Is collaboration declining in the federal workplace?


The results of this year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey were largely positive, but one thing jumped out at me: Collaboration and cooperation seems to have taken a significant hit.

Positive responses to question 20 in the survey — “The people I work with cooperate to get the job done” — dropped sharply from 2008. That year, 83.9 percent agreed or strongly agreed, but this year, only 74.7 agreed.

Question 26 — “employees in my work unit share job knowledge with each other” — also showed a decline, though not nearly as steep. Positive responses to that question dropped from 75.4 percent in 2008 to 73.1 percent this year.

This surprised me, since intelligence agencies have made collaboration a key priority in recent years, and other agencies such as Defense are also emphasizing joint duty. What have you seen? Are you or your co-workers less likely to tackle problems together than you have been in past years? If so, what may be causing this change? Are you less likely to collaborate because of a pay-for-performance system (and a perception that raises and ratings under such a system are a zero-sum game), or is something else at work here?

We’d like to hear from you. Send me an e-mail with your observations at


About Author

No Comments

  1. Stephen, genuine collaboration has always been a pipe dream in any competitive environment.

    Salespeople, for example, might be willing to share tips and tricks with others in the profession half-way across the country and in a different industry, but you’re unlikely to see them share special skills or key account information with others in the same department or region.

    Employees, particularly contractors and employees-at-will, are unlikely to share specialized knowledge that they perceive as valuable to their job security. And there’s some truth to their perception.

    Executives wish to encourage knowledge sharing among the rank-and-file employees because many of these leaders are under the mistaken impression that employee “knowledge” can be captured and shared in a way that makes their employees replaceable…whether through automation or new hires. Hypothetically, extensive knowledge sharing further reduces the bargaining power of employees-at-will.

    Executives fail to understand the difference between information captured in databases and filesystems, and the experiential knowledge and skills of individual employees. As a result the incentives and assurances are not in place to nurture knowledge sharing among employees.

    So, while knowledge sharing offers many other benefits, most employees do not perceive it to be in their own best interest to participate.

  2. Richard Taylor on


    It is true that intellegence agencies have made collaboration a key priority. The focus of that collaboration however is between different agencies or inter-agency collaboration and information sharing. Your question which used the words “…the people I work with…” would lead me to think the respondant is actually thinking about others in his/her office or the same agency (intra-agency). The same can be said for “employees in my work unit” as well. There is also a critical difference between collaboration and cooperation. Agencies or people in the same work unit who plan initiatives or activities together and then implement them are collaborating. Planning and then asking others to participate in a given initiative is cooperation (if the the other agency or individual will do so).

Leave A Reply