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The Federal Coach

Can you collaborate with a million people?

The recent headlines may lead you to believe that health care reform is finished, right?

Wrong! Health-care reform is just beginning.

Nothing changes - no cost controls or expanded coverage - until we implement the law. Based on my count, about a dozen agencies - from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to the Internal Revenue Service - must implement roughly 1,000 pages of law.

Expectations are high, and federal leaders will only succeed if they collaborate effectively - up and down their agencies' chain-of-command, among leaders in other federal agencies, with partners at the state and local level, private-sector insurers, and with 300 million citizens. In reality, the same is true for any government function, from economic recovery to homeland security.

To me, the complex nature of these collaborations is a key reason leadership in the public sector is so challenging. You are working hard to ensure everyone is not only keeping up with the team but also swimming toward a common destination.

Consider for a moment that you are an employee at the Department of Defense, and you are working on a new initiative for our nation's veterans. Within your own agency, there are 720,000 employees. Now, if that's not enough, you'll also need to collaborate with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has 284,000 employees, roughly the same size as Bank of America. But don't stop there, you'll likely be working with state and local governments who are caring for the veterans in their communities, and you'll need to collaborate with organizations such as the VFW, the American Legion and AMVETS, just to name a few.

My point is public-sector collaboration is incredibly complicated given the scale, scope and mission of federal agencies. So, below are a few ideas for federal leaders looking to build relationships and effectively collaborate.

Start with a shared purpose - The very first job in effective collaboration is persuading others at the table that you all share a goal. You have to know what you want to accomplish, and then you'll have to articulate the role you would like others to play. Whether your goal is simple or ambitious, be prepared to give as much as you get.

Alert your friends -- and make new ones - Even if you have the best idea ever conceived, you won't succeed unless you get the relationships right. You have to build trust with stakeholders, be able to accept feedback -- even when it's criticism -- and work toward compromise. Tap into your existing networks, expand them and connect regularly with those people to report progress. To grow your network and communicate with it, think about social media tools that can help you. If you don't know how to use Facebook or GovLoop, find the youngest people in your office. I'll bet you 10 bucks they do.

Don't treat it like a fling-Collaboration requires ongoing attention. A mistake I often see is at the end of a project, relationships wane. Once you've built your networks, take time to nurture and sustain them. That way, they'll be there when you need them again.

Do you have techniques for building relationships and collaborating? Please share your ideas, or ask a question on this topic, by sending an email to fedcoach@ourpublicservice.org, or by writing in the comments section below.

Join me again on Wednesday when I interview Daniel Tangherlini, the Department of Treasury's assistant secretary for management.

By Tom Fox

 |  April 5, 2010; 6:07 AM ET |  Category:  Getting Ahead Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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