Times of crisis can bring out the best or the worst in people and organizations. How successfully we navigate disruption will depend on our preparation, response and ability to solve problems. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer new to us, we have an opportunity to garner lessons from this crisis to help us better prepare for future disruptions.

While it is not often we see a world-wide crisis like we are currently experiencing, we do frequently see disasters and disruptions that affect entire communities, such as Hurricane Katrina or the Flint, Michigan water crisis. During a crisis, increased collaboration between organizations and individuals in the community inspires innovation and enhances problem solving. Communities have unique challenges and their members have a mutual understanding of opportunities and threats in their communities. When we work together, we benefit from a better use of community resources and better outcomes for those we serve.


How does one county with 19 different school districts work together to accomplish a single goal? Our partners, Dale Shaver, Director of Parks and Land Use, Paul Farrow, Waukesha County Executive and the School District of Menomonee Falls Superintendent Corey Golla, collaborated with 18 other Superintendents to find solutions that put safety and students first in Waukesha County. After the crisis hit, Paul had one goal: regional collaboration.

As Paul and Dale began working with businesses in their community to support closing and reopening plans and policies, they began to realize schools in their county would have a similar need for support. We interviewed Paul, Dale and Corey on the Accelerate Your Performance Podcast to explain how organizations in Waukesha County collaborated to tear down silos and put students first.

To hear the full story, listen to episodes #93 Make Silos Disappear #94 Empower and Invest in Your Teams and #95 Schools are Essential. Community and school partnerships became a critical component to Waukesha County’s COVID-19 response. During an interview, Executive Paul Farrow describes how connecting with one organization to find a solution inspired an even greater collaboration within their community:

We’ve created a great partnership with Carroll [University] that will provide virtual learning for the contract tracing investigation process and then opens up a new avenue for the students to learn about public health at the same time. The alignment is fantastic. They can develop that virtual platform that can help us then expand on where we need the contract tracers.

The nurses and healthcare individuals within the K-12 schools have a transition period before they start back in the fall. We are able to work with them and hire them on as our contact tracers… Creating this new network that we have with the nurses in the schools, who are doing the contract tracing right now for us, I think is going to be invaluable as we look at reopening the schools.

They’re going to have a good connection with public health and be able to engage very quickly if there’s a flareup that happens at a school and how we can handle it. So, I look at it kind of a win-win situation. We’ve reached out and are partnering with the schools to figure out a problem that we have. We’re helping to create a solution that they didn’t even think about as we move forward.

In response to the impact that the collaboration between Waukesha County and the community’s schools has had on their district, Superintendent Corey Golla insisted:

We’ve really got a lot of synergy and its provided a lot more clarity for us. Especially having direct access to our county department of health and to be able to have very real honest conversations. I can’t say enough about Paul’s partnership— because there is the health, there’s the COVID, there’s so many unknowns. Then there’s also politics involved in this. And I just really appreciate Paul’s willingness to roll up his sleeves to talk with us, work with us, understand the challenges we face and help us problem solve. He’s not at all afraid to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in our efforts to plan. He’s given us such great access to his people to help us create a plan that helps us accomplish both of our goals.

The potential to unite community leaders and collaborate to inspire innovation exists all around us. Where do opportunities exist for your organization to collaborate within your community?


Eliminate Internal Silos

To create successful partnerships with external organizations we recommend first eliminating silos within your own organization. Do open communication channels exist between departments? Are all individuals and departments aligned to strategic goals of the organization? Silos within our own organizations can hinder potential external collaboration.

Gather Input

When we are responding to a crisis its critical to communicate effectively. How to execute effective communication can vary depending on who you ask, so it’s important that you do ask. Survey your employees, student families and external partners. Ask about communication frequency and preferred methods of communication.

As we make decisions and prepare plans to navigate a crisis begin gathering input as early as possible from the community. Ask students, families and customers to define success for your organization despite the current circumstances. Ask what adjustments can be made and what is reasonable in the eyes of your stakeholders.

Engage in Solutions

Collaboration is a natural enemy to siloed thinking and decision making. When people and organizations come together to overcome an obstacle, we become focused on solutions and cooperation. Identify what outcome the partnership will achieve or what problem the partnership will solve to align individuals across organizations to what matters most.

Double Down on Culture

Put people first, at all times, not only during a crisis. Invest in and empower your teams. Build trust with colleagues and customers to develop deeper relationships which enable better problem solving and creative thinking in teams. Devote time focused on the wellbeing of your employees, especially during periods of intense change. Try to spend more time listening than talking and let people know they are heard and cared for.

Tie Decisions to Concrete Metrics

Superintendent, Corey Golla spoke about the importance of using a scorecard to engage their community in high speed collaboration. The school district of Menomonee Falls had two goals: safety and student learning. Using a scorecard, cross-functional teams had concrete metrics to base their decisions on and a simple way to communicate progress.

When schools and communities collaborate, they realize greater benefits for the students they serve. Paul Farrow, Dale Shaver and Corey Golla will join us as presenters at our virtual conference, What’s Right in Education (WRIE) to update us on their partnership.

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