The Denver Experience: Lessons
In their 1989 book, Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong,
Carl E. Larson and Frank M.J. Lafasto described eight characteristics
found in high performing teams: a clear, elevating goal; a results-driven
structure; competent team members; a unified commitment; a collaborative
climate; standards of excellence; external support and recognition; and
principled leadership. The discussion below uses these characteristics
as a framework to analyze the planning and collaboration of VS2000. What
worked? What did not? What lessons were learned?
a Clear, Elevating Goal
- Base the project goal on project values.
At the inception of the project, Denver VS2000 convened a facilitated,
all-day, team-building session attended by members of the planning committee
who represented more than 50 VS2000 participant agencies. The purpose
of the meeting was to define the projects core values and create
a common vision. Four core values were identified: victim-centered services,
an atmosphere that welcomes diversity, creative collaboration, and passionate
well-being (self-care so you can care for others).
- Use words and pictures of clear, elevating
goals so people fully understand them. A few months into the project,
VS2000 convened a Visioning Session to define the vision further and
begin developing the structure of the model victim service network.
Visual exercises were used. In one exercise, participants were asked
to draw pictures of what the world or their communities would look like
if seamless services were provided for all victims of crime.
- Be aware of and address changes in
participants attitudes, perceptions, and level of support and
participation. As time passes, participants sometimes become uncomfortable
comparing their original ideas with the actual developments. As the
Denver VS2000 project matured, conversations and actions naturally shifted
from philosophy and visions to the implementation of new initiatives
and new ways of delivering services. This made some participants feel
their turf was threatened. Others felt that the time and work involved
had begun to outweigh any evidence of tangible change. Commitment began
to wane and participation on working teams and committees decreased.
Two things became clear. VS2000s core values and mission needed
to be revisited, and it was more important than ever for all decisions
to be made with input from all participants.
a Results-Driven Process
- Maintain balance between the process
and the product. Denver VS2000 continues to be a large, collaborative
effort, which involves many agencies that compete for funding and territory.
Issues of trust were present from the beginning. Mindful of this, VS2000
staff and meeting facilitators knew it was critical for the participants
to have time to express and process these and other issues. This made
participants feel that they had a voice and it was heard. Opportunities
were provided to participants to engage in trust-building discussions
with their colleagues. In the first year, especially, meetings often
consisted of processing issues and clarifying positions. This created
an atmosphere of mutual trust and collective ownership of the project
and its outcomes that was crucial to sustaining a collaborative network
of this magnitude.
- Provide the participants with immediate
feedback about the results of the time and effort they spent on the
project. Design, and insert into the work, some short-term goals
that the participants can achieve. This will keep participants motivated
to continue working on the long-term goals. Aware that busy people would
continue to attend meetings only if they see tangible results, project
staff interspersed challenging, short-term goals that could successfully
be completed while working on the longterm goal of creating a model
victim service network. Another long-term goal, that of developing a
technology system, began with smaller goals of providing participants
with e-mail accounts and training them in basic software applications
for word processing, spreadsheets, and databases. The larger goal of
raising the awareness of service providers to create a truly seamless
network of victim services began with the smaller goal of implementing
a cross-training plan throughout VS2000. Selecting interns from a minority
intern recruitment program was a short-term commitment to the goal of
embracing the spirit of diversity.
- Maintain good communications among
all stakeholders involved in the process. A network of good communications
is necessary for the success of any collaboration, particularly one
as diversified as the Denver VS2000 project. A staff of 5 provided communications
support for the approximately 150 individuals who worked in 5 teams
on 15 committees and subcommittees. The staff coordinated meetings;
maintained a participant database; wrote and disseminated a newsletter;
announced meetings, trainings, and other pertinent information; established
e-mail accounts for project participants; maintained a meeting calendar;
recorded minutes; and uploaded products created by the project onto
the VS2000 Web site. Communications were further enhanced by frequently
including updates about the progress of other teams, team committees,
and committee agendas. In addition, time was allotted for agency updates
the Capabilities of Project Participants
- Encourage and inspire all team members
to participate. All Denver VS2000 participants, both management
and staff, were encouraged to join in and share the responsibility for
the project. They were encouraged to make decisions about the structure
and components of the VS2000 model service network. When it became clear
that each persons opinion was important and actively sought, individuals
who may normally remain reserved and quiet in group situations began
to take a more active role and display leadership qualities. During
times of disagreement, it was helpful to revisit the core vision and
values to maintain focus and inspire participants.
- Recruit diverse and balanced leadership.
Ongoing recruitment for leadership of the VS2000 project sought
diverse individuals of all levels of skill, knowledge, and experience
to reflect the diversity of the field and to provide balance and broad
perspective to the project. Believing a diverse and balanced work force
would be best for the development of the project, VS2000 required each
team on the project to have the same diversity as existed in the field,
including age and work experience. Included in the leadership search
were direct service providers, such as victim service providers, community
members, and allied professionals, as well as policymakers and administrators,
such as agency directors and administrative and program staff.
