Are your agency leaders talking about collaboration now more than
five or six years ago? Are you seeing considerably more
collaboration in your agency today?
When I pose these questions to managers, 80 to 90 percent answer
yes to the first question, but less than 30 percent answer yes to
the second question. Why is there this yawning gap between the
rhetoric and the reality about collaboration?
Increasing the level of collaboration in an organization requires a
major culture change. John Hancock, a colleague at the U.S.
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) observes, Changing
organizational culture isnt rocket scienceits harder! Hancocks
point is spot on; greater collaboration is a cultural change that
involves values, attitudes, history, and professional identitymuch
of an agencys DNA.
Culture can change and adapt over time, but it is difficult.
Mid-level and senior managers are concerned about what they have to
lose. Front-line employees clearly see the need for change, but
also encounter a variety of interpersonal barriers.
Indeed, culture change is difficult for anyone who works at an
agency where people talk collaboration, but hire, train, evaluate,
and promote workers based on their individual skills.
Six Key Collaboration Factors
The good news is that there is a discipline to this challenging but
critical work. Ive learned from two decades of researching several
successfuland not-sosuccessfulcollaborative efforts that six
factors form the foundation of collaboration:
Partners have a shared, specific purpose that they are committed to
and cannot achieve (as well) on their own.
Partners want to pursue a collaborative solution now and are
willing to contribute something to the effort.
Appropriate people are at the table.
Partners have an open, credible process.
The effort has a passionate champion (or champions) with
credibility and clout.
Partners have trusting relationships.
Having a Shared Purpose
Having a shared, specific purpose that partners are committed to
and need help to achieve may seem obvious, but it isnt. Have you
ever participated on a team in which the goal seemed clear to you,
only to learn that other members had differing notions of the
People join collaborative groups for a variety of reasons; some
even join because their organization is threatened by the
initiative and send someone to slow it down. Identifying the shared
purpose and gaining commitment is critical. In fact, this was the
top-rated factor by one of the work groups at the 2009
Strengthening Trust in Government Conference, which was sponsored
by The Public Manager and the American Society
for Public Administration.
When its unclear whether each partner is committed to the same
purpose, some collaboration leaders approach the partners
one-on-oneoutside of team meetingsto learn what each sees as the
goal and hopes to get out of it.
Collaborating and Contributing Now
Wanting to pursue a collaborative solution now and being willing to
contribute something to the effort is another success factor. The
two key words are now and contribute.
Collaboration works far better when the timing is rightand when
theres a sense of high stakes. Stakeholders need to be more than
interested; they need to contribute time, effort, ideas,
problem-solving skills, and other resources. One strategy for
raising the stakes is to include customers on the team. Allow
customers to describe why the project is so important and the
difference it will make in their lives.
Gathering the Appropriate People at the Table
The appropriate people must be at the table. Many rate this factor
as the most challenging element to achieve. We can invite others to
collaborate with us, but when they work in other units or
agencieswhich is what collaboration is all aboutwe cant direct or
demand their involvement.
Ideally, the appropriate people have subject matter expertise,
interest in the project, access to resources (including people in
other organizations), and the ability to speak for their part of
their organization. It often helps to identify the specific people
desired from each partner organization and ask for their
involvement, rather than wait for each agency to send its
Creating an Open, Credible Process
Processis a long four-letter word for many people,
especially when its process for process sake. In collaborative
teams, a credible process is critical to producing positive
The process for successful collaboration needs to include an able
convener, agreed team norms, joint ownership of the initiative,
transparency (no side deals made without the teams knowledge),
metrics to gauge progress, and knowledge of what each member brings
to the table. A trained facilitator can be extremely effective in
helping the team work through these issues and create an open,
At the 2009 Strengthening Trust in Government Conference, one
break-out group offered another important aspect of a credible
process: use of a common language. When those from different
cultures work on a team, they often speak past each other because
the same words have multiple meanings.For example, ask colleagues
in five different agencies for their definition of program, and
youll likely receive five different meanings.
