Cross-agency collaboration in the federal government has become a prevalent topic, more widely spoken and written about in the recent past than ever before, thanks, in part, to a bigger-than-ever focus on customer experience as a way of thinking within government. Rising customer expectations, advances in technology, and recommendations from government oversight organizations continue to challenge agencies’ efforts to forge partnerships that benefit citizens and customers.
A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that some agencies have forged collaborative relationships that work. Still, that same report noted that “the needed collaboration is not sufficiently widespread.” While everyone agrees that cross-agency efforts can create smoother experience for customers, we have to zoom in on the reasons why the picture of cross-agency collaboration isn’t as it should be. I believe that what is needed may be more fundamental on a human level. Here are three thoughts, from where I sit.
- Know your agency. Before partnering with another agency, it’s important to know your home agency: customer pain points, staff’s appetite for change, policies, resources, operating goals, past performance to goals, and budget restrictions, for example. When you fully understand the nuances of the agency you represent, you’ll be in a better position to find collaborative opportunities with another agency.
- Empowerment. Cross-agency work entails learning about what the employees of other agencies do and/or oversee, and then being empowered to strike up a professional conversation with those employees when an opportunity to work together shows itself. Tenacity rules here: empowerment means committing to working through red tape and sometimes re-starting conversations that may have failed in the past. It sometimes can take years for even the smallest collaborations to take hold. Government communities of interest, public events, and social media are outlets for learning who people are and what they do at other agencies.
- Know the partner agency’s goals. Once you’re ready to work together, it’s vital to make sure that both agencies’ goals match, beyond the overarching goal of doing right by customers. Goals here refer to the quantifiable, measurable performance goals upon which the people behind the collaboration will be evaluated on during their annual reviews. If the minutia doesn’t sync up, then that disconnect can become a tactical roadblock to timely progress, despite best intentions.
Before big picture formal agreements go into serious development, it’s important to zoom in on the nuances of what is needed to create and sustain successful collaborative relationships. Knowing the agency that you represent, being empowered to seek out connections, and understanding the underlying goals of potential cross-agency partners can help all agencies to focus on success—for the customer’s good.