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US Forest Service

Background: The United States Forest Service (USFS) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As such, it relies on the expertise of thousands of professionals who each play a different role in administering the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, which in total encompass 193 million acres.

Situation: Amidst the Forest Plan Revision process, the leadership for one of the National Forest Regional Headquarters was seeking to build a high performing staff to drive organizational excellence. The Forest Plan Revision process was inducing high stress and exposing departmental silos and poor communication. Select members of the staff were participating in this four-year planning process to revise the Forest Plan, which was aimed at providing the guidelines for the management and utilization of the forest’s natural resources. The planning was being conducted by an Inter-Disciplinary Team (IDT), which consisted of numerous resource specialists including core forest-level staff members and extended team members consisting of district personnel and contractors. All stakeholders were experts in their respective areas yet operated in silos and were protective of their resources; thus, increasing the difficulty of functioning as a high performing team on the project. Additionally, this organization was leading other forests in the revision process and was required to not only utilize guidance from the National Office but remain as consistent as possible with other forests. Accordingly, building a team of people from different organizations, with different areas of expertise, experience, and values, offered significant organizational performance challenges.

Solution: To enhance staff performance of the IDT during the Forest Plan Revision, HigherEchelon implemented a personalized two-day workshop based on the principles of our Resilient and Adaptable Leader© program. The workshop was then reinforced through additional training, virtual coaching for core leaders, a one-day realignment session with the entire IDT, and a one-day wrap up and refresher session. We recommended this approach because a stand-alone training session would likely have been ineffective in generating long-term change and increased performance. Our multi-pronged approach, which included observation, small group workshops, team building, and coaching served as an iterative process aimed at compensating and adjusting as the demands and challenges changed over time. The purpose of the program was to enhance overall performance, teamwork, and leadership capabilities of the cross-functional IDT while collaborating on the Forest Plan Revision.

Impacts: After the year-long engagement, HigherEchelon enhanced the performance of the IDT by increasing productive communication across resource specialties and improving team functioning. As a result, the IDT brought together a disparate team of experts who worked together to meet the milestones established for the project. Lastly, HigherEchelon outlined developmental plans going forward to leverage the foundation of high-performance skills, broaden the focus of individual team members to develop and cultivate a strong organization, build positive coalitions with other forest agencies and the surrounding community, and enhance the team’s ability to lead through and manage change.

“Our experience working with HigherEchelon was very positive and very productive for the Forest Team. We needed an outside entity to come in and help with the team building process and to help grow leaders well beyond current capabilities. HigherEchelon worked with us to develop a tailored program that focused on our needs. HE was especially helpful in developing team values and identifying and explaining the dysfunctions of a team. This is
a team of people who are experienced, experts, extremely knowledgeable, adaptable, articulate, and able to apply the necessary tool at the correct time to build high performing teams.”
– Supervisor, National Forest Regional HQ