The Army Officer NCO Relationship: What You Should Know

In today’s post, I’d like to discuss the Army Officer NCO Relationship. My goal is to help you develop a harmonious and EFFECTIVE relationship with your officer or NCO counterpart, so you can get the job done (and have fun doing it)!

The best way to begin this topic is to clearly define the role of the NCO and the role of the Army Officer. In most cases, the primary reason an Army Officer NCO Relationship does not work properly is because one or both of the parties involved do not clearly understand their role. As a result, they micro-manage or interfere with the other person.

So, let’s take a few moments to discuss the role of both parties, so there is no confusion.

officer nco relationship

The Role of the Officer

First off, if you are an officer, the following things should be your top priorities and consume MOST of your time:

  • Collective Training
  • Mission Planning & Planning Future Training
  • Writing OPORD’s, Risk Assessments, and MDMP/TLP
  • Developing Your Subordinate Officers
  • Establishing Policies and Procedures
  • Leading Meetings

*** The other 10% of your time is for putting out fires. Remember this one key point: Your primary job is FUTURE OPERATIONS. You are the planner and strategist!

If there is ever an ISSUE about ANYTHING that is in the FUTURE: 30, 60, 90, or 120 days (or more) out, it’s your lane. You are the captain of the ship. You pick the destination, but you are not the one rowing!

The Role of the NCO

If you are a NCO, these should be your priorities.

  • Individual Training
  • Soldier Morale and Discipline
  • Health & Welfare of Soldiers
  • Mentoring and Developing Soldiers
  • EXECUTING Missions
  • Handling Day to Day Operations

*** The other 10% of your time is for putting out fires. Remember this one key point: Your job is CURRENT OPERATIONS. You are the doer!

You are where the rubber meets the road. You turn your officers plan into reality by supervising and supporting the Soldiers who do the work and execute the mission.

An NCO has the role of a teacher and a personal leader. The NCO has direct participation with the squad at the most basic levels. NCOs ensure that their soldiers are trained, and equipped to be always ready to accomplish a mission when called upon. The NCOs are enlisted as privates and take several years attending a number of schools before they can become leaders. NCOs are basically trainers and may occupy positions such as the Army Drill Sergeant, while officers may occupy different professional careers such as an accountant, a medical doctor or a Judge Advocate General (JAG) attorney. ~ NCO Guide

Summing It Up

Remember this, officers plan and NCOs execute. That is the easiest way to explain the difference in responsibilities between an officer and NCO. From a National Guard or Army Reserve perspective, officers should focus on the next 30, 60, 90 and 120-days out. On the other hand, NCOs should execute those plans and handle the tasks at hand TODAY. Does that make sense?

If you are an NCO spending most of your time planning, you’re not doing your job (neither is your officer). On the other hand, if you are an officer spending most of your time executing tasks, you’re not doing your job, in most cases (neither is your NCO).

Of course, there will be times when something is in a “gray area” and you are not sure who is responsible for the task. When that happens, the two of you should have short conversation and figure out who is responsible to fix it. The bottom line is to know your LANE and stay in your LANE. This makes life easier for both parties (and your Soldiers).

My Advice to You

My advice to you is to have a conversation with your NCO or officer counterpart. If needed, print off this page and review it together! Spend some time and clearly DEFINE who is responsible for what. Write everything that you do down on a butcher block or dry erase board, and then put one of your names next to each task. That way, whenever something comes up, you know who is responsible for it.

Without a doubt the biggest reason the Officer NCO Relationship goes bad is because of undefined roles and expectations on both the officer and NCO’s part. Now, you don’t have an excuse to let that happen!

reasons for bad military professional relationship

Tips to Improve Your Officer NCO Relationship

In the paragraphs below, I’d like to share seven tips to improve your Army Officer NCO Relationship. If your relationship with your counterpart isn’t what it should be, or if you simply want to take it to the next level to maximize your performance, I would suggest these simple tips. Keep in mind these tips apply to both officers and NCOs.

