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16 lessons in collaboration, from federal government executives

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New study of 305 federal executives finds almost all now seeking greater collaboration outside their agencies, and even outside government, to meet pressing priorities.

In a new report out of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, Rosemary O’Leary and Catherine Gerard, both professors at Syracuse University, report on the results of a study of 304 federal executives in the US government.

The survey found just about all federal executives (except one respondent) use collaboration as a strategy. This isn't limited to collaboration to groups within their agencies, either -- this consists of collaborating with businesses, academia, state and local governments, and even other national governments.

O’Leary and Gerard cite some exemplary examples:

"One federal executive began a collaboration with the Baltimore City Schools, local universities,
and NASA to increase the number of students entering engineering schools. Another engaged
tribes; federal, county, and state health officials; and school staff to set up vaccination clinics
in tribal territories. A third developed coordinated white-collar crime investigations involving
American, Brazilian, and European federal law enforcement officers."

As part of the report, they gleaned a two sets of recommendations from participants on what makes for successful collaborations. Success tips include the following:

  1. Educate employees about the importance of the strategic use of individual attributes, interpersonal skills, and group process skills while collaborating.
  2. Incentivize and reward collaboration among individuals and organizations.
  3. Embed collaboration in performance evaluation and core competencies.
  4. Reshape management and leadership education to include intensive self-assessment and emotional
    intelligence development.
  5. Train managers at all levels, but particularly senior levels, in the collaborative skills of communication,
    negotiation, facilitation, and interest-based problem-solving.
  6. Address challenges to data sharing and incompatible technologies that block inter- and intra-agency
    collaborative work.
  7. Address structural barriers to interagency work.
  8. Document and share how collaborations are working so that managers can learn from successful
    and unsuccessful experiences.
  9. Understand that the foundation for success in collaboration is common purpose.
  10. Learn interest-based collaborative problem-solving, including collaborative, win-win bargaining, and a process of discussion and give-and-take among individuals who want to find a solution to a common problem.
  11. Don’t be afraid of conflict—expect it.
  12. Build in face-to-face time.
  13. Improvise -- be open to new strategies or approaches.
  14. Ask thoughtful questions -- communication is key to successful collaboration.
  15. Don’t give up, successful collaborations are based on a lot of persistence.
  16. Focus on performance -- this is the common goal for all parties.

(Photo: Joe McKendrick.)

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure