in the direction of the organization, results are long-lasting.

Staff members attain feelings of importance and involvement by working collaboratively to achieve goals within teams. In this business, that translates to a safer, more secure work environment. Most people want to be part of a successful group. Allowing staff to share input may be one of the most important, and perhaps most difficult, things you can do as a leader.

Being a bit of a control freak (most of us in corrections have this character trait!) can make it a challenge for me to allow others to have input. I remember an employee telling me once, “There are many versions of perfect, Bedard. It doesn’t always have to be yours.” I have thought back on that comment numerous times throughout my career. She was right. We can achieve our goals in a number of different ways, and just because it may not be the way I originally envisioned, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Your role as a leader is multifaceted. It includes being a cheerleader, counselor, devil’s advocate and delegator. Allowing your team to work as independently as possible may be one of the most important things you as leader can contribute to successful team building.

Here are four basic guidelines for helping your teams thrive:

Offer a clear objective
Successful team building includes making sure there is a clear objective for the team. Clearly articulate the reason the team is being established. You can build teams around a range of tasks, including specific policy review, employee morale committee, reviewing inmate discipline, etc.

Select a diverse group
Select a diverse group for your team, and be sure to include members who are willing to participate and put themselves out there. Having one tyrant defeats the purpose of having a team, as does having a group of people who all want to be in charge. Select team members who have complementary talents that will help the team accomplish its goals. If you are unsure about people’s strengths and weaknesses, seek input from their supervisors.

Clearly state goals
Clearly state your team’s objectives and establish a specific timeline for completing them. Realize that their work may take longer to complete than originally anticipated. Be flexible. Sometimes finishing one task brings up another.

Offer praise
Finally, be generous with your praise. Successful team building requires you to be a cheerleader. Praise their work in front of others, and thank them for a job well done. You’d be surprised how much employees appreciate praise!

Building effective teams isn’t miraculous. In fact, it can be rather formulaic. Develop this simple tool with your employees to boost their involvement and job satisfaction, and of course, get more done!

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. During her tenure as administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University, she ran a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy. In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country. Dr. Bedard has published and lectured on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the Chief of Corrections for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Sanford, Florida.