Workforce

A federal manager's guide to fantasy football

Shutterstock image (Ivelin Radkov): chalkboard game strategy.

Developing a virtual team in the federal government is not so different from building a fantasy football team.

In fact, in a work environment that is increasingly virtual thanks to telework and mobility, federal managers could take a page out of fantasy football’s playbook, according to management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. And there are plenty of teams from which to learn: In 2014, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 41.5 million people participated in fantasy football in the United States.

Booz Allen's new report, Federal Virtual Team Leader’'s Playbook: Using Fantasy Football Strategy as a Guide for Success, said federal managers should look to the ways fantasy-league participants collaborate, manage talent, maintain structured expectations and reward team members.

Recent surveys have shown that managers and supervisors in the federal government could stand to improve. According to the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, only 40 percent of federal employees were satisfied with their senior leaders, and 69 percent were satisfied with their immediate supervisors.

Leo Simonovich, Kathryn Kienast and Steve Hiser, authors of the Booz Allen guide, said there are a few key things that federal leaders can learn from the structure of fantasy football teams.

For starters, teams must be built not for a brick-and-mortar office environment, but for one in which employees will often be remote. Teleworkers shouldn’t be more isolated just because they are physically distant, Hiser said -- a virtual work environment should lend itself to strengthening a team.

"The traditional operating model has been 'You're a remote employee, you're given a task,'" Simonovich said. "Why not create a team around a common operating model -- those tools exist today. Put together rules of how people are going to be rewarded, and construct a team that fits objectives of the organization."

Simonovich said that the nebulous nature of virtual teams leads federal leaders to ignore the importance of building a well structured team, and to too often look only at the individual.

"You want to create an environment in a virtual world where there's increased communication," Simonovich said. "Share programs, communicating in real time -- those kinds of things would empower employees."

A solid structure is also appealing to the workers themselves. Simonovich noted that the clearly defined rules and scorekeeping structures of fantasy football are key factors that keep people coming back. Yet, despite mandates like the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act and performance tracking by the Office of Personnel Management, federal leaders are not given clear guidance on how to construct virtual teams for success.

"There needs to be a ... blueprint that enables federal leaders to structure their teams to be effective," Simonovich said.

Then, of course, it's incumbent on managers to learn those rules and how best to leverage them.

"You have various positions—wide receiver, running back, quarterback," Hiser said. "Ultimately you build the right roster of people who are right for those roles, and then you can continuously re-evaluate talent needs across the team, and adjust for those needs."

And in the same way that fantasy football managers use different analytical tools, observations and raw statistics to predict on-field performance, then engage in mock drafts to test their findings and formulate their final live draft strategy, federal team managers must define performance criteria unique to a virtual work environment.

"Rather than focusing on traditional methods that measure throughput, virtual team managers should base their analyses off of metrics that assess critical remote work skills like communication, people relations, and self-motivation," the guide urges. "Tailoring analyses in this way will provide team managers with representative predictors of a worker’s ability to perform and maintain connectivity in a virtual environment."

Finally, managers must develop rewards appropriate for a virtual environment, like shout outs on agency social media channels, virtual trophies and leadership sharing.

"In virtual environments, folks become individual contributors, they’re given tasks and they don't have face-to-face distractions," Simonovich said. "Managers have to recognize that they have to lead them as a team in a virtual environment."

The authors asserted that improving the management and productivity of remote workers will encourage more teleworking in government. When agencies telework, absenteeism is reduced by 31 percent and productivity increases by 13 percent, according to a 2013 Citrix report on telework.

More teleworking would also improve the entire digital productivity of an organization, Simonovich said.

"Virtual digital productivity can improve mission performance," he said. "That is what should be the main motivator -- having enterprise productivity as a goal, and becoming a digital czar that can move that agenda forward and bring the different parts of the organization together."

About the Author

Colby Hochmuth is a former staff writer for FCW.

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