- Background and Site Description
- Site Strengths and Challenges
- Assistance Provided by the Project
In FY1998, Gallatin County was awarded a Drug Court Planning Grant by the Office of Justice Programs, Drug Courts Program Office (DCPO). Throughout 1998, a group of stakeholders, including the two District Court judges, the Gallatin County Attorney, treatment providers, police officers, Department of Corrections staff members, city commissioners from Bozeman, and county commissioners, developed a plan to implement a drug court in the county. Approximately halfway through the planning process, DCPO notified the planning team that implementation funding would not be made available in FY1999. In order to sustain their collaborative effort to establish a drug court in the county, the planning team approached the Gallatin County Commission for funding to establish a Treatment Court Pilot Program until the necessary implementation funding could be secured. With assistance and support from state, county, and private entities, the County Commission allocated $40,813 to support the Treatment Court Pilot Program in FY1999. The pilot was initiated on October 1, 1999. In October 2000, the Gallatin County Commission was awarded a Drug Court Implementation Grant.
Since its inception, the responsibilities associated with the operation of the Treatment Court have been shared by an evolving multi–disciplinary team of stakeholders, including: a Court Coordinator, the two District Court judges, a Deputy County Attorney, members of the local defense bar, a probation/parole officer, and several mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.
In their application to participate in the project, the Treatment Court Team indicated that:
We have transitioned from the original team members to the current team, and have experienced a good deal of turnover, especially in the Case Manager positions. Some of this turnover has to do with stress; the team’s dynamics create a good deal of this stress…The opportunity to commit the time to meet as a team to focus on team issues, particularly with an outside facilitator, will address an unmet need that has existed from the beginning. The original team had to expend a number of hours discussing and learning its members’ roles and how it all fit together. However, for those of us who followed in their footsteps, we have merely stepped into formation and carried on without the benefit of our predecessors’ knowledge and experience.
Input from the team members, as well as observations and a “collaboration assessment” conducted by Collaboration Project staff, confirmed the needs outlined in the application and revealed many strengths as well as several additional problems and challenges facing the team.
The assessment revealed that the team possessed many strengths. These assets were identified early in the project and used by project staff as a foundation upon which to improve the team’s collaborative work. These strengths and assets included:
Commitment and Investment:
Every team member was fully committed to and invested in the Treatment Court Program.
The team members described all of their colleagues who are involved in the program as highly competent and substantively skilled in their work.
Breadth of the Team’s Membership:
The key disciplines and agencies that are affected by the program were represented appropriately on the team.
Desire to Improve:
Each person interviewed articulated a strong desire to improve and strengthen the team’s collaborative effort.
However, the assessment also revealed the following challenges:
Ground Rules and Operating Norms:
The team did not have clear ground rules or operating norms to govern individual discussions between team members, team meetings, and its collaborative work. As a result, several team members indicated that discussions and meetings were often characterized by frequent interruptions and attempts on the part of some members to dominate the discussion.
Values, Vision, and Mission:
Although the team developed a mission statement when the program was initiated, none of the individuals interviewed could recall it; others did not even know that it had been developed and recorded several years ago. The team members also indicated that they had never discussed the values they bring to the team. Their responses, when asked to articulate their vision of the Treatment Court, also differed significantly.
“Critical Path” Goals and Work Tasks:
A number of the team members indicated that the Treatment Court Team lacked clearly stated “critical path” goals and work tasks that support a compelling mission statement. Although the team had a number of written goals, most members either did not know what they were or were not aware of their existence.
Team Member Roles and Responsibilities:
There was a significant lack of clarity among the team members about their own and their colleagues’ process–related and substantive roles and responsibilities.
There were significant leadership issues on the team. The following responses were provided by four team members when asked about where (from whom) the team derived its leadership:
- “The team has no leader. We are a ship adrift at sea.”
- “The judges are the leaders of the team.”
- “One judge is a leader of the team.”
- “The Court Coordinator is the leader of the team.”
At the outset of the project, members of the team appeared to lack a sense of camaraderie, despite having had the opportunity to work closely together for some time. This seemed to impede the team’s ability to work effectively.
There were several problems and challenges related to meeting management:
- Lack of Purposeful Monthly Meeting Agendas – The content of different monthly meeting agendas seemed to be very similar (i.e., in many cases, only the date seemed to have been changed). In addition, agenda items did not seem to be directly related to the team’s vision, mission, and goals.
- Documentation Problems – Meeting records were not routinely prepared and circulated to team members.
- No Outside Facilitation – Meetings were managed by the Court Coordinator and did not have the benefit of a neutral facilitator who could tend to group process, enabling all members to participate in, rather than manage, the meetings.
Additionally, the team also identified a number of substantive problems and systemic challenges in addition to their collaboration issues that needed to be addressed.
Technical assistance included three site visits as well as participation in a three–day national collaboration workshop. The first visit included lengthy, individual interviews with most of the team members, and observations of the team’s weekly case conferencing meeting and treatment court session. Individual interviews allowed team members to express concerns that had not been outwardly expressed in ongoing team meetings or interactions between team members, and provided insights to Collaboration Project staff that could not have been gained through observation alone.
The collaboration workshop occurred shortly after the first site visit. Eight of the twelve members of the Treatment Court Team participated in the workshop. The workshop event proved to be very important to the team because it provided team members with an opportunity to examine and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their collaborative, and begin to develop strategies to improve their work together.
