6 Key Elements of Successful Cross-Agency Collaboration

Many problems in government are best solved collaboratively working across multiple agencies. Unfortunately this can be a frustrating and unproductive experience for many government leaders. Sometimes your partners aren’t as interested in the goals as you are. In other cases they don’t want to give up the territory by sharing efforts and then there’s the simple fact that many of the people you are working with are just plain busy and distracted. If your mission depends on working collaboratively across agencies there are at least 6 things you can do to improve your chances of success:

  1. Think about your strategic planning process as a recruiting process. Your chances of getting full support and participation increase greatly when you involve your partners in the development of your strategy. Interview and/or survey them on what their priorities are. If at all possible, pull them into your prioritization process. If they have input on what initiatives or projects get prioritized, they are more likely to contribute resources and provide support for them. Everyone likes a deal they were a part of making.
  2. Make your partners’ customers, your allies. Knowing your partners’ customer is one of the best ways to get their attention. If you are able to access information on the needs, requirements, and motivations of that customer and relate it to your effort, you are well on your way to building a successful partnership.
  3. Brand your effort. Giving your effort a brand helps to build support. A branded project feels more significant and helps to tell a story about why what you are doing matters. It gives something for people to rally around.
  4. Communicate your progress. Many cross-agency projects fail because the participants don’t have a clear sense that progress is being made. As the lynchpin of a collaborative project, you need to continuously tell the story and show forward movement. You need to find interesting ways to communicate that information like infographics, blogs, and/or video to engage your partners.
  5. Make quick wins an explicit part of your planning process. I’ve seen many government leaders come out of a strategy session raring to go. They have an ambitious agenda, but once the reality of their day-to-day demands reemerges, the new initiatives can feel overwhelming. Inevitably the overall project peters out soon after this. It is crucial to first pick off some low hanging fruit to show what you can implement. Success breeds success. Find initiatives that require little effort to declare victory and that have the potential to build follow on activities.
  6. Resource the strategy. If you take one thing from this whole blog it should be this point. Most strategies fail because they aren’t resourced. Leaders go into a room and come up with a bunch of great ideas and then assign them to team members as add-ons. If you want something done, you have to have someone who focuses on it. That means hiring new people, contractors, or ending other projects to shift resources. It won’t happen magically. You need to talk with your partners and your organization at the beginning about how you are going to resource any outcomes.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think the key elements of cross-agency projects are?