# 1: Conduct Your Counseling

As the officer, you should always conduct your required written counseling with your NCO. This includes the initial counseling, quarterly counseling, event-oriented counseling, promotion counseling, etc. Sit down with your NCO on day one and tell them your expectations. Put everything in writing and show them that you are a professional and care about their success.

# 2: Know Your Role & Stay in Your Lane

From the beginning of the rating period the officer and NCO should sit down and determine who is responsible for what. The easiest way to do this is to take out a dry erase board and list everything your section is responsible for. After you do that, assign tasks that the officer is responsible for and tasks the NCO is responsible for. That way whenever something happens, you know which person is responsible for doing that task. Once you do this exercise, make sure that you stay in your lane and don’t try to do your boss’s (or subordinate’s) job for them.

# 3: Be Good at Your Job

Take pride in what you do and always do your best. When you are good at what you do, your boss won’t have to worry about you won’t have to worry about your subordinates either. This means you need to be reliable, do what you say, and be technically and tactically proficient.

# 4: Treat Each Other with Mutual Respect

You must treat each other with mutual respect. Even if you don’t like each other, you should treat each other well. If nothing else, respect the rank and duty position, even if you do not respect the individual as a person. Keep in mind, all relationships are founded on mutual respect.

# 5: Keep the “Mission” as the Top Priority

Always keep the mission as the # 1 priority. Put your personality differences aside if needed and focus on mission accomplishment. When you do that, you have a common purpose. The unit, the Soldiers, and the mission are always the most important thing. Your needs and interests come second.

# 6: Maintain Open & Honest Communication

Both the officer and NCO need to be able to communicate with each other openly and honestly. There should be two way communication. The officer needs to provide honest feedback and needs to know how to listen to her NCO. The same holds true for the NCO. If the NCO has a problem, they should be able to address their officer without fear of reprimand. The day the two of you stop communicating with each other is the day you lose your leadership effectiveness.

# 7: Be Supportive & Loyal to Each Other

As a team, you should be loyal to each other. That means you support each person’s decisions, even when you don’t agree with them. It also means that you don’t talk bad about each other. If you have a problem with the other person, you talk to them about it and no one else. And most importantly, you are ALWAYS unified when in front of your Soldiers.

Fixing a Bad or Broken Officer NCO Relationship

What I’d like to do in the following paragraphs is share a few of my best tips on how to fix your broken or dysfunctional Officer NCO Relationship. If you relationship is in shambles, these are the tips for you.

Advice for Officers

If you are an officer, and you can’t seem to mesh with your NCO counterpart, here is what I recommend you do.

# 1: Look Yourself in the Mirror

The first thing you should do is look yourself in the mirror. I know we never think that WE are the problem, but sometimes we are. Ask yourself if you’re letting your NCO do their job. Ask yourself if you are being a good boss. Ask yourself if you are easy to work with or if you are a jerk. Ask yourself if you are staying in your lane and doing your job. If you find anything you could improve, apologize and fix it ASAP.

# 2: Conduct Your Initial Counseling in Writing

I know, you’ve heard it before. Do your initial counseling in writing. The truth is, I could visit just about ANY unit in the Army (Active-Duty or Reserves) and I would be willing to bet that at least 90% of the officers have not done their initial counseling with their NCO in writing. If you haven’t done it, do it now. You owe it to your NCO to do this. This sets the standards and gives you documentation to fall back on if you need it.

# 3: Have Heart-to-Heart Talk with Your Counterpart

In most cases, the Officer NCO relationship doesn’t work right because of poor communication, personality differences, or unclear boundaries. One of the most important things you can do is have a heart-to-heart talk with your NCO. Let them know that you want a great working relationship with them. Let them know that you want to get along with them. Let them know that you respect them. Let them know that you care about the unit. If you’ve made any past mistakes, admit you were wrong and apologize. Start fresh and identify/resolve any issues that need to be fixed.

# 4: Establish Boundaries & Lanes

This should happen naturally if you’ve done your written counseling and had a heart-to-heart talk with your counterpart. Make a list of everything that the two of you do regularly, and assign lanes. Determine who will be responsible for what and who will be accountable for what. This can eliminate at least 90% of future problems. Each person should know their lane and stay in their lane.

