Why conflict between officers helps the team

In the first part of this series, Conflict resolution, being a team player, and other stupid cliches, we talked about encouraging positive conflict and building trust within a police agency. The feedback you provided was overwhelming! In part two of this article I will talk about why we love a good fight on the street but can't stand conflict in the station, how to distinguish between unproductive personal attacks and true passionate debate, and how using conflict can actually reduce the departmental politics that tend to plague our organizations and often keep us from getting real work done.

Let's face it: cops love a good fight.
Conflict is one of the many reasons we chose careers in law enforcement instead of becoming accountants, engineers, or ministers. But once we get inside the station, into a unit briefing, or even in morning roll call we become wary of conflict, debate, and disagreement. In other words, we don’t like to fight with our co-workers.

This is especially true when we’re in a group that includes personnel of different ranks. We work in a paramilitary atmosphere and it’s generally considered disrespectful to argue or disagree with our supervisors and managers. Unfortunately, many police bosses take advantage of this and create a “kill the messenger” atmosphere. Disagreement is therefore often met with contempt, ridicule, and sometimes even retaliation. As many of you told me in your comments and e-mails, it’s the bosses more than the line personnel that need to understand and appreciate a good, clean fight.

As Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, all great relationships require some form of regular conflict in order to grow. Do you and your spouse or partner agree about everything? Do your kids hang on your every word, constantly nodding in agreement? Does your best friend say “sounds good to me” every time you make a suggestion or comment? I doubt it. However, the higher we go up in the management chain, the more time and energy people spend trying to avoid the kind of passionate debate that is essential to any successful team. Continue reading