FIELD CONNECTIONS – Challenges For Interagency Teams

Working directly with the PEPFAR teams affords us the unique opportunity to learn with them about the challenges they face as interagency teams and to celebrate with them in their successes. TeamSTAR invests in understanding these challenges and developing practical tools and resources that will help PEPFAR team leaders and members more effectively address the difficulties inherent in interagency teams. Click on any of the following to learn more about a specific challenge and the resources available to help you address the challenges.


Making interagency-collaboration work is the essence of the PEPFAR teams and it is one of the hardest aspects of the PEPFAR initiative. The shared intention to have all USG agencies leverage their core competencies to tackle the HIV pandemic in PEPFAR countries becomes difficult to realize as teams face the reality of bridging agency differences and working across organizational boundaries.

Often the real challenge of whole of government work is not the large-scale high-level, multi-lateral exercise so much as the day-to-day realities of trying to work across boundaries to make sure that outcomes are achieved.

This is indeed the root of many of the problems, frustrations, and obstacles experience by PEPFAR teams. Working successfully across organizational boundaries requires teams to:

  • invest time and energy to clarify and understand the different language and systems of their colleagues' organizations, e.g., project management means different things to CDC and USAID.
  • intentionally build trust through consistent transparent decision making, information sharing, and speaking with one voice when representing the team with donors, government officials, and implementing partners.
  • use collaborative decision making processes such as interest-based dialogue, and consensus building.
  • develop and abide by agreements for collaboration and strategic decision making criteria
  • develop a high degree of emotional intelligence and use interpersonal skills such as communicating non-defensively, reflective listening, and giving and receiving feedback.

Click here to see resources available to help you WORK EFFECTIVELY ACROSS ORGANIZATIONAL BOUNDARIES.
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PEPFAR teams operate within a matrix-like structure where people work with and for others who are not within their agency nor are they their direct supervisor. It is not uncommon to hear team members and leaders often struggle with the following:

  • "I'm leading a TWG with people from different agencies and technical backgrounds when I don't have supervisory authority and they aren't cooperating."
  • "I'm on a task group and other members are leaving all the work to me, despite my pleas to pick up the slack."
  • "As the team leader for the Strategic Information TWG I need the cooperation of the other TWG leaders."
  • "I have an idea for how we could do this better but I'm not in a leadership position and need approva from others to pursue it."

PEPFAR Coordinators and TWG leaders must learn how to accomplish their work through strategic influence, persuasion, the alignment of the team behind the shared vision for a country program, and reliance on the goodwill and commitment of the team.

Click here to see resources available to help you LEAD WITHOUT AUTHORITY
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The PEPFAR Teams exist within an ever-changing environment. Overnight the government officials a team has been working with can be ousted or entire governments dissolved and reformed. New policy directives are issued such as PEPFAR II's focus on long-term sustainability, and country ownership signals a major change from the emergency programming paradigm of PEPFAR I to a development focused approach.

The most common and potentially disruptive change for a team stems from the staff rotation that occurs within each of the partner agencies. Each agency rotates staff on a different cycle which means PEPFAR teams have to constantly re-establish the team. It is not uncommon in the life cycle of a PEPFAR team to have changes in several leadership positions within a short period of time (a new Coordinator, head of an agency, deputy of another agency, and new DCM). This underscores the essential role of the locally employed staff as a key to sustainability and continuity. It also raises the importance of these new leaders making a smooth entry into their new roles.
Success in this environment requires:

  • A recognition that change is the state of modern global organizations
  • Enhanced comfort and ease with uncertainty and evolving information
  • Understanding of what helps anchor and support people going through change
  • Skills in knowing when to introduce change and how to lead a change initiatives
  • Intentional and explicit processes, working agreements, and operational manuals that become the institutional memory while individuals come and go
  • Skill at forming and reforming teams while remaining productive

Click here to see resources available to help you become more agile at LIVING IN A CONSTANT STATE OF CHANGE.
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PEPFAR Phase II puts a premium focus on the transition of leadership and ownership to the partner governments. Realistically, every country has its own unique challenges that will necessitate a customized partner engagement strategy and final framework that is slightly different from others. To successfully negotiate and build the Partnership Frameworks and Partnership Framework Implementation Plans teams must:

  1. Understand the country's National Strategy and Plan for addressing HIV/AIDS and political pressures the government officials are under
  2. Build and nurture relationships within the government and often with competing government ministries and officials
  3. Have clear technical messages and guidelines to share with government officials and technical working groups
  4. An integrated approach for leveraging the expertise of the PEPFAR collaborating agencies
  5. Engage early and frequently with stakeholders in workshops and meetings focused on mapping existing services, programs, health systems and policies and their impact and identification of gaps and bottlenecks
  6. Jointly determine the scope of the program activities, select indicators, set targets, agree on commitments, and establish a plan for monitoring progress

Click here to see resources available to help you STRENGTHEN COUNTRY PARTNESHIPS AND SUSTAINABILITY.
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A frequent complaint and source of frustration expressed by teams is that "We spend too much time in meetings and not working". The nature of collaboration however requires more than one person to be involved in almost every aspect of the work, thus it necessitates meetings. If you didn't need others' skills, expertise, contacts, and resources you wouldn't need to collaborate – but PEPFAR teams do require these very things. The problem is not that teams must have meetings, the real culprit is that most of the meetings they attend are ill conceived and poorly run. Members commonly share that they leave one meeting and go directly to the next, often without knowing the exact nature and expected outcome of the meetings. Successful collaboration requires a shift in mindset from seeing meetings as an interruption to work to seeing them as a way of accomplishing work. This requires teams to become much more effective at the following:

  1. Discerning what requires a meeting and what can be accomplished without a meeting
  2. Planning meeting agenda that have realistic objectives and adequate time to accomplish the tasks.
  3. Facilitating meeting discussions, knowing when to expand and contract the conversations as well as how to handle divergent comments and disruptive behaviors
  4. Summarizing outcomes, decisions, and follow-up actions stemming from the meetings
  5. Sustain the continuity of the work in-between meetings so there is progress and results from the collective and individual work.

In essence teams need to learn how to use meetings to accomplish critical work that requires multiple perspectives and expertise – getting real work done not just talking about what needs to be done later.

Click here to see resources available to help you BECOME MORE SKILLFUL IN USING MEETINGS TO ACCOMPLISH REAL WORK.
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