Gaining a Passionate Champion with Credibility and
The effort must have a passionate champion (or champions) with
credibility and clout. You might assume this refers to senior
leaders, and theres no question that strong senior support is
essential for manybut not allcollaborative efforts.
Ive seen some collaborative initiatives do very well when they fly
beneath the radar and stay out of the leaderships focus. However,
Ive never seen an important collaboration succeed without a
passionate champion at the table. A working-level champion is one
who has credibility, has clout, and is passionate about the
Effective partnerships require trust. Some collaborative groups
spend months working on the formal aspects of their partnership:
the governance structure, the parties roles and responsibilities,
funding, the project plan, and so on. Yet, ultimately, they produce
very little because they fail to realize the power of a trusting
All of those formal tasks are important, but the group must build
trust before such tasks have any meaning. No piece of paper,
structure, or plan has the power of respectful relationships built
on trust. With trust, a great deal is possible; without it, little
Best Practice: IADS
The six key collaboration factors were at work when a group of
analysts from various agencies within the intelligence community
began looking for a better way to produce data and analysis.
The result: Integrated Air Defense System (IADS), a virtual team
comprised of professionals from the intelligence and defense
communities. IADS includes analysts and managers who work together
to analyze the air defense systems of countries that pose threats
to the United States. There are three customers for this sort of
analysis: war fighters, policy makers (in Congress, the Office of
the Secretary of Defense, and the Air Force), and the acquisition
Their solution has been an enormous success and has improved
security in the United States.
From Jigsaw Puzzle to an Integrated Whole
Prior to IADS, the different intelligence agencies produced their
own reports on particular aspects of other countries air defense
systems. For example, agencies couldnt give a complete response
about how an entire defensive kill chain worked in a specific
country. One agency could report on early warning radar and another
could analyze surface to air missiles, but there were no integrated
reports. A single agency could not answer critical macro questions
such as, Can U.S. aircraft be detected and tracked by Country X? As
one analyst expressed, The customer got parts of a jigsaw puzzle
and had to put the parts together.
In the years following the 1991 Gulf War, analysts at the National
Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) and other intelligence
agencies began discussing an integrated approach for analyzing air
defense systems and brought the issue to their supervisors. A new
approach was required. In 1994, John Berbrich, chief of scientific
and technical intelligence production at the Defense Intelligence
Agency, became a strong advocate for the concept, making it a
priority. He urged a group of managers to flesh out the concept and
identify significant hurdles.
Change occurred in both a top-down and bottomup fashion.
Supervisors and their managers suggested formation of an integrated
team of analysts from across the intelligence community to work on
air defense. Phil Davis, associate chief scientist of the NASC
Global Threat Directorate, was enlisted to develop the program and
negotiate with the agencies involved.
Davis recruited Phil Lathrop to be the first chief of the IADS
division within the Global Threat Directorate. The duo spent
several months meeting with managers within key agencies, listening
to questions, and seeking concurrence. Some of those agencies
leaders saw this new program as a threat; it didnt belong to any
one agency, and it would require new resources. They feared it
meant that they might lose some of their current mission elements.
Davis came up with a detailed proposal for IADS and gained general
support from the agencies. He briefed Joan Dempsey, who then was in
charge of intelligence production as deputy director for the
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). She agreed with the need for an
integrated team and suggested a two-part structure, with DIA
leading a coordinating group of managers from the agencies involved
and the U.S. Air Force leading a second group made up of working
level analysts. The directors of the agencies approved the
structure, and detailed work on developing IADS began in earnest.
Dempsey became IADS senior champion.
Questions and Concerns
Despite their support for the IADS structure, senior managers of
IADS partner agencies had a host of concerns. To address their
questions, Lieutenant Colonel Ty Johnson, the first chief of the
coordinating group, met with each of the managers before IADS went
into operation. He explained the overall concept of IADS, then
invited their input and listened patiently to their questions and
One of their leading concerns was that IADS might take something
away from their individual agencies: control, key staff, mission
elements, or other resources. Johnsons explanation of the important
roles the managers on the coordinating group would play helped
address their need to maintain some control and influence over the
direction of IADS. Also, the fact that IADS was a virtual team,
rather than a new organization requiring a realignment of the
intelligence community structure, reduced their concerns.
