Final Four and Interagency
I watched the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four last week while on temporary duty in basketball-crazy Lithuania. It somehow seemed appropriate to be watching in such a hoops-passionate nation. In Lithuania, basketball transcends sport; it is a lifestyle, nearly a religion.
For years, Lithuania has sent players to the NBA. They traditionally compete well in the Olympics (#4 in 2008 Beijing Olympics) and recently hosted the European Basketball Championships. I saw more kids playing basketball here than the more traditional European sport of football (soccer). The present location of the Lithuanian Energy Security Center, which I visited, is even co-located with the military academy’s basketball court! As I said, Lithuania was a fitting venue .
As I followed the Final Four I was reminded that there were four common requirements necessary both for this basketball tournament and for interagency partnering, my line of work at US European Command (EUCOM).
Structure. For college basketball, there are preliminary regional tournaments, and season-ending play-offs with brackets, all culminating in the Final Four.
For interagency partnering the structure at EUCOM is the J9 Directorate. The J9 was established in November 2009 and has since been emulated at other U.S. geographic commands. We all see the value of having a structure to host interagency partners and to champion collaboration. Without the structure, interagency partnering might look more like a street ball, pick-up game; fun perhaps, but not nearly as effective.
Leadership Support. Both interagency partnering and the college basketball tournament have benefited immensely from top-down support. The tournament was created and is actively promoted by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). They’ve made March Madness part of the fabric of American society. Even here in Lithuania it is avidly viewed, as some 14 Lithuanians play NCAA ball.
Our commander, Adm. Stavridis, has been consistent and ardent in touting the importance of interagency partnering. His advocacy for whole of government thinking has made that mindset pervasive among our enterprise.
Right People. Three of the Final Four teams were brimming with NBA-caliber talent. The fourth team, Louisville, may have lacked NBA-level gifts, but was guided by an exceptional coach. Clearly, the right people, whether players or coaches, are necessary for basketball success.
In J9, we have sought out the right people; consciously recruited and hired them, professionally developed them, and worked hard to retain those that embody a team spirit.
- Relationships. The coach of the University of Kentucky’s basketball team attributed their victory to…well…teamwork. He credited their success to the strong relationships among his team members. We find the same in Stuttgart. One can have the structure (J9 Directorate), top-down leadership (support of our Commander), the right people ( a good mix of agency partners, joint active and reserve military, civilians and contractors), but in the end the success of interagency collaboration depends on relationships. Trust is essential. Trust grows both on the basketball court and in our directorate through hard work, practice, a willingness to suspend doubt, by listening, seeking compromise, keeping egos in check, helping out, and playing to each other’s strengths. Like the Wildcats, in J9 we also feel these investments have been worth it: a slam dunk.
Mike Anderson, Acting Director
J9 Interagency Directorate