How to set up agency supervisors for success

February 13, 2020

In photo above: EIG results project group from left to right: Ivan Panov, Zoe Barber, Amanda Roberts, Joshua Jowers, John Spencer, David Nostrant, David Herman (not pictured).

Formal training doesn’t always cover everything federal supervisors need to know. Supervisors across government often need practical help with personnel issues such as how to deal with employee grievances, poor performers and low morale.

Initial training for new supervisors, however, typically revolves around processes rather than people issues—for example, performance management systems and time and attendance tracking.

A group of federal employees who met during the fall 2018 Excellence in Government Fellows program worked on a project to rectify the situation. They shared with one another how their experiences with management training fell short and sought to create a way for new supervisors to share ideas and challenges and get feedback from peers about employee issues they encounter in their jobs.

The fellows knew of the “BrainTrust” pilot group that the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security had recently started to bridge the gap between supervisors’ formal training and their actual daily experiences. This peer-mentoring program for supervisors in various departments across the agency enables them to meet regularly with trained facilitators to discuss their common experiences in government.

The BrainTrust group incorporates experiential learning, enabling participants to learn from one another, apply those lessons in their work, assess the outcomes and discuss with their peers to get feedback.

The EIG fellows developed research questions to interview participants in the BrainTrust pilot group about their experiences. They used the data collected to develop a framework that employees across government can use to start these peer-learning groups in their own agencies. 

The framework provides principles and best practices to help agencies implement BrainTrust groups, including guidance on:

  • Finding the right facilitator.
  • Determining group size.
  • Scheduling meetings and setting agendas.
  • Sustaining a BrainTrust group.

The BrainTrust pilot at the Science and Technology Directorate was so successful that the Directorate used the EIG group’s framework to start a second BrainTrust group. The EIG fellows received positive feedback from others in EIG as well as colleagues at their agencies, who expressed interest in using the framework in their departments.

The EIG fellows hope this low-cost method for agencies to provide professional development for supervisors encourages leaders across government provide opportunities for these managers to learn from one another and, ultimately, create stronger teams. Download the framework.

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