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November 20, 2008
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Dr. Larry F. Jetmore Career Advancement
with Dr. Larry F. Jetmore

Leaderless discussion and community meeting tests

Related articles:
How assessment centers work
Assessment centers, part 2

This is a continuation of a series of articles on how to achieve a high score on police promotional examinations and follows several previous pieces on the “Assessment Center” in which candidates for promotion participate in a series of simulations which resemble what they might be called upon to do in the real world. As has been previously discussed, promotional testing is intended to predict whether (and to what degree) a candidate has the traits to become a successful police supervisor or manager.

In an Assessment Center, candidates are observed and evaluated by subject matter experts while participating in a series of systematic, job-related, real-life situational or simulation exercises. Trained evaluators, called assessors, observe candidates, individually and in groups, performing exercises/scenario's that simulate conditions and situations a police supervisor or manager would encounter in performing the job. The more the exercises reflect performance and behaviors that will be required on the job, the better the ability of the tests to predict later job behavior. It's this attempt to simulate actual working conditions that separates assessment center testing from the academics of written exams and the subjectivity of oral tests.

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Our last article discussed how to achieve a high score when a Supervisor-Subordinate (Employee Conflict) examination is used as part of the Assessment Center testing process. This article deals with two more examinations used in Assessment Centers: the Leaderless Discussion and the Community Meeting.

Remember, in an Assessment Center candidates are provided a schedule and move from one testing situation (exercise) to another throughout the day. Typically, candidates are working on their in-basket test and at some point are required to interrupt working on their in-basket to report to another room for a different testing scenario such as the leaderless discussion and/or the community meeting exam.

The Leaderless Discussion Group Exercise
The objective of this exercise is to assess your reactions and behaviors when you interrelate with a group. In this test you will be instructed to report to a room having the capacity to seat four or more candidates around a table. Also in the room will be “assessors” who will be grading the candidates taking the test. Each candidate is provided with background information on a specific problem-a problem that requires group discussion and decision. The written instructions usually state that the group must elect a spokesperson who will present their consensus to the role player acting the part of the chief of police.

Here’s an example of a typical leaderless discussion:

A major issue facing the Anywhere Police Department is the cost associated with firearms range qualification. Currently, all officers are required to qualify with their service weapon semi-annually. This has resulted in an enormous cost in terms of the equipment and personnel necessary at the police range and patrol time lost in actual range qualification. Discuss methods of reducing this cost while at the same time insuring officers are qualified with their weapons. No one on this committee has been placed in charge. You have forty minutes to prepare a recommendation and make a presentation to the chief of police.

How to Receive a High Score
Leadership, judgment, oral communication, organizational integrity, controlling, and meeting management skills are the dimensions directly relating to this exercise. You need to immediately establish yourself by offering ideas to which the group may respond. The danger in this exercise is being such a good listener that time runs out without your having the opportunity to say anything. Be careful of the “paralysis of analysis.” In other words, don’t spend so much time thinking about what the group is saying that you're left out.

Volunteer right away to be the group “recorder.” Take notes on what everyone says and at the same time become appropriately involved in the discussion. If you're the recorder and no one else is taking notes, then you'll very likely be the person to address the chief in the end. All assessors will then be concentrating on you! Also, suggest that someone in the group keep track of the time and allow five to eight minutes for the final presentation. Both of these tactics will add points to your score for planning, controlling, and meeting management.

The trick is to offer frequent ideas without appearing to have taken over the discussion. Knowing when to talk is as important as what you say (the assessor is looking for the ability to interrelate with people). Manners are important in this exercise so don't interrupt when others are talking. If the meeting gets out of hand, be the one to take quiet, firm control. You might suggest brainstorming by going around the table and having each person offer ideas in ten words or less.

If someone else is vying for the role of spokesperson, suggest that each of you highlight a different part of the group's suggestions. Praise other people at the table by saying, “good idea, Fred,” or “Judy has an interesting concept that I think the group should explore further.” This will give you points for interpersonal sensitivity.