Dempsey and Johnson demonstrated a great sensitivity to the
politics and personalities involved, working with each partner
agency to gain commitment. IADS was formally launched in 1995.
IADS is led by a coordinating group made up of mid-level managers
from various IADS agencies. Twice a year, the group identifies the
highest priority countries for analysisthose that require new or
updated studies based on several factors, including the threat each
country poses and customers requirements. They then commit their
agencies to work on those priorities.
The actual IADS work is performed by air defense analysts who are
part of the analyst group. They create a schedule for producing
reports on each country and then arrange for the studies. When a
new study begins, the authors attend a kickoff meeting; after that,
90 percent of the communication is done via email, phone, or video
The major authors of IADS studies are analysts at NASIC, the
Missile and Space Intelligence Center, the National Ground
Intelligence Center, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Other
authors and contributors include the National Security Agency, DIA,
the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial Agency,
and the Transportation Security Administration.
When the analyst group sets the production schedule, the
coordinating group members obligate their agencies to meet that
schedule. Inside the analyst group, NASIC takes responsibility for
pulling together the various pieces of analysis prepared on each
country study. It seeks consensus when there are differing
opinions, acts as referee when consensus is needed, and makes any
necessary changes to the final products.
As Figure 1 illustrates, this structure is easy to understand on
paper, but requires a lot of give and take and can be arduous to
implement. One example is in establishing priorities for the
country studies. Requirements come to IADS at two levels:
1) member agencies receive them from their individual customers
and 2) the IADS program receives requirements directly.
For instance, the U.S. Air Force might be tasked by a customer to
focus in one region, while DIA is given requirements to work
somewhere else. Each customer, of course, sees its need as the
highest priority. Resolving these conflicts and scheduling
resources to each priority requires a huge amount of patience and
Making an Impact
IADS has been successful, providing its customers with the kind of
integrated, timely reports they require. One of its successes
occurred in the fall of 2001, when much of the country was still
reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Immediately following 9/11, IADS
analysts began a study of Afghanistans air defenses, assuming U.S.
military would soon strike.
Within three days, the group produced a product ready for war
fighters in what came to be called Operation Enduring Freedom. The
analyst group had to produce a tremendous amount of work in very
little time, and they had to get it right.
According to one of the IADS analysts, Theres no way we could have
produced a quality product so quickly before we had IADS. It was
only possible because of the years of experience working together
on the IADS analyst group and the existing structure to pull in
whatever resources we needed. Sure, Afghanistan didnt posses an
integrated air defense system. But it had a lot of ways to shoot
aircraft down. And its assets were not organized in any obvious
way, which actually made it harder to analyze. Our intelligence
agencies had virtually no information on the countrys air defense
capabilities in September 2001. They needed a huge amount of data
and analysis, immediately. IADS filled the need and demonstrated
What can other agencies learn from the development and work of
IADS? One lesson has to do with tempo. Theres a saying among
entrepreneurs: You go slow to go fast. When a new venture starts,
it takes time to figure out the product; find customers; design the
first solution; and get it out the door, receive feedback, and
modify it. As the kinks are worked out, customer satisfaction rises
and word starts to spread. Then the product really hits its
Successful public-sector innovators often use a similar process.
They buy the time and goodwill to develop their concept, get the
right people to the table, develop trust and confidence, find a
senior champion, gain needed resources, demonstrate the ability to
meet or exceed customer needs, and market initial results. IADS
leaders demonstrated the wisdom of the go slow to go fast model. As
one of its analysts explains, It was good to start with a success.
IADS also reflects the power of having the six key collaborative
elements in place. Managers in the agencies had a shared goal, one
they couldnt meet on their own. They wanted to work together toward
that goal because the problems with the former process had been
amply revealed in the 1991 Gulf War, and powerful customers were
angry with that process.
