The problems the government faces are now bigger and more complicated than ever before. Just look at the healthcare, immigration, regulation or even the federal pay debate. No longer do problems fit nicely into one agency or department.
Therefore, the need for collaboration is more apparent than ever. But how do you collaborate in a culture that is built on silos and hierarchy? How do you bend the government’s lens to encourage intra-agency collaboration?
Tom Fox, Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that there is no one agency that can solve problems anymore – nowadays, everybody has to work together.
Fox said there are three main trends that are affecting the need for agency collaboration: complexity of problems; resource constraints; and ubiquity of problems.
“The better you can connect dots and figure out how to bring your respective strengths together, the more likely you are to achieve the outcomes you need.”
However, knowing collaboration is key and actually making the move to collaborate are two different situations entirely. Fox notes, though, that it’s worth the time and energy it takes to work together,. “When the problems are complex, when you need an infusion of resources, be it money or people, or there’s a best practice that’s lying out there someplace else, you’re better off collaborating, even if it takes a little longer, it takes a little while to herd the cats, you’re much more likely to achieve your intended impact.”
One way to jumpstart collaboration? Create a mission statement, an agreement that everyone in the group can get behind. “You have to get something in place so that everyone has a clear understanding of the goals, the expectations and the process for getting the work done,” said Fox.
But Fox warns when drafting the mission statement, don’t write it in stone. You must be prepared to move and shift your mission and work in tandem with shifting priorities.
“You must prepared when things don’t work and figure out what are the processes you’re going put in place to get you through that rough patch,” Fox said. “What are the issues that are likely to be sticky, how are we going come to a decision around those sticky issues, if somebody lets us down, how are we going to hold one another accountable around that shared goal that we all face? There’s a way to do this and to do it effectively, but it does take hard work and a lot a times it takes some advanced planning, so that when you face that difficulty you do so in a, in a way that is in keeping with your overall goals.”
Having the whole team on the same page, and working towards the same set of goals is essential, but you also have to be able to trust your teammates to get the work done. “When you’re collaborating, especially with people for the first time, you have to build a foundation of trust,” said Fox. He suggests starting the teamwork process with small, easy-to-achieve goals to help build up the foundation of trust. “One you have that trust in place, then you can tackle the tough stuff.”
In the world of changing priorities, governments have to take steps to work together to achieve the mission. “You don’t want to go down the path of collaboration blindly” said Fox. “You want to do so in the right way, at the right time. Now is that time.”