Leading Teams to Prevent
Workplace and Community Violence
Late on a Monday afternoon, the phone in Dr. Jim Cawood’s Factor One office rings. On the other end of the line, a human resources (HR) director from a major corporation describes the situation unfolding at the company’s headquarters facility. One of the supervisors is involved in a contentious divorce, and team members suspect a possible addiction to painkillers. His recent erratic moods swings have other employees concerned for their safety.
It’s a typical day for Cawood who has worked in the violence risk assessment and intervention field for more than 30 years. Government agencies and private corporations throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia rely on Cawood’s expertise in evaluating whether an individual may pose a risk of physical harm to others and in intervening, as necessary, to deflect them from a pathway to violence.
Situations as sensitive, and as potentially volatile as the ones Cawood handles every day require a team of experts working together to evaluate, re-evaluate and make up-to-the-minute decisions. The first step is often a conference call which, depending on the situation and the risk level involved, may include professionals from law enforcement, security, HR, legal, mental health and other key stakeholders.
“When you’re working in an interdisciplinary team, it’s important to understand the world your team members operate in,” says Cawood. “My role as a leader and manager is to understand enough about each area so that I can facilitate collaboration and connect all of the parts to get to the right outcome.”
For as long as he can remember, Cawood has always been intrigued with human behavior and what makes people tick. He began his career in law enforcement and then went on to become a security and investigative professional.
Well into his career, with an established practice and a global reputation for his work in violence risk and threat assessment, Cawood recognized the opportunity to further enhance his skills through higher education. So, when his son graduated from high school, he enrolled in a master’s program in forensic psychology. Six months after graduating, and with a new-found appreciation for the mental exercise of being back in school, he began the program to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology at NCU.
“Before I went back to earn my degrees, the science of violence risk was beginning to develop,” explains Cawood. “Although I was interacting with other professionals and publishing in the field, because I didn’t have a recognized educational background in it, I sensed that certain individuals would not be influenced by my opinions.”
“When you’re working in an interdisciplinary team, it’s important to understand the world your team members operate in.”
— Dr. Jim Cawood, NCU Alumni
The NCU experience enabled Cawood to increase his understanding of the psychological concepts and principles behind some of his behavioral analysis and engage in the field at a deeper level. Working in a one-to-one environment, where some of Cawood’s professors were generalists rather than specialists in his particular area, also enhanced his collaboration skills. Talking to them about his perspectives helped Cawood fine-tune the way he communicates to his stakeholders and partners.
“Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that we can only communicate one way, and we fall into a rut,” he reflects. “It was helpful to step back and rethink about how I was going to explain my ideas to an audience with different experiences, and my professors were very receptive to dialogue and exchanging views.”
Understanding the unique perspectives of all his team members and how they are applied is critical. A fundamental knowledge of each discipline, combined with the communication skills he developed at NCU, has better positioned Cawood to translate the concepts and actions he wants his teams to consider.
“I need to be able to understand and articulate a range of concepts to the professionals in the various disciplines that are engaged in a case,” he says. “For example, I need to be able to explain labor, criminal and employment laws and the mechanics of arrests, prosecutions and lawsuits. I have to keep up with what judges are able to do and stay informed about things like the rights of police officers, firefighters and public agency employees.”
“What’s special about collaboration at NCU is that students who know what they want to do and where they want to go, have a unique opportunity to partner with their instructors on a curriculum that is framed around their interests.”
— Dr. Jim Cawood
On the interventional side, Cawood coordinates with psychologists around psychopharmacology and with therapists to help them reevaluate and rethink therapies that are going to be helpful to people of concern. With sufficient understanding of therapeutic interventions, Cawood explains, he can partner with therapy teams to create real solutions to keep situations from escalating.
Protecting the people in the organizations he serves, as well as the broader community, is the ultimate goal of every project. Assessing and interacting with everyone who comes to the table, recognizing their current state of emotional and psychological states, and understanding their readiness to assume a collective responsibility is central to creating a successful partnership and to the ultimate outcome of reduced risk for physical violence.
Despite the complexities of the projects, personalities and teams he works with every day, when Cawood stops to think about collaboration, he is still fascinated about the role it plays in every aspect of our day-to-day lives. “At restaurants, you collaborate with your server to be fed. At the bank, you collaborate with the teller to fund and pay bills,” he explains. “Everything is transactional; there are no boundaries.”
“What’s special about collaboration at NCU is that students who know what they want to do and where they want to go have a unique opportunity to partner with their instructors on a curriculum that is framed around their interests,” concludes Cawood. “That is a rare opportunity, and it’s something to be appreciated.”