County Executive Office Reorganization
Due to concerns that a county council would seek less efficient financial and operational solutions for their departments, the county executive sought to save money by consolidating units and staff within the county government.
Issues and Goals
The parties in this facilitation process included the county executive, directors from five regional county offices (“regional offices”), and seven representatives from a county community partnerships office (“community partnerships office”).
Located throughout the county, the five regional offices dispensed food stamps and offered primary care assistance and information about other county agencies. They also housed urban partnerships and nonprofits.
The community partnerships office operated from one central location. This office was established to build bridges with the sizable ethnic populations located in the county. The staff provided culturally sensitive dispute resolution services for various ethnic communities whose members faced assimilation issues as they integrated into the greater community.
The county executive saw a promising area to save money and improve efficiency by combining and integrating the functions of the community partnerships office into the regional offices. The county executive believed that combining the procurement, back office, and recruiting functions of both entities could capture substantial savings while increasing coordination and operational efficiency.
Although the county executive had the legal and political authority to unilaterally decide how to achieve the budget cuts, he tasked the community partnerships office and the regional offices with finding ways to share space, work together, and save tax dollars.
The essence of this organizational conflict was that both groups wanted to retain their autonomy. Because neither side viewed the other’s functions as equally important or complex as their own work, they didn’t see how to easily combine any of their roles. Both sides attempted persuasion tactics with the county executive to protect their territory. Related concerns about the loss of resources, influence, power, and status lurked near the surface.
For this project, we worked with a part-time federal administrative law judge on behalf of a local conflict resolution center. We developed a collaborative process to work with the county executive and the other participants. The process we designed called for two extended meetings over three months, with much planning and design in between.
The collaborative process also included:
- Interviews with all representatives from both county departments;
- Developing a situation assessment framing the issues;
- A meeting designed with an efficient agenda to accommodate the parties’ many responsibilities. This agenda identified methods to help things run smoothly and included input from all parties we had previously interviewed; and
- Establishing two working committees:
- A committee focused on budget and procurement, and
- A second committee focused on the integrated function and role of representatives from the community partnerships office and the county regional offices to meet, develop recommendations, and report back.
- The county executive served as convener (an individual who brings people together to address an issue) in this process. We prepared and shared the situation assessment, notes from the first meeting, and reports submitted by both committees with each participant, including the county executive.
After reviewing the submissions, the county executive sensed adequate buy-in and compliance with the budgetary and organizational direction he wanted to pursue. Therefore, he determined that there was no need to hold a second meeting to incorporate the group’s recommendations into his proposed budget and operating plan for the executive branch. Therefore, we canceled the second meeting in response to the convener’s wishes.
Based on the collaborative process we led:
- The county executive decided to gradually phase out the community partnerships office and appoint office staff to positions within certain regional offices based on merit. Certain community partnership staff were reassigned to work from the regional offices to continue performing similar services for the county. Some regional office director positions were consolidated over future budget cycles.
The conflict resolution process provided an opportunity for safe conversations, the formation of focused committees to help steer the problem-solving process, and the development of specific, actionable recommendations. The clients felt able to direct the process we developed in a mutually beneficial way for all parties.
The county executive’s office reported that the changes proposed by the committees in this collaborative process and implemented by the county executive resulted in $1.3 million in savings to the annual county budget.