How Does The Chain of Command Management System Affect Investigator Skills?

Most investigative agencies use a management structure called the Chain of Command. This system, borrowed from the military, places a supervisor over a few personnel, who, in turn, supervise a small group of people who each supervise a small group and so on. The names might differ, but each agency usually has some form of an investigator, team lead, manager, director, and a member of the executive management team.

The Chain of Command system has many benefits. It reduces the points of contact to a relatively small number of people and acts as a force multiplier by having several people available to supervise and communicate with their team. While the benefits of this system merit its continued use, there is one downside to this structure.

As you move down the chain of command towards the front-line personnel, these people start to become more and more separated from the unit as a whole. This situation results in a front-line investigator having regular contact with their supervisor, but not with anyone else. This isolation creates an unintended consequence that affects the investigator through an inefficiency referred to as siloing.

Siloing happens when the investigator spends most of their time working on their own product while having limited communication with the rest of their unit. While this structure streamlines personnel management, it also prevents investigators from interacting with other team members.

I have a group of talented investigators in my division. Since our agency is not an entry-level investigative job, our investigators have many years of experience. Many of them are retired from local, state, and federal careers. Putting each investigator in a silo means that all the talent and experience that each person brings will remain with them and never spread out to the rest of the unit.

I liken this to having a bunch of individuals trying to solve the same problem on their own, never knowing how other talented investigators are addressing the same issue. This phenomenon creates an inefficiency where each person is “inventing the wheel” instead of having a group of skilled workers collaborating and building a single wheel.

For this reason, leaders of investigative units should work hard to facilitate collaboration among investigators. This can cause an exponential improvement in your unit’s skill set and help produce a more consistent product. I’ve learned most of the fires that come up with a case have already occurred with another case. This lesson taught me that a bit of collaboration and communication could help keep fires contained to one incident per problem instead of having to put the same fire out over and over again.

The Chain of Command system is a brilliant way to manage an investigative unit, but it comes with some baggage that leaders must learn to manage. I recommend promoting a solid Chain of Command structure but also making sure to take advantage of your unit’s experience and skills by paying attention to the following:

  1. Create a culture of cross-pollination by having investigators present their knowledge to other investigators. For example, I have an ex-DEA agent who specializes in financial crimes present on financial cases while having an ex-District Attorney investigator present on writing robust reports that will stand up in court.
  2. Make case information available to the entire team. For example, each of our investigators can access the case information from other investigators (with read-only access). Access to similar cases will help them better structure their investigative strategy. The result is a dramatic decrease in investigation times.
  3. When you assign a case to an investigator, put them in contact with other investigators who are either working the same type of case or who are subject matter experts in that type of case. I have never met an investigator who did not appreciate having someone to assist and answer questions about their case, provide resources, or share helpful contact information.
  4. Don’t be afraid to rotate staff regularly. Make changes to teams, have more than one investigator assigned to more complex investigations, and have investigators present successful (or lesson learning) cases to the other investigators.
  5. Bring your team together in a way that is meaningful but does not waste their time. In my division, when an investigator finishes their investigation, they must prepare a draft report. Next, they have to meet with me and their manager to present the case before the report review process begins. We usually have three or four investigators present their investigations in each of these meetings, so it’s a good time for investigators to learn what other people are doing and what management’s expectations are for each investigation type. This practice always spawns meaningful discussion that leaves everyone enriched.

The Chain of Command management system serves investigative units well, and I have never considered moving away from it. However, we should recognize that it creates a siloing effect that can weaken our unit’s expertise and efficiency. You can enjoy both the effective structure provided by a Chain of Command system while having each of your investigators act as a force multiplier for your unit’s capabilities. Please take a few steps to bring staff together by presenting and conversing about their work experience and product.

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