During the project workshop, team members:
- Developed ground rules and operating norms to guide their work together;
- Discussed the core values which underlie and support the work that they do, and created a shared values statement;
- Defined a lofty, compelling vision for their Treatment Court Program;
- Created a time–specific mission to focus their efforts;
- Began to clarify the roles and responsibilities of several individuals; and
- Initiated a conversation about a variety of difficult interpersonal issues that were impeding their progress.
One important idea that emerged for the team through their work at the workshop was the need to improve their substantive knowledge of the interventions supported by the Court (mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and community supervision). The team recognized that all members were not fully informed of the underlying principles and operational practices within each discipline and that this limited their ability to work together to make good decisions. They also recognized the need to increase support for their work among their community and related professionals, and they recognized education and outreach as essential components of the Treatment Court Program.
The final two visits were conducted in “retreat” settings. Both retreats were conducted over one and a half–day periods. The first retreat was heavily structured with a detailed agenda designed to introduce team members to specific activities and ways of working together. The second retreat was structured around a list of “proposed topics and issues.” Both retreats were considered successful by participants and provided the team members with opportunities to:
- Continue the efforts that were initiated at the project workshop to examine and improve on their collaborative, such as affirming value, vision, and mission statements and reviewing ground rules;
- Refine their specific strategies for accomplishing their mission and vision, particularly looking at specific programmatic challenges and whether the program structure contributed to or facilitated the resolution of those challenges;
- Acknowledge and celebrate the successes of the Treatment Court Program;
- Cultivate positive interpersonal relationships to sustain “collaborative spirit” (especially during difficult and challenging times); and
- Consider the future of the Treatment Court Program and how to ensure its sustainability.
The team built a strong foundation upon which to build their work (through the development of ground rules, value statement, vision statement, and a revised mission) that helped to guide the team as they continued to do their work together.
In addition to these products, one of the most important accomplishments occurred in the area of improving interpersonal relationships. Beginning at the workshop, and throughout the remainder of the project, the team conducted periodic check–ins about how they were feeling about their own work on the team and the work of their colleagues. The discussions that occurred during these check–ins were always very lively and productive, and accomplished a number of important things:
- They gave members of the team opportunities and permission to put a number of interpersonal issues and concerns on the table that had obviously been causing them significant frustration for some time.
- The team members recognized during these check–ins that interpersonal issues and concerns exist between and among many different team members (not just those who spoke up during the check–ins), and that these must be addressed in an ongoing, productive, and collaborative fashion by the entire team, or the team could not move effectively forward in its work.
- They highlighted the importance of values and vision not only in the team members’ work with the program participants, but also in their work with one another. More specifically, they served as a reminder that even if two team members disagree vehemently, they can—and must—maintain the highest levels of respect for one another.
- They always served as a strong reminder of the team members’ collective investment in and commitment to the Gallatin County Treatment Court Program.
In addition to finding a positive way to address interpersonal issues and discovering the value that was added to their work through their attention to these concerns, the team achieved the following:
- A more narrowly defined set of measurable, short–term goals that were used to assess the progress of the team over short periods of time (weeks and months) and that were revised over time as necessary. During the two retreats, specific goals that were necessary for the achievement of the team’s mission were articulated. Team members were assigned to specific tasks (which, in many cases, had “due dates”) related to these goals. After the work planning session at the second retreat, one team member indicated that he felt as though “more had been accomplished during the session than in the previous couple of years.”
- Acknowledgement by all of the team members that it was important to spend time on a regular basis “celebrating” their recent successes. After starting each retreat with a discussion of what was going particularly well, the team members began to spend a little time at their regular meetings reflecting on their recent successes.
- Recognition of the importance of ongoing communication outside
the team’s regularly scheduled meetings. Several steps were
taken by the team members to enhance their communication (and thereby
improve their collaborative work) during the project.
- The Treatment Court office was moved to a location closer to the District Court. This increased the visibility of the program and made it much easier for the Court Coordinator to work “face–to–face” with the other members of the team.
- A number of the members of the team set up times to meet with one another individually on a regular basis.
- The Court Coordinator began circulating on a regular basis a Treatment Court Program Calendar that included: important program dates (like graduations), changes in court times or dates, all team meetings, and team members’ personal schedules (including vacations).
- Members agreed to make better use of email as an effective way to communicate consistently with one another.
The team members came to realize that they benefited personally and professionally by making an effort to communicate with one another as frequently as possible.
- A revised approach to convening and managing meetings and other events related to the Treatment Court Programs. A number of significant changes were made in the management of the team’s meetings. A permanent meeting time and location were established to avoid scheduling conflicts; agendas were developed and circulated prior to meetings; and meeting records (which were action–oriented) were used to begin to develop a written record of the team’s work. The team also agreed to permanently change the time of its graduation reviews in order to better accommodate the members’ extremely busy schedules.
It is a testament to the team’s solidified commitment to the importance of collaboration and belief in “process” that they have placed their values and vision statement on a large poster board, which is posted prominently in the District Courtroom during Treatment Court sessions. It serves both the team and the court program’s participants to know that they are part of a larger vision for a strong and healthy community. The activities which led to the creation of their many products—the listing of their deeply held values, the articulation of a shared vision for the future, the setting aside of time to talk about relationships – —demonstrated to the team members how the process can lead to substantive improvements, and a greater resilience in the face of the inevitable challenges facing many justice–related programs, from personnel changes, to funding shortages, to lack of community services that support justice system efforts. Despite facing a number of the obstacles, both at the outset of the project and during the team’s project participation, there is no question that the team and the Drug Court Program are stronger than ever before.