Nobody works in a vacuum, especially when you work for the government. We may all have our specific lanes but, ultimately, we are working towards the same objectives and the same larger, overarching goals. The trick is finding a way to communicate with counterparts who may not “speak the same language” you do or whose approach to things may seem diametrically opposed to your or your agency’s views. So how do you do the interagency tango? Here’s how you can bridge the gap, find common ground, understand where they are coming from and effectively express where you are coming from so you can move from A to B.
1.) Define a common objective. You won’t be able to work together if you don’t agree on the thing you are working on. By defining a common objective, you are at least starting from the same point and have the same end in sight. This is a critical first step in that it can keep all parties on task and help you course correct along the way if you begin to deviate by remaining focused on the objective.
2.) Outline outcomes and accountability mechanisms. An important collaborative mechanism is to clearly outline short-term and long-term outcomes and establish ways to track and monitor their progress.
3.) Clarify and agree upon roles and responsibilities. By clarifying and agreeing upon roles and responsibilities up front you are setting expectations. This means everyone knows what they are supposed to, what their role is and how their contribution adds to the larger project. Studies have also shown that people work better together when they know what their individual roles are, and this is the case for working on the interagency level.
4.) Establish policies and procedures to operate across agency boundaries. Depending on the size and importance of the interagency collaboration, it may appropriate to have participating agencies document the ways in which they will be collaborating, including outlining and acknowledging the roles they accepted. Another factor to consider is developing ways to continually update and monitor these agreements to make sure everyone remains on track and clear about their individual objectives and inputs.
5.) Bridge organizational cultures. An important first step in the interagency process is to understand the individual missions and organizational cultures of participating agencies. Understanding individual organizational culture can help identify areas of shared values, assumptions and beliefs. This knowledge can, in turn, help explain the way in which different organizations think. This knowledge also explains individual behavior patterns, essentially where individuals are coming from and what they bring to the table.
6.) Establish common terminology. Everybody knows government is notorious for the alphabet soup of government acronyms. A good tactic to cut through some of the terminology gobbledly-gook is to establish common terminology and definitions that make sense to all involved.
7.) Reinforce agency accountability through reporting. Reporting, analytics and information sharing can have a significant impact on a project’s outcome, can impact organizational and inter-organizational communication and collaboration. Having useful metrics through reporting can help keep the project(s) on track and help maintain accountability by demonstrating progress or lack thereof on interagency initiatives.
Government agencies have used a variety of mechanisms to implement interagency collaborative efforts. The steps outlined above offer a range of possibilities to assist in any type of interagency effort and can help you figure out the right steps in your interagency tango, so you don’t misstep. Good luck!