Paving the Path to Truth

Andrew Price and Lisa Chafin’s breakout session, “Building the Perfect Investigations Team to Find, Eliminate and Remediate Misconduct” kicked off with a two-minute therapy session. Price requested that those in the room turn to their neighbor and share a few pain points they’ve encountered when working on an investigative team. As the room grew louder and as voices grew more animated, Price commented, “It sounds like we’ve got a lot of pain in this room.”

After hearing some of the points — unclear objectives, misaligned priorities, personal conflict — Price, J.D. and Senior Counsel at Google Inc. and Chafin, Financial Investigations Manager, Internal Audit at Google Inc. outlined five key elements of an effective cross-functional investigations team.

Psychological Safety
The most important element of any investigations team is psychological safety. In other words, can team members take a risk without the fear of embarrassment or rejection? Chafin walked through three methods for building an environment of trust and mutual respect.

  1. Acknowledge stress. Right before walking into a difficult interview, Chafin’s boss pulled her aside to say, “Hey, Lisa, I know this is going to be hard, but you got this.” This immediately relieved her stress and gave her the boost of confidence she needed to tackle the interview.  
  2. Brainstorm. She said that most teams do this already, but she suggested embracing this practice for what it is. She also pointed out that leaders should be aware of how much they’re contributing and possibly hold back suggestions so that the rest of the team doesn’t automatically default to those opinions.
  3. Continuously gather real-time feedback. “It’s okay to take a risk as long as you learn from it,” Chafin said. Teams should constantly ask for feedback, in both informal and formal ways. It’s hard to make time for this when teams need to move on to the next investigation, but this task is vital because it allows teams to constantly improve.

The key part of building up dependability among various members of the team is to ensure an alignment of objectives. For example, create one lofty objective like, “We want efficient and effective investigations.” Then develop three to five tangible results for each objective. Key results might be:

  1. Average case closes in less than one month.
  2. Assignment of the investigation team happens in 24 hours.
  3. Work plan established within three days.

Structure and Clarity
In order to maximize structure and clarity, teams should ensure that objectives, execution plans and roles are clearly defined. Once they’re defined, each part of the team should agree on them. Agreement is necessary before the structure can be implemented. It won’t work if, for example, the ethics and compliance part of the team has one set of objectives while the HR department has a completely different set.

Meaning is difficult to create if it doesn’t already exist on an individual level. Leaders should look for people who understand that investigations teams are the unsung heroes in a corporate context. “If you find individual inspiration in keeping your company safe and in removing those individuals who could potentially destroy your company’s culture, that’s really where the meaning comes from,” Price advised. It’s a leader’s role to appreciate and optimize an individual’s sense of meaning.

The last element for an effective investigations team is impact — do our team members believe that their work matters and creates change within the organization? The way to do this is to emphasize the importance of the internal investigations team for a company. All employees should believe that the company does not tolerate unethical conduct, and employees should believe that the company quickly and appropriately responds to instances of misconduct.

By creating such a culture within the company as a whole, the investigations team feels as if their work contributes a real and lasting effect upon the company.