If someone else in the group hasn't said anything, you might say, “John, what do you this about this idea?” This tactic gives you the floor to explain our idea and at the same time puts John in position to speak next.

When giving the groups consensus and recommendations to the chief, be sure to begin with the fact that you represent the committee, not yourself. Oral communication skills are very important here, so this opportunity to your advantage. The same techniques you practiced for your oral board will score mightily in this segment. Smile, make eye contact, and shake hands if appropriate.

The Community Meeting Exercise
In this test you enter room which is empty except for your assessors. One assessor gives you written instructions, which might use a format as illustrated below:

You are a Captain assigned to the patrol division and detailed by Assistant Chief Jack Thomas to attend a meeting of the Hispanic Merchants Association. Assistant Chief Thomas advises you that the meeting was called because members of the association are "outraged" at a series of drive-by shootings which killed several neighborhood youths (rival gang members). They are expecting the Chief of Police and the Mayor. Neither is coming. You are to attend the meeting in their place. You are not to commit any police resources at this meeting. The exercise will begin five minutes after you're handed these instructions and will terminate in forty minutes.

How to Receive a High Score
This exercise tests a full range of dimension criteria. For this reason, it’s an excellent test, but it's used infrequently because of the number of role players required. Shortly after reading the instructions, you will hear a commotion in the hallway outside of the room. The role players (typically four or five of them) acting the parts of business owners, enter the room in an agitated state. The assessors evaluate your handling of the situation and organization of the meeting.

Expect the role players to ask you some of the following questions:
1. Where's the chief?
2. Why are you here?
3. Where's the mayor?
4. What authority do you have?
5. Why can't we have more foot patrols in my neighborhood?
6. Why did it take the police forty minutes to get here when I called about a window shot out in my store?
7. I got a parking ticket for double parking just for a minute while I helped my sick mother into a clinic. How come you people harass honest citizens and ignore gang members dealing drugs?

As you can see, this exercise lends itself to evaluating candidates as they are exposed to a variety of pressure packed situations. Once again, it's very easy in the heat of discussion to forget this is a test! Possible techniques to use for this exercise are:

1. Rearrange the room as soon as you finish reading the instructions. Some assessment centers place a podium in the room with the written instructions for completing the exercise on it. Don't speak to a group from behind the shield of a podium. Set up a table and arrange chairs around it and sit down before the group comes in.

2. When the noisy crowd enters, stand up. Smile and tell the group you're glad they could come. Offer them seats. Diffuse the situation.

3. Before the role players can ask you anything, make an opening statement. Tell them who you are, why you're there (to bring their concerns back to the chief and mayor) and what the limits of your authority are.

4. Explain department policy and procedure, but don't get into an argument with the role players. Remember, this is a test! Show the assessor that you possess organizational integrity and put your organization first in everything.

5. Communication, meetings management, interpersonal sensitivity, judgment, and professionalism are all vital components of this exercise. The techniques used to achieve high scores in oral exams can be used very effectively in the community meeting exercise.

The Leaderless Discussion and the Community Meeting Examinations test a wide range of knowledge, abilities and interpersonal skills, but the primary thing being tested for is verbal and non-verbal communications skills. The more you practice speaking the better you will do on test day.

Be safe out there!

Larry the Jet

About the author

Dr. Larry F. Jetmore, a retired captain of the Hartford (Conn.) Police Department, has authored five books in the field of criminal justice, including The Path of the Warrior. A former police academy and SWAT team commander, he earned his Ph.D. at Union University in Ohio, plus mastera€™s, bachelors and associate degrees in Connecticut. Jetmore directs the criminal justice program at Middlesex College in Middletown, Conn., and is a full-time faculty member. He is also Director of the National Police Testing Services which creates and administers police examinations. His new book, The Path of the Hunter: Entering and Excelling in the Field of Criminal Investigation, is available from Looseleaf. To learn more or to order, visit the Looseleaf Law online catalog or call (800) 647-5547 Contact Larry Jetmore



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