Also, the managers got the right people to the table to develop a
new way for producing analytical studies, led by senior advocates
(Berbrich, then Dempsey) and working-level champions (Lathrop,
Davis, and Johnson), who developed the detailed plan and worked
through concerns of agency managers.
And the IADS model helps create open communications and trust.
Middle managers dont feel threatened by IADS because they help to
make key decisions and they feel informed about what their analysts
are working on. Analysts (who do most of their joint work via
collaborative software) begin each new study by meeting
face-toface, allotting time to work out goals, roles, timelines,
and develop trust with members of the team.
Once IADS was up and running, it benefited from other smart moves:
Ample recognition. IADS analysts give each other
credit for good work. They let each others managers know, too. The
products are Department of Defense studies authored by all
agencies, not by any one agency.
The two-part structure. The coordinating group
provides a forum for discussing issues. It deals with hurdles
facing analysts, provides leadership, and helps anticipate and
prevent problems. The analyst group coordinates the subject-matter
experts and provides a means for resolving differences.
Good answers to the Whats in it for me? question. IADS
is briefed and marketed well within the agencies involved,
which makes everyone look good. IADS reports are shared across many
agencies and with senior government policy makers, which is an
incentive to be involved. Further, IADS is generating real results;
thus, the managers of these agencies put pressure on their
employees to participate. They want to benefit from the programs
A reward system focused on both me and we.
Competence, Courage, and Change: An Approach to
Family Therapy, psychologists Edith C. Lawrence and David B. Waters
describe two fundamental human needs that they have discerned from
their many decades of clinical practice: 1) the need to be, and be
seen as, competent and 2) the need to belong to something larger
than oneself. Consider these the me and we needs. Most of us need
to be acknowledged for individual contributions, but we also need
to belong to a larger entity that gives life meaning and purpose.
Effective collaborations need to meet both needs, as IADS does.
IADS analysts are eligible for individual awards given within each
partner agency, based on their own award framework. The analysts
are also eligible for team awards given by the intelligence
community. Beyond such formal systems, IADS relies on the
individual expertise of the analysts, but that expertise only
satisfies customer needs when it is integrated with expertise from
different agencies, producing a comprehensive product that no
individual could develop. IADS participants can meet their me needs
only through a commitment to their teams overall mission.
Ongoing, fluid communications between the coordinating group
and the analyst group. In most cases, the managers on
the coordinating group supervise the analysts who produce the
studies on each country. Thus communication happens quite
naturally. If youre an analyst on the Country A team, your manager
goes to coordinating group meetings at which your teams reports are
discussed and decisions are made about your teams future
assignments. This helps keep managers and their IADS analysts on
the same page. Communications has been a major strength of IADS.
In his book The Next Government of the United States, Don
Kettl argues that government managers have to learn the skills and
tasks of collaboration because of the great amount of government
work that is now conducted through networks.
To illustrate his point, Kettl describes a long and difficult
illness experienced by his mother-in-law. She saw dozens of people
from various organizations during the ordeal and received expensive
24-hour service, all of which was covered by the governments
Medicare and Medicaid programs. Yet, when Kettl looked back on the
situation, he realized that she never spoke with or was served by a
single government employee.
His mother-in-law was helped by a network of nurses, physicians,
administrators, pharmacists, dentists, social workers, and physical
therapists who worked for private or nonprofit agencies. The care
was fine, Kettl reports, but it had to be organized and coordinated
to have the intended results. And its not only the 45 million
Medicare recipients and 60 million people on Medicaid who receive
their services and benefits through complex networks. Customers of
many human services, natural resource, emergency management,
scientific, and other programs are also served through networks.
These services do not perform well unless government employees are
collaborating with each other and with non-government providers to
share information and coordinate activities.
Consider the quote from former Cabinet Secretary John Gardner,
Behind all the current buzz about collaboration is a discipline. If
it contained a silicon chip, wed all be excited. There is no
silicon chip, but the discipline is becoming known. Our challenge
is to learn and use the discipline of intelligent collaboration.