# 5: Put Yourself In Their Shoes

Take a minute or two and put yourself in your NCO’s shoes. What would you do in the same situation? Why do you think they have a problem with you? This will help you think clearly and see things from the other person’s perspective.

# 6: Set Up a Meeting with Your Chain of Command

If none of the first five steps work, have a group meeting with the supervisor and their NCO. Before you ever do this, give your NCO a fair chance to fix the issues you talked about. In most cases, the issues will be resolved well before it gets to this point. If they’re not, get your chain of command together, have some tough conversations, and work things out.

# 7: Relief for Cause

This step should almost ALWAYS be avoided. If you’ve done the other six steps, things should never escalate to this level. However, if you’ve tried everything else, you’ve given your NCO plenty of chances AND you’ve done your counseling in writing, this might be your last resort.

In most cases, you can fix a bad Officer NCO Relationship by talking through your issues, putting your personal differences aside and focusing on the unit, the mission, and your Soldiers.

Advice for NCOs

If you are an NCO, dealing with a difficult officer can be much different and much more challenging, since they outrank you. You must be careful how you address this issue because it could backfire on you if you approach it wrong. That being said, I still think there are some practical things you can do to fix your relationship.

# 1: Evaluate Your Performance Objectively

The first thing you should do is look yourself in the mirror and have an open, honest conversation with yourself. Ask yourself if you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing and not sabotaging your officer. Ask yourself if you are being a good team player. Ask yourself if you are easy to work with or if you are a jerk. Ask yourself if you are staying in your lane and doing your job. If you find anything you could improve, apologize to your supervisor and fix it ASAP.

# 2: Get Advice from a Peer

If you have a trusted peer, ideally outside of your chain of command, ask them for advice. Talk with a peer or superior NCO who has experience in a similar situation. Don’t specifically bad mouth your boss. Just ask them for tips regarding your situation. You might get some great ideas.

# 3: Ask Your Supervisor This Question

Another practical tip that works is to ask your supervisor one of this question:

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate my performance and what can I do to raise that score?

This question works great because you will get constructive feedback you can immediately apply.

# 4: Talk with Your NCO Support Channel

If you’ve done the other three things, you might want to consider talking to superior NCO and/or your senior rater. Tell them of the situation, without saying bad things about your boss. Ask them for any tips or advice on how to improve a broken relationship.

And finally, if none of these things work, you simply need to ride out your time in that duty position, learn from the experience, and grow as a person. In most cases, you won’t be in the job more than 12 to 24-months.

NCOs are instructors and mentors, throughout every level of command, and are responsible for the development of Soldiers and officers alike. Therefore, establishing a good professional relationship with their officers is vital to unit success.

Ask yourself; are you the advisor? Are you communicating the commander’s intent? Are you enforcing the standards? Are you building or burning bridges? Are you training leaders and are you the consummate professional? Does your working relationship feel like an arranged marriage or wedded bliss? Are you part of the process, or part of the problem? ~ Army U Press

army officers are the planners

Last Piece of Advice

Whether you are an officer or NCO, there are three pieces of advice I highly suggest.

First off, don’t badmouth the other person to anyone else. Not only can this come back to haunt you, but it’s unprofessional. If you have an issue with someone, it’s best to talk to them about it privately and sort it out. The Law of Attraction is always working. What you put into the universe you attract back to yourself. Positive attracts and negative repels.

Next, ALWAYS support your counterpart in front of the troops. The two of you need to be unified at all times. If there is an issue, the two of you can address it behind closed doors.

And finally, always put the MISSION and SOLDIERS first. If you do that, you can’t go wrong. You can work through just about any situation or personality conflict if your mission and Soldiers are your top priority.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, these are my best tips for the Army Officer NCO Relationship. None of this is rocket science. Most of these things are easy to do and easy not to do. I hope you will follow the advice in this article and and share the information with your peers and supervisor. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for your service. Hooah!

Disclaimer: I am not giving legal advice nor am I a lawyer or JAG. This is just my own opinion based on my own military experience. This article is for educational purposes only.

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chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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