A colleague recently commented about the array of different players that courts are interacting with during the COVID19 pandemic.  Some of the unusual players are stakeholders with which the court has not previously engaged to such a degree, and some are non-traditional service providers.  These new partnerships represent a different sort of public relations opportunity. This article recaps some actions that might be useful when partnering with different players as we create the new work world.

Indeed, courts are finding themselves interacting with unlikely collaborators.  Among the groups and agencies not normally engaging with the justice system:  Centers for Disease Control, federal, state and local health departments, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, environmental services, facilities, insurance companies, manufacturing entities (for personal protective equipment, signage, floor markings, Plexiglas barriers), and maybe even some executive offices, human resource or risk management departments taking part with greater frequency than before.

As some in the court community have observed, the current coronavirus epidemic has presented unique opportunities to problem-solve. The nature and frequency of the new interactions may vary from court to court, but it is undeniable that increased partnering is occurring.  The partnering extends beyond simple planning. Courts have risen to the occasion and are working together with new stakeholders to: communicate effectively; collaborate toward agreed upon goals; and break down silo practices to resolve problems.

Practical considerations that may arise include:  How do we build a relationship and rapport amidst the crisis?  How do we work with an entity with whom we find ourselves having competing priorities?  How do we make the first move to find common ground?

“What we have found more valuable is the planning process… the ability to set up and have connections and relationships established ahead of time, because when crisis happens, this is not the time to be handing out your business card.”[1]

Two models for working with partners are summarized here in descriptive lists about practices:  one about high performance teams and a second on justice coordinating councils.  Content for these two practices is derived from multiple sources, with characteristics noted in a listing for each. There is some crossover between the two models. These are offered as they may be applicable to the current leadership partnering opportunities.

High Performance Teams[2]

The hallmark of this model is the clear objective of seeking high performance, efficiency, and excellence.  Features include a focus on leadership and results via –

High Perfc Teams Graphic for courtleader 7-26-20 (2)

These sources also include the importance of establishing urgency, taking risks, tapping into team member skills, targeting achievable goals early on to demonstrate results, spending time together as a team, and ensuring positive feedback and recognition for work.

Justice Coordinating Councils[3]

The hallmark of this model is collaboration and a collective and system-based approach.  Characteristics of this model include –

Justice coordtg council graphic for courtleader 7-26-20 (2)

In my own court experience, two large and very visible projects come to mind where critical collaboration techniques were needed. During those projects, I was a student of multi-agency collaboration and partnership to lead the work. One project involved a criminal justice technology integration initiative, and the other concerned an innovative traffic (photo) enforcement program. My recollection is that our practices included these aspects of leading with partners:

  • Establishing a clear governing structure, which included defining lines of authority for decisions and forums for routing and escalating concerns;
  • Showing a unified front on project activities, topics, and communication;
  • Creating additional bodies of expertise from which to get information and feedback;
  • Ensuring regularity in interactions and channels for communications via formal meetings and dialogue; and
  • Tracking and measuring performance, which in one instance, resulted in publication of a weekly summary statistical report (to anticipate elected official and media interest).

In a recent publication, it was asserted that courts and court leaders are “well positioned to convene stakeholders.” The article noted that courts can: be advocates for change; recognize opportunities for growth, improvement, innovation, and change; get the right people and roles engaged to break down silos; and make data driven decisions for the justice system.[4]

Probably the most important technique in dealing with the times we are facing is to “never let a crisis go to waste” and to:

  • Ask: how do we want to emerge from this?
  • Identify: what does “better” mean after the challenge subsides? and
  • Clarify: what enduring new habits, qualities, and attitudes do we want to emerge with and utilize after the crisis subsides?[5]

Wouldn’t it be nice if these leadership with partners techniques could endure and thrive beyond the time of challenge and crisis?

[1] Rick Pierce, Judicial Programs Administrator, Pennsylvania Administrative Office of the Courts, “Court Leader’s Advantage Podcast,” National Association for Court Management, broadcast date June 25, 2020, available at https://nacmnet.org/resources/podcasts/weekly-coronavirus-podcasts/

[2] Content has been obtained from these sources:  Walter E. Natemeyer, Ph. D., Developing High Performance Teams, Second Edition, North American Training and Development, Inc., NATD Publications, 2011, Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, “The Discipline of Teams,” Harvard Business Review, July-August 2005, Brendon Burchard, High Performance Habits – How Extraordinary People Become that Way, Hay House, 2017, and Jonathan Hughes and Jeff Weiss, “Simple Rules for Making Alliances Work,” Harvard Business Review OnPoint, Fall 2012 (originally published November 2007).

[3] Content has been obtained from these sources:  “Transforming our Civil Justice System for the 21st Century, A Roadmap for Implementation, National Center for State Courts, https://www.ncsc.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/26031/cji-implementation-roadmap.pdf , Marea Beeman and Aimee Wickman, “The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Network Mini Guide Series: Measuring Performance of CJCCs, The Justice Management Institute, January 2013, M. Elaine Borakove, Robin Wosje, Franklin Cruz, Aimee Wickman, Tim Dibble, and Carolyn Harbus, “From Silo to System: What Makes a Criminal Justice System Operate Like a System?” Justice Management Institute, April 30, 2015.

[4] Jacqueline Gilbreath, Susanne Mitchell, and Nicole L. Waters, “State Courts’ Responsibility to Convene, Collaborate, and Identify Individuals Across Systems,”  Trends in State Courts 2020, National Center for State Courts, July 2020, available at https://www.ncsc.org/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/42156/Trends_2020_final.pdf

[5] May Busch, “Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste, 3 Steps to Emerge from this Crisis Better and Stronger,” Thrive, Arizona State University, Vol. 23, No. 3, June 2020.

One thought on “Leadership with Partners

  1. Once again a thought provoking article. I have found that many businesses and agencies do not have a plan in place for such things as a pandemic. In fact, the fear of such emergency situations is often prevalent in the workplace. I found this to be true in a recent position. There was no plan for business continuity or reopening plans. It was even greatly objected to by stakeholders in this institution to have proper security training on possible security situations. Thus, they find themselves dealing with many new players that they have never had to deal with before in the middle of a crisis situation. I agree, communication is key. There are many that can offer expertise and help to move into a more stable position if leadership will reach out and be transparent about needs. When we all work together, we can face these situations prepared and moving forward with success. Thank you for your articles!


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