Three tips to help you collaborate across agencies and sectors

April 28, 2020

By Dave Smith

In these unprecedented times, federal agencies face an even greater need to work quickly and effectively, often necessitating coordination with external stakeholders and partners. Normally, bringing business, government, nonprofit and philanthropy together can be difficult, as competing priorities draw these groups in many directions. However, when large-scale disasters strike—such as the sudden and widespread outbreak of the coronavirus—collaborative efforts are critical to solving the problem.

Whether your agency is looking toward collaboration in response to the coronavirus pandemic or to establish a more proactive partnership, the three following recommendations can help your effort succeed:

1. Understand the challenge. To create a solution, you must understand the challenge from the point of view of the people who are directly experiencing it. Every collaborative effort should include members of the affected population throughout the problem-solving process. Their insight will ensure more effective solutions, while also making them more receptive to serving as an ambassador for your work.

2. Build trust. Collaborations only work when groups trust each other. Building a relationship based on trust requires empathy, and empathy requires curiosity, authenticity and an investment of time. Partnerships are even more effective when they exist prior to a crisis, so take the time to develop this trust.

3. Create solutions for all partners. Solutions created through partnerships can be compared to a Venn diagram. Rather than negotiating a solution with the bare minimum that groups would accept, like the overlapping segments of a Venn diagram, effective collaborations embrace the entire Venn diagram. These solutions should leverage the diversity of the partners, deliver value to all parties and achieve an impact greater than any one group could achieve alone.

These key elements will increase the success of any collaborative effort. When society begins to find a new normal, leaders should consider how collaboration may become a more integral part of their organization’s priorities. If leaders build the foundations for these partnerships on an ongoing basis, they will be better positioned to act the next time a crisis occurs.

The Golden State of Collaboration issue brief recaps the lessons learned when X Sector Labs teamed up with the Partnership for Public Service to understand the state of cross-sector collaboration in California, including what makes collaboration worthwhile, what challenges are faced when collaborating and recommendations for fostering a more collaborative environment. Federal leaders should consider the roles their organizations can play in implementing the recommendations in the issue brief.

Dave Smith is Partner and CEO of X Sector Labs, a management consulting firm that advises executives to realize greater impact through the power of courage, connection, and community. Dave previously ran the Presidio Institute and co-authored the SSIR Supplement on Cross Sector Leadership.