Unified and Committed Stakeholders
- Commitment needed from all levels of
the VS2000 project and agencies. The VS2000 staff believed that
multilevel participation by all stakeholders regardless of position
would give the project greater and necessary depth and breadth of perspective.
For example, the executive directors of Denvers victim service
agencies serve as members of the VS2000 Steering Committee. In addition,
many also participate on the projects working teams and committees
and allow or require their staff to participate also.
a Collaborative Climate
- Understand the obstacles to using collaboration
in victim services. Collaboration is not often seen in victim services
because the conditions for successful collaboration rarely exist. Normally,
victim services funding is scarce and the competition for it is intense.
Victim services work often operates from a model of scarcity, forcing
the service provider to function with the anxiety and fear of losing
or not finding resources. None of this is conducive to collaboration.
VS2000 was possible because the basic needs and resources were met by
a grant, allowing the individuals enough relaxation, security, and peace
of mind so that ideas could emerge, take root, and grow.
- Recognize the value of building relationships
between criminal justice-based and community-based programs. A tension
often exists between community-based and criminal justice-based programs.
Rather than acknowledging that the work done by both programs is necessary
and complements the other in serving victims, program members argue
about each programs relative value and contribution. The experience
of VS2000 indicated that collaboration would not be realized without
a solid understanding of roles by both the criminal justice-based and
community-based programs and without the establishment of respect and
trust between them. VS2000 found that cross training was critical for
increasing understanding. Guided discussions were very valuable in helping
the participants work through issues of tension and develop the trust
necessary for a collaborative environment.
- Understand that collaboration is a
process that requires constant evaluation and adjustment. A collaborative
effort is not a destination but a journey. During the project, all VS2000
team members had to constantly assess whether the collaborative effort
represented the populations being targeted for better service. As new
collaborators joined the effort, it was important and necessary to reassert
the agreements and understandings of the collaboration to maintain the
original collaborative climate established by the core VS2000 group.
As team members reached out to other victim services providers, allied
professionals, victims, and underserved communities, it was very important
that the original collaborative climate was strong and that all involved
had a good understanding of its meaning.
a Standard of Excellence
- Set a standard of excellence that provides
results that meet the needs of the targeted community. The needs
assessment that VS2000 conducted was a necessary first step in defining
the projects standard of excellence. In this assessment, focus
groups were most helpful in clearly identifying areas where victim services
did not reflect the no wrong door vision. Focus groups noted
where victims seeking services might run into obstacles.
- Stress the importance of evaluation.
As a profession, victim services often does not evaluate the impact
of its services adequately. Those who work in victim services will never
know if their work is truly making a difference unless the consumers
of their services evaluate them and provide feedback. Since VS2000 projects
are guided by the concept of creating and providing victim-centered
services, evaluation and feedback from those served is very important
for assessing the effectiveness of a VS2000 project.
External Support and Recognition
- Recognize the importance of diversified
support. VS2000 worked hard to cultivate relationships and garner
the support of external entities that were interested or willing to
help provide services or support for victims of crime. These included
allied professionals in local seminaries, law schools, and corporations
such as AT&T Wireless. By building the broadest, most integrated
victim service network possible, the greatest number of victims can
- Acknowledge the critical roles of funding
entities. Ranging from housing staff members to helping ensure the
ongoing viability of project initiatives, the support of the Denver
VALE board in administering the VS2000 project has been critical. The
Denver District Attorneys Office, which housed the Denver VALE
board, was key in making VS2000 a reality. Denver District Attorney
Bill Ritter devoted the resources of his office to administrative, housing,
and oversight functions for the VS2000 effort, as well as providing
his leadership and commitment to the issues of victim rights and services.
- Understand that internal support is
also critical. Ones own organization must provide support
and recognition. VS2000 discovered that those who were involved in successful
collaborations enjoyed the internal support of their agencies. VS2000
also discovered that collaboration takes time and energy, and receiving
only superficial commitment from partner agencies impeded success.
- Embrace diversity, critique, and conflict
as opportunities for growth and understanding. One goal of the VS2000
model is for the collaboration participants to develop trust in the
leadership and believe it to be fair, open, and supportive of creative
decisionmaking. The VS2000 model believes this will ensure many voices
are heard and participants will be encouraged to work hard. In the VS2000
model, the leadership invites criticism as an important step in resolving
conflict and moving forward collaboratively. Further, it is important
for leadership to embrace criticism and conflict as positive opportunities
to achieve mutual understanding. The VS2000 Community Advocates and
the Victim Advisory Council are two groups that invited criticism and
embraced conflict as an impetus for growth.
- Consensus building and collaboration.
While the consensus model of decisionmaking has been important to
the grassroots and feminist philosophies underlying victim services,
applying it to collaboration is more challenging. On the plus side,
consensus building empowers more people to participate. On the minus
side, having increased numbers of participants makes decisionmaking
difficult. An organization must take care to implement and manage the
consensus-building process wisely.
Excessive emphasis on the consensusbuilding
process can ultimately be
unproductive. Skilled management
and implementation of the process
and capable facilitation of the group
are needed to ensure that the group
actually reaches decisions and honors
them rather than reprocessing
Work: The Experiences of
Denver Victim Services 2000