Published case studies on collaboration strategy are surprisingly hard to find. When you do find something, it's usually on social media (which is really marketing), or about email and file sharing.

This was not what I was looking for.

I was looking for a company who was willing to talk about the transformational aspects of social collaboration, and I found it from an unexpected source. The US Director of National Intelligence has published a series an unclassified reports on its integration and collaboration plans.

In the wake of 9-11, investigators pointed out that the organisations that make up the US intelligence community had not shared information on the plotters and were unable to “connect the dots”.   The Office of the Director of National Intelligence was set up to deal with this issue, and to quote its second director, John M. McConnell:

"Experts have studied the (intelligence community) for over 60 years. Their findings and recommendations are well documented. We know what we need to do, and many people have been working on solutions, but progress is challenging. Problems are deep-seated, complex, and interdependent."

In April, 2007, McConnell released the Intelligence Community 100 Day Plan for Integration and Collaboration, which was used to jump start a subsequent 500 Day Plan. These plans included a series of initiatives designed to satisfy national intelligence strategic objectives to:

  1. Create a Culture of Collaboration
  2. Accelerate Information Sharing
  3. Foster Collection and Analytic Transformation
  4. Build Acquisition Excellence and Technology Leadership
  5. Modernize Business Practices
  6. Clarify and Align DNI’s Authorities

The 100 day plan, its follow-up report, the 500 day plan, 100 day interim "report cards" and the final 500 day follow-up reports are all available on the Director of National Intelligence's website.

These reports are a treasure trove of best practice on how to create a more effective, collaborative organisation, regardless of where you start, and the US intelligence community was not in the best place to start.

Shifting away from a “need to know” culture, and getting 16 agencies to respect their different missions, yet cooperate on an overarching mission, might be an impossible task, but if it were to succeed, it needed the leadership McConnell provided.

Some of the notable practices, to emerge from these initiatives:

  • Making assignments outside your "home" agency a prerequisite to advancement
  • 360 performance reviews with enterprise-wide feedback based on “responsibility to provide"
  • Providing social collaboration tools to maintain functional relationships through cross-agency assignments
  • Creating an executive committee to quickly resolve mission and inter-agency issues.
  • Ensuring cultural perspectives by hiring 1st & 2nd generation Americans from diverse backgrounds
  • Standardising classification and clearance criteria across agencies
  • Modernising technology acquisition criteria and take risks in order to provide high impact solutions to satisfy mission priorities

Some initial observations on the impact of these initiatives found:

  • Collaboration multiplied capabilities and skills across cultural, linguistic, technical, and other mission critical areas.
  • People who collaborate were more productive, provided more valuable services, and accelerated their personal advancement.
  • The intelligence provided was timelier, more insightful, and lead to deeper knowledge for decision making.

Once again, we see that strong leadership, strategic vision, and a focus on empowering talent, produces results when building collaborative organisations.

There have been three Directors of National Intelligence since McConnell left on day 400 of his 500 day plan, and critics have charged that "turf wars" still exist, but aside from the publicly uncovered plots, it's hard to tell from the outside, the long term impact these practices have had.

Still, these documents provide a great example of McConnell's vision and ambitious programme to put collaboration at the heart of the intelligence community.

If you are interested in knowledge management, business transformation, social collaboration, spies, or impossible challenges, download these PDF's. They are full of interesting problems and innovative approaches, designed to encourage cooperation and remove organisational barriers, so people can work together effectively.

AuthorJoseph D'Armi