Effective Management Consulting

Serving on a Threat Management Team

By Jeffrey Harris, MFT, CEAP


One of the fascinating things about a work organization is that it reflects a microcosm of the larger community from which it draws its workforce. That includes, unfortunately, the occasional individual who demonstrates threatening or aggressive behaviors.

Threats may also come from intimate partner violence involving a non-employee towards one of the company associates. The statistics are startling. According to the National Institute for Industrial and Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):

“The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) estimated the number of nonfatal violent crimes occurring against persons 16 or older while they were at work in 2009 at 572,000.”

With an estimated U.S. workforce of 148 million (Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2015), that averages out to three in every 1,000 employees.

Threat Management Teams
A Threat Management Team (TMT) can assess risk, protect the workforce, and manage an aggressive individual. Ideally, the TMT includes:
* A company executive;
* Internal legal counsel;
* Human Resources;
* Medical/Occupational Health;
* Company or building security, who hopefully have a strong partnership and collaboration with local law enforcement; and
* The Employee Assistance Program.

I have heard these teams referred to as threat assessment teams. I prefer the emphasis on threat management rather than assessment, as it directs the discussion towards “what are we (the TMT) going to do?” rather than “what is he/she (the aggressor) going to do?”

Official Role of the EAP on a TMT
Having the EAP on a threat management team is a good fit, as described in EAPA’s Core Technology, which states that the EAP provides…“Consultation with, training of, and assistance to work organization leadership (managers, supervisors, and union officials) seeking to manage troubled employees, enhance the work environment, and improve employee job performance.”

The EAP’s role on a threat management team might include:
* Consulting on membership selection for the team;
* Consulting on drafting the initial policies and procedures that will guide the team (which are often made available to the general employee population, upon request, to communicate that TMT reviews and recommendations are a fair and just process, free of discrimination or bias);
* Functioning as the primary voice for assessing the interpersonal and behavioral components of a threat assessment, as well as guiding inquiry into behavioral risk factors as well as protective factors. (A wise EA consultant should provide a disclaimer that it is impossible to predict future human behavior, which would otherwise set expectations on the team that the EAP cannot guarantee a certain outcome);
* Promoting a humane and emotionally intelligent response to the alleged aggressor;
* Educating the team on intimate partner violence and the possibility of the aggression impacting the work associate and his/her teammates;
* With proper releases, being able to communicate with healthcare providers who may have a recent evaluation of the employee’s risk factors;
* Supporting other members of the TMT in diplomatically serving to minimize overreaction, fears or biases;
* Facilitating conflict resolution among team members when consensus cannot be found;
* Consulting with others about how to communicate concerns to the employee under review. Those benefiting from this consultation include HR/Employee Relations or the manager of the employee in question;
* Educating the team about how and when to facilitate a referral of the threatening employee to the EAP for support and further assessment of risk; and
* Coordinating the transfer of the employee to a mental health facility for psychiatric observation and containment.

Gelling as a Team
Because a TMT has membership from multiple disciplines, the EA consultant will likely notice that the singular focus or expertise of a represented group may create inherent biases about how the work gets done. The following anomalies have a possibility of surfacing on your TMT:

** Narrow perspective. Participants may display tunnel vision, only able to consider the individual threat case through their core job function. For example, the security representative may be eager to detain an individual; while the HR business partner may want to explore a disciplinary route, including termination; and the legal representative may promote a cautious approach to avoid litigation. 

** Initial forgetfulness to engage all representatives. Until the team unifies, you might find that factions start to proceed down a certain path without the consensus or inclusion of the entire team in decision-making. This is largely benign and is usually resolved after several cases. 

* Eagerness versus reluctance to act quickly. Each team has to find its own level for pacing, as it considers a rushed intervention versus a fastidious inquiry for more information. For some newly forming TMTs, there may be initial reluctance to work through the process methodically, for fear that “something bad might happen while we wait for more investigation or interviews.”

Forming and Conducting a Threat Management Team
To learn more about forming and operating as a team, I recommend a good online primer titled “Taking Threats Seriously: Establishing a Threat Assessment Team and Developing Organizational Procedures,” originally published in the Journal of Safe Management of Disruptive and Assaultive Behavior (JSM), summer 2002.
To read the article, visit this shortened link — http://bit.ly/establishtmt

The author invites readers to network about various effective management consulting topics through his LinkedIn profile, at www.LinkedIn.com/in/JeffHarrisCEAP, and Twitter at www.twitter.com/JeffHarrisCEAP.

Jeffrey Harris, MFT, CPC, CEAP has provided management consulting to a wide variety of organizations throughout his 21-year career in employee assistance, including corporate, government and union organizations. The author also has extensive experience as a manager and executive coach, from which he draws insight for his consulting. Jeff currently serves as a Program Manager of EAP & WorkLife at the University of Southern California.