I’ve been thinking back lately on relationships between field offices and head offices. I’ve been in both setting at different time, always stridently outspoken about the lameness of the other. Trying for a brief moment, however, to more rationally analyze for myself why those that worked well did and why those that didn’t work well didn’t, it seems that overall things went better when the following happened:
4 Things You Must Do When Working in a Head Office:
1) Be flexible with colleagues in the field whenever you can. Don’t sacrifice quality or industry standards. Don’t violate policy or turn a blind eye towards mismanagement or fraud (unfortunately these sometimes happen). But if a request is reasonable and it is within your power to say “yes”, say “yes.”
2) Be as transparent as possible with colleagues in the field. Let them know what issues and decision time-lines are for those things that will affect them. Let them know the bad news as well as the good: they have an equal need to know both. Let them know where you stand personally on those same issues, so long as doing so will not violate trust or appear mutinous up your own management line.
3) Don’t give field colleagues the run-around. If they come to you for something that you’re able to provide – again, without violating a protocol or other agreement – provide it. If you can’t provide it, say so (see #2), and point them in touch with someone who can.
4) Don’t travel to the field without a purpose that both you and your field colleagues agree on. It should be a purpose which, if met, will actually add value. It should be something more specific than “see how things are going.” The existence of a travel budget that must be spent is not a purpose.
4 Things You Must Do When Working in a Field Office:
1) Give your head office colleagues the benefit of the doubt whenever you can. Think twice before sending a complaining email to the boss of your point-of-contact at the head office. Resolve issues with the head office at the lowest appropriate organizational level: elevate issues only when truly necessary. Give them the chance to prove their expertise technically, programmatically.
2) Fulfill your commitments to the head office (and be transparent when you can’t). Meet deadlines, provide information, participate in… whatever, as expected/promised. Particularly for grant-funded programs, don’t leave your head office colleagues holding the bag on a past-due report to the donor. Let your counterparts at the head office know as soon as you do that you’ll have trouble meeting a particular deadline or commitment.
3) Ask for help when you need it. Theoretically, at least, you and the head office are on the “same team.” If you’re struggling with a technical, programmatic, or managerial issue, bring the head office on board as a stakeholder (they are, anyway, whether it’s acknowledged or not).
4) Be a good host. You don’t have to be over-the-top about it. But make sure that visitors from the head office are well-supported. Unless you and the visitor have a specific other arrangement, make sure they’re met at the airport, have a hotel reservation, etc. Check before assuming to make sure that they know where to find the basics: food, water, pharmacy… Don’t make them grovel for things like help getting internet access or changing an airline ticket.