Ambassador Kathleen Doherty speaks with a One Team classroom on the policy planning process, November 2019. Photo by Caroline Agsten
By John Berry and Hannah Radner
In late 2018, Foreign Service Institute (FSI) staff began developing a course designed to build a more cohesive sense of the Department of State’s role, history, and mission for employees in each of the Department’s diverse personnel systems. In creating the course, FSI staff committed to breaking down differences in orientation experiences based on newly hired staff members’ employment categories. FSI analyzed current orientation practices, sought input from a large cross-section of employees in the Department and from outside experts, and used these findings to create the One Team orientation course. Over four days, One Team brings the Department’s new employees together at an early stage in their careers, enhances teamwork, and celebrates diversity in the workforce.
“The [One Team orientation course] was one of the best trainings overall that I’ve ever taken in my 27-year federal career,” said Jeffrey Levy, director of the Office of Global Web Platforms in the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. “It provided so much context and understanding of how we all work together to accomplish the mission. I help my team see the big picture, challenging them to lift their eyes beyond their own tasks. This class gave me the grounding to do that, especially as a new employee, but even some long-time Department staff told me I now knew things they’d never heard.”
FSI launched the One Team course pilot phase in August 2019, running a total of three separate pilots before the COVID-19 pandemic forced FSI to halt most in-person training. FSI’s Orientation Division created an entirely new, remote-learning orientation experience, welcoming nearly 200 employees to its first virtual Foreign Service orientation course in May 2020. The Orientation Division team built upon that course’s framework, offering the first virtual One Team class in September 2020. Virtual learning provided a unique opportunity to offer the class to contractors and locally employed (LE) staff for the first time alongside their Foreign and Civil Service colleagues.
With its November 2020 class, One Team concluded the pilot phase after two years of planning, adjusting, and adapting the curriculum. The curriculum evolved to contain fewer lectures and more group discussions, featuring hands-on simulations and actual Department case studies.
“The simulation worked very well. The opportunity to walk through a real-world case was effective and allowed for creativity and collaboration,” one participant said of the course’s half-day simulation experience, which FSI created in collaboration with the Office of Overseas Building Operations.
Class topics range from the Department’s Core Values and Leadership and Management Principles, to specific information about employment categories, the Department’s structure, guiding strategic documents, and U.S. diplomatic history. The course aims to equip participants early in their careers with a shared understanding of and commitment to the Department’s common mission, as well as a clear grasp of how it operates and achieves organizational goals.
As the curriculum has evolved, so has the way FSI collects feedback from One Team participants and course alumni. FSI seeks to measure One Team’s impact on the Department, including tools to measure progress against specific short- and long-term outcomes. Initial findings indicate that the course is more than just engaging and informative: nearly 70 percent of participants have applied lessons on the job. One example, from a Foreign Service participant, noted that, because of the One Team course, they have “actively looked for people who might not typically be considered part of the “core” team at an overseas post (i.e.: contractors, employee family members, civil servants) and purposefully engaged them.”
FSI is now expanding One Team course offerings to accommodate the estimated 2,500 new employees who join the Department each year. Based on lessons learned and feedback from participants during the pilot phase, FSI will offer One Team as one of the first orientation courses for all new Department employees from 2021 on. The course is designed to be taken within the first two weeks to two years of an employee’s career.
One Team provides a meaningful orientation experience for those in employment categories that have not previously had a dedicated orientation class, including LE staff, appointment-eligible family members, contractors, and political appointees. Combined, these employees make up more than half the Department’s total workforce. The value of a shared orientation course for all employees is reinforced through feedback from new employees who participate in the course.
“Everyone in the Department, not just those newly entering, would benefit from the course. It was wonderful to meet colleagues from all over the world, and I feel like we really got a deeper sense of how vast the Department’s operations are and how we play a role in achieving the mission,” one participant noted.
FSI plans to run approximately 10 One Team classes each year, and most offerings will be in person once the pandemic abates. However, some sections will remain fully virtual for easier inclusion of employees outside the Washington area. Registration links for the fiscal year 2021 course offerings are open in the online FSI Course Catalog.
Additionally, FSI’s Orientation Division is developing various One Team learning opportunities for Department employees at all phases in their careers through a variety of channels. The One Team Communities@State site is a learning portal for course participants and a landing pad for all employees to explore how they will fit into One Team. The site hosts a library of relevant reading materials, discussion guides, and online discussion fora. Building on the pilot experiences of the One Team course, FSI will conclude an analysis of how to incorporate LE staff into orientation training; continue to provide avenues to welcome contractors; and establish deeper working relationships with the Office of White House Liaison as it welcomes political appointees from the new administration.
In the long term, One Team aims to achieve lasting institutional change, leading to a future where a collaborative spirit supports the Department’s role as the leader of American foreign policy and diplomatic efforts worldwide. Furthermore, the course organizers hope One Team spurs a collective appreciation of all employees’ inherent value to the Department and a deep, continuous investment in training—both at FSI and regional training center—to improve professional development opportunities for all employees.
“This orientation course acknowledges a meaningful shift in our organizational culture, one focused on inclusivity and valuing every individual’s contribution to achieving our mission,” said Kate Marsh, deputy director of the Orientation Division and One Team course coordinator. “In addition to the course for new hires, we are considering how we embody the concepts of One Team in every office and mission, especially for those of us who are leading teams or have been with the Department for years. Our new colleagues who engage in the course help us build a culture of One Team from day one and current employees are critical in ensuring we all are part of the culture of One Team, too.”
John Berry is an administrative assistant in the Orientation Division at the Foreign Service Institute. Hannah Radner is an administrative assistant in the Orientation Division at the Foreign Service Institute.