Be a Great Teammate

25YA Board Submission

One leader told the 25YA board that they only accomplished what they did because of the good, dedicated teams and smart people who worked for them. As a leader and as a diplomat of any level or rank, we believe good colleagues and peers are another critical part of the diplomatic recipe for success. We have listed a few traits and vignettes of what our peers, colleagues and friends have done for us and what they have meant to us in our career, in our lives, and to our efforts to succeed as activist diplomats. Please send us your take on what it takes to be a good teammate.

  • The best colleague takes time to read anything sent to them and offers feedback, good and bad. (Note - this counts double during EER season.)

  • Listens to complaints about boss/employee/computer system/administrative hurdle to transfer: We all experience difficult people and personalities and struggle with the constant moves and dislocations of State Department life. A good colleague listens even if/when the irritant is not nearly as severe as whatever they are experiencing.

  • Helps Grow Ideas - whether the person works on the same policy issue or not, a colleague who listens to policy proposals, ideas for new approaches or suggestions and helps make the idea work is essential particularly due to the clearance process and hierarchy that can sometimes discourage creativity and iterative thinking.

  • Share Praise/Take Responsibility: Especially important as a team leader, but also as a team member to share praise and take responsibility if something goes wrong.

  • Share information, share contacts: Avoid stove-pipes whenever possible and create work environments conducive to sharing information/contacts.

  • Share burdens equally: Make sure both the fun and career enhancing assignments are shared equally as well as some of the more tedious and less.

  • Good Colleagues Do the Right Thing, Even When it is Hard: For example, Officer A learns of an initiative that s/he strongly believes needs to be addressed - whether a pro-active initiative or a current policy that does not serve U.S. interests best - but cannot break through the hierarchy and their concerns are not addressed.  Officer A, blocked from taking the action they deem right, takes a risk and reaches out to Officer B outside their office — someone they know (but maybe not that well) who is able to consider and advance the issue.  Officer B agrees with Officer A and takes the issue forward to resolve it or at least ensure the valid idea is heard.  Both officers technically operated outside of SOP and took a risk, but together advanced what they knew was the right call.  In doing so, they develop rapport and trust. 

Words = State's Primary Instruments - Make them Count

The Craft of Writing  

Your writing could be your first impression on a boss who could become your future mentor and champion. Make it a good one. Here are 6 ways how:  

  • Know who you’re writing for and why: May sound obvious but it’s astounding how many State writers expect their bosses to bend to their style and not the other way around. People consume information differently – listen to her for signs of what they like, emphasize and gravitate toward. Channel to those preferences in your writing.  

  • Keep it to one page: Once it goes over a page, it loses its power. And no tiny font or fudged margins.  

  • Make your papers “nutrient rich:” Your papers should be bullion cubes of information packed tight with “nutrients” –hard facts that your ambassador or assistant secretary can use (statistics, budgets, poll numbers, economic numbers, time lines, meeting dates). This hard data gives your reader a lot of rich content. 

  • Break up the page: Use bold settings, bullet points and underlining often. It guides the reader through the material to the key points. It also makes the page punchier and more interesting.  

  • Cut, cut, cut – no, really: In Germany, the Swabian Hausfrau is world famous for her stinginess -- clutching her purse unwilling to give out one red cent unless it’s absolutely necessary. Be a “Swabian Hausfrau” with your words. Don’t give them out too easily. For example, instead of writing “since the establishment of NATO in 1949,“ you can write “since NATO’s 1949 establishment.“ Look – you saved three words! You will be surprised how much tighter your writing can be.  

  • Make it relatable: Ask yourself, is it always necessary to write and talk like a technocrat? Government speak can come across as clinical and distant and, at its worst, arrogant and obfuscating. Keep it simple and relatable. For instance, the State Department funded uniforms for police patrol units in Ukraine, a great initiative that brought some morale to the officers. But instead of writing about “police patrol units,” write about “beat cops.”  

As one top diplomat was fond of saying, where other departments have massive budgets, investigative powers, even arsenals, the State Department’s primary instrument is words. Make them count.