Connect with Your Colleagues Before You Need Them

Managers eating meal together

Running a government website or social media account is complex: while trying to meet your agency’s mission goals and your customers’ needs, you also have to keep track of issues like ethics, information security, privacy, and accessibility. It’s enough to make your head spin. Luckily, no one … errr … no online communications person … is an island: we have colleagues whose expertise neatly fills each of those niches. The trick is to set things up so you see each other as partners, not competitors or antagonists.

When helping counterparts at other agencies solve some problem, I frequently find myself wondering “what’s their IT shop have to say?” or “have they talked to their attorneys?” It surprises me how often they haven’t checked. The reasons vary, but often come down to fear: fear of the unknown and fear they’ll be told “no.”

I know it’s not a universal fix, but I highly recommend a five-word solution: lunch. Go to lunch with your IT experts. Your attorneys also need to eat. As do the people in charge of the other issues I mentioned above, and all the others I didn’t.

I’m going through this right now, since I recently changed jobs. All of a sudden, I no longer know exactly who to call. So I know well how much effort is involved, from digging up who the right person is to actually setting up time to talk. But believe me, it’s worth it.

I’m a big fan of lunch because it can get both of you out of the office and give you a chance to get to know each other as people, not just “that person in my way.” In fact, I recommend you specifically don’t talk about work, or at least not for the first while. You do need to hear the demands of their job, but not right up front.

After you’ve come to see each other as people, share what you face day-to-day. What are your goals? What obstacles do you face? Who or what is breathing down your neck? How does what you do (or the way you do it) help the other person meet their job’s demands, and how does it add stress to their day?

Note that I’m talking about … gasp … a work relationship. I want to be clear here: I’m not suggesting you have these chats right when you need someone’s help, but before that point. Also, this isn’t just about routine stuff; you can get through the mundane without knowing people particularly well.

But I’ve seen it over and over again: when the ground opens beneath you, those relationships are the difference between jumping to the other side with a partner and falling into the chasm by yourself.

So: whip out that calendar, call up your colleagues, and get eating!

Jeffrey Levy is the Chief of E-Communications at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

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