When leadership at the USDA Office of Homeland Security (OHS) sought to improve cohesion among their team as it acclimated to both full-time remote work and a change in administration, they hired the consultants at ROCIMG to assess their needs and lead a department-wide team-building effort. Over the next few years, ROCIMG successfully guided OHS through a series of virtual, interactive, and educational sessions to improve the department’s culture and establish a new strategic plan and vision for the next administration.
ROC Implementation & Management Group (ROCIMG), Inc. is a business strategy, cybersecurity, and information technology (IT) consulting company committed to helping its clients and its people achieve new levels of performance excellence. Founded in 2013 and based in Gaithersburg, Md., ROCIMG serves organizations in the federal, state, public, and private sectors.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office Of Homeland Security (OHS) provides departmental executive leadership in government-wide initiatives and leads security, preparedness, and response efforts through training, coordination, and the development and execution of policies to ensure employees and stakeholders are prepared to support the USDA mission.
Throughout 2020, the USDA Office of Homeland Security (OHS) was coping with two major transitions. First, the COVID-19 global pandemic forced the entire OHS team, including about 50 full-time employees and nine members of the leadership staff, to work full-time from home. Prior to the pandemic, OHS had only allowed telework on an as-needed basis, so while the technology and capabilities were already in place, the team was very much used to working, interacting, and collaborating in person. With everyone now at home full-time for the foreseeable future, the team had to learn a new order of business and acclimate to new forms of communication. And while the team adjusted quickly to the new workflow, leadership felt that personal connections were suffering as a result of the separation, as well as the overall cohesiveness of the group. Some divisions were challenged by generational gaps between team members, while another had expanded immensely during the pandemic and most of the newly-hired staff had never met in person.
Secondly, by the end of 2020, the U.S. experienced a change in presidential administration. As is customary with any new administration, the USDA revised its strategic plan and agency goals, which required OHS to follow suit and redesign its own strategic plan, mission, vision, and functional statements to align with those being implemented by the new USDA Secretary.
Sensing some disjointedness among the now fully-remote team, the director of OHS suggested bringing in an outside contractor to support the department in conducting organizational analyses, as well as training and team building. Christine Dunbar, president of ROCIMG, was recommended for the work as she was experienced both in conducting organizational assessments and in working with the USDA.
To begin, Dunbar and the ROCIMG team led OHS through behavioral analyses, including DiSC assessments, to help the team members understand their individual leadership and work styles, in order to help the full team become more effective overall. From there, ROCIMG organized several virtual team-building seminars within each division of OHS, providing a professional yet fun atmosphere for team members to get to know each other, improve their communication skills, and discover how to best work together in this new remote environment.
ROCIMG also organized for each member of the OHS leadership team to receive personalized guidance from their own coach. Through these sessions, each employee was able to work on their own personal goals, whether it was adjusting to remote work, or learning to better manage their teams, or setting new career goals and establishing metrics to track their progress.
And most daunting of all, ROCIMG led several all-hands sessions for the entire OHS team, which meant finding a way for more than 50 people, all of whom were working from home, to come together virtually in a meaningful and productive manner. Using Zoom, Dunbar and her team hosted a full day of interactive team-building games and exercises, as well as guest speakers. Throughout the session, team members were directed to breakout rooms with a facilitator who guided each discussion.
Beyond the team-building sessions, ROCIMG also worked with OHS leadership to create a new strategic plan. These sessions required division leaders to analyze the vision established by the new USDA Secretary and collaboratively decide on new OHS goals and initiatives to best support it.
Between 2020 and early 2023, ROCIMG successfully facilitated three all-employee sessions, four division-specific sessions, and a culminating wrap-up discussion for the full OHS team. In addition, each member of the leadership team received individual coaching and together produced a new departmental mission, vision, and functional statements. According to leadership, the teambuilding sessions were well-received by the entire OHS staff and have been effective in improving the team’s culture and collaboration.
OHS attributes the positive outcomes to ROCIMG’s intimate knowledge of the culture of the USDA and the dynamic between OHS and the agencies. In this new remote environment, ROCIMG successfully taught USDA leadership and its staff how to meet each other where they are and work together.
Looking ahead, OHS hopes to work with ROCIMG again and has recommended the firm to other departments within USDA for support in assessing and overcoming new management challenges.