I wrote this article several years ago for military officers, but the application is useful for any staff team member!
“I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.”
Welcome to the life of the staff officer! Now you have the opportunity to communicate, cooperate, and most importantly, coordinate. Yes I am being a little sarcastic, but the reality is an officer will spend quite a bit of time on staff coordinating actions, versus in command, providing guidance and intent. It is a necessary broadening assignment we all have the opportunity to endure, um I mean experience. And since nearly every issue or action requires some form of coordination in our organization, this blog features the purposes of coordination, coordination methods, and some tips to ensure the commander’s intent becomes operational reality.
One of my military instructors gave me this definition for coordination (paraphrasing right now, it’s been a while) – coordination is the process an action officer uses to communicate, integrate, and manage information to all concerned or affected agencies involved in an issue or proposed action, allowing them the opportunity to contribute (comment), concur, or non-concur. If done well, staff coordination ensures unity of effort between staff actions and subordinate unit operations, and if you are wondering about the purposes of coordination, a staff officer coordinates to:
1. Acquire and provide information
2. Ensure complete and coherent actions
3. Avoid conflict and duplication
4. Consider all factors affecting the situation
And let’s face it, good staff coordination doesn’t magically happen, it is hard work, requiring personal initiative, a spirit of cooperation, and a genuine interest to make things happen. However, when done well, either by formal or informal methods, coordination ensures operations happen in a well-integrated fashion.
The methods and stages of coordination are important to consider when beginning a staffing action to ensure a comprehensive approach with the quickest turn-around time possible. Informal coordination consists of face-to-face communication, phone conversations, or correspondence by e-mail, normally used when the action is straight-forward and simple. When the task becomes more complex, formal methods like official correspondence, staffing documents, and briefings are required to resolve issues, concerns, and to solicit final comments and concurrence. As for the stages, here is a breakdown for consideration:
1. Initial coordination is required first to assemble all materials, initial information and tasks, and to gain your activities’ position with regard to the commander’s intent and a vision or successful outcome. Additionally, you should determine, “who needs to be at the table,” or what other staff activities or units have an interest in the action to determine the appropriate coordination including them all in some form of sequence. Parallel coordination saves time, but sometimes an action requires “in-turn” sequencing, focusing on the activities that have the most interest in the action reviewing and commenting first. This ensures that if their comments require significant changes to the action, you don’t have to re-coordinate the revised action again.
2. After receiving initial feedback from all activities involved, it is time for the second step, analysis of responses. Congratulations if everyone concurs, now you can make minor revisions and then send the action to the decision maker. However, if another activity or staff section non-concurs, a good technique to resolve the disagreement informally with an objective is to be, well, objective. The staff officer non-concurring may have a very valid point, so too much pride in authorship or a narrow-minded approach can have a very negative effect.
3. The last stage in this odyssey is final coordination, resolving and addressing any non-concurrences, packaging the action in the appropriate document or briefing format, and sending to or briefing the decision maker. Typically a completed staff action consists of a recommendation, a decision maker concurrence, and an implementing order or formal document.
So there you have it, the basics of coordination with methods and steps described to ensure actions are fully staffed and hopefully implemented into day-to-day operations. I ask that you share this and your own expectations and guidance with your junior staff officers when you reward them with a task to coordinate. Understanding the purpose and process can assist them and your organization by decreasing uncertainty and the time it takes to go from guidance/intent to action/operation.