Federal Coach

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Federal Coach: How to handle the person who questions everything

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

I’m a new team leader, and one member of my team questions everything – not out of spite, but out of ambiguity surrounding agency guidance and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). I want to satisfy her thirst for knowledge, but I don’t want to engage in debates 14 times a day. How would you approach this?
-
GS-13 Team Leader, Veterans Health Administration

Here’s the good news: You have an employee on your team who’s interested in learning the details of the FAR and other agency policies, rules and regulations. You cannot teach that sort of curiosity or the patience to sift through what can be dense material. However, the bad news is that this curiosity is preventing you and your team from getting work done efficiently.

To address this issue, I would start by having a private meeting with your team member. Begin the conversation by letting her know that the curiosity she exhibits is terrific but that her questions are having an unintended affect on the team’s meetings and overall performance.

Next, engage her in shared problem solving about how the team can balance operational efficiency with her legitimate interests in learning more about agencies rules and regulations.

To help initiate this open-ended brainstorm, you might first offer to set up a series of recurring, one-on-one conversations where you can play the role of teacher/mentor around those rules and regulations. The rapport you develop in these conversations will help improve the efficiency of your team meetings and your teammate’s overall engagement in the work.

If you’re concerned about having the time – or even the expertise – to regularly meet on these topics, you could connect her with the relevant agency experts on the FAR and other rules/regulations for a series of lunch-time briefings. Your teammate may become an expert navigator at understanding the “ins and outs” of getting things done within your agency even when the rules may seem restrictive.

If your entire team could benefit from these briefings, you might consider scheduling a series of one-day briefings with your agency experts. These briefings could have the added advantage of deepening your team’s relationships with these experts in advance of those times when you need them the most.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Dec 02, 2011 at 12:12 PM


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