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Don’t share your best practices! Share the ones that are ‘Good Enough’.

Posted on: April 9, 2009

In the policy to effort session at Government 2.0 camp, Lovisa Williams of the Department of State summed up the problem of building on cross agency’s efforts as “Don’t share your best practices, share them when they are good enough.” It sounded like a good start to a blog post.

For more on workplace collaboration check out the workshop I am organizing on April 23rd.

The essence of collaboration is to steady build on one another’s ideas bit by bit until you get a solution. Of course contributions in reality should be somewhat thought through but by no means need to be final, because if sharing final plans were enough, then there would be no need to collaborate.

The current cross-agency practices seem to be built on sharing each other’s best practices, which means they have been fought for, tried out, approved and finalized within an agency and no one in that agency has any stomach for opening up that can of worms again.  So suggestions for improvement from the outside, after the practice is shared, are not  as likely to be incorporated.

Sharing these final lessons learned, does not accumulate ideas from different perspectives and situations to create cross-agency solutions and support. Instead it passes an agency specific solution to another agency, at which point it gets rewritten.  There is some efficiency gained, but it doesn’t seem to compare to a truly collaborative process in which ideas are shared and accumulated quickly showing an agile and responsive result.

If collaborative efforts begin with sharing final outcomes which the authors don’t want to change because they have invested in these as being final, then essentially the collaborative process doesn’t begin. It’s more of a building on lessons learned than a collaboration .

It’s kind of like growing your vegetables in your own walled garden and only sharing the seeds after you have harvested the first successful crop.  In order to build an agile and responsive government, we need to all plant  seeds at the same time and figure out together how to get them to grow in the first season.

The systemic problem with sharing methods and ideas before they become a ‘best practice’ seems to be fear of acceptance within the agency or worse yet criticism from outside the agency.   A best practice almost by definition means it has the stamp of approval by agency heads.   Therefore by definition a “good ‘nough” practice does not have the stamp of approval and there is a fear of implied ‘approval’ and finality when you share it cross-agency. It seems we either need to create semi-private cross agency channels so people can be comfortable in sharing practices still ‘in–progress’ or overcome the fear of unfinished solutions being seen.


2 Responses to "Don’t share your best practices! Share the ones that are ‘Good Enough’."

Absolutely agree. Reminds me of something Steven Sample (USC President) wrote in a book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership. One of the ideas that stuck with me is that anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly. That’s not an exact quote, but the idea is that we shouldn’t let the quest for perfection stand in the way of doing what we know is right, even if we can’t execute perfectly.

Here’s the exact quote from the book (Love the search feature in Amazon!)

“When I was a junior in high school one of my teachers said to me, ‘Steve, you are by nature a perfectionist; you never know when to stop making a thing better. So here’s something for you to keep in mind: Anything worth doing at all is worth doing poorly. It may be worth more if it’s done well, but it’s worth something if it’s done poorly.'”

Does a practice need to be “best” or “100 done” to be shared? I say, “No way!” Anything worth doing is worth collaborating in the early stages, just as you’ve suggested.

I love this. One of my takeaways is less about sharing good practices-in-the-making than it is about collaboration in general, where you wrote, “if sharing final plans were enough, then there would be no need to collaborate.”

In working on a cross-agency team that had some communications breakdowns, a very wise facilitator said our rule of thumb should be that as soon as you realize that someone else is going to be involved in making a plan come to fruition, that’s the point at which you inform and engage that person. That’s probably not the point at which your plan is final….

That sense you describe of being personally (not just professionally) invested in something that you consider to be completely done is so often a block to any form of collaboration and growth. I’m constantly reminding myself that–brace yourself–I don’t have all the answers and other people have great ideas. Whoa.


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