210 – Collaboration: There Will be Challenges

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Dr. Sandie Morgan and Dave Stachowiak are joined by Erin Albright, the former Director of the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force. She has over 12 years of experience in the anti-trafficking field and specializes in building organizational capacity and multidisciplinary collaboration through leadership, training, and consultation with service providers, law enforcement, task forces, and lawmakers.  Together they look at building a multidisciplinary collaboration to respond to human trafficking.

Key Points

  • Collaboration is a process that is difficult and will take work.
  • Three critical elements of building a task force are leadership, structure, and culture.
  • Subcommittees or any substructure should develop an overarching purpose statement and some specific goals in order to help keep people aligned with each other.
  • Setting the tone within a group that collaborates can truly make or break the group because it sets the stage for growth in really positive ways.
  • Reasons to understand roles and responsibilities: 1) It mitigates conflict within a multidisciplinary team. 2) Roles help avoid confusion for the victim. 3) It can help identify gaps in manpower and training. 4) It helps individuals maintain role integrity. 5) Lastly, roles help manage expectations across the team.


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Dave [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. This is episode number 210 – Collaboration: There Will be Challenges.

Production Credits [00:00:08] Produced by Innovate Learning, Maximizing Human Potential.

Dave [00:00:30] Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast. My name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie [00:00:35] And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave [00:00:38] And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. Sandie, a word today that has come up a lot in our conversations over the years, and the word is collaboration. But I think we’re going to dive in a bit further than we have in the past on collaboration.

Sandie [00:00:58] Absolutely.

Dave [00:00:59] I am glad to welcome to the show today, Erin Albright. She is the former director of the New Hampshire Human Trafficking Collaborative Task Force. She has over 12 years of experience in the anti-trafficking field and specializes in building organizational capacity and multidisciplinary collaboration through leadership, training, and consultation with service providers, law enforcement, task forces, and lawmakers. She recently completed a three-year visiting fellowship with the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, where she focused on improving victim-centered response strategies, developing capacity-building tools and training for labor trafficking, and building multidisciplinary collaboration to respond to human trafficking. Erin, we’re so glad to welcome you to the Ending Human Trafficking podcast.

Erin [00:01:48] Thanks so much. It’s good to be here.

Sandie [00:01:50] Well, and I met you when you were in New Hampshire, and I was out there doing some healthcare provider training, I think. And I have followed you because Derek Marsh was kind of the B.J.A.  Counterpart to your O.V.C. Fellowship Training Task Forces. And so, this idea of collaboration for task forces is very directive in the grant world. So, now human trafficking task force grants are often labeled enhanced collaborative model because we have people from very different sectors with competing agendas. So, you have law enforcement and maybe their big goal is to find the bad guy and put him in jail. And victim services who want to do the very best they can to do a rescue and restoration, and they may be very focused on protecting their client. And so how do you build a collaborative model? I studied quite a bit of William Wilberforce’s efforts to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And he talked about overlapping networks and can really inform how we can build better and stronger collaborations by understanding this idea of overlapping networks. It doesn’t mean we all join the same circle and do everything the same way. We still maintain our individual identities and we work to figure out how we can work together to achieve a greater goal. So, that’s kind of my intro to frame this conversation. And I’d love to hear from you, Erin, about the pieces of that process that are significant for you.

Erin [00:03:53] Yes. Well, I had actually never heard of that overlapping network analogy in the past. And I think it’s brilliant. It definitely describes exactly what we’ve recognized to be necessary in the anti-trafficking world. And you’re right that in the grant-funded world, with respect to trafficking, over the past probably decade and a half, folks have really recognized that no one can do it alone. So, this term collaboration keeps popping up and it very much does look like there are overlap networks. And I think for me and the work that I do is about untangling some of those networks where they do overlap with each other and figuring out exactly how they work, why they’re not working, what some of the challenges are. So, you’ll hear a lot of folks talk about, you know, collaboration, it’s heavily dependent on building relationships with other fields. And that’s true. But a lot of the work I do try to dig even deeper into that, where I’m looking at some of the more minutia parts, how are these folks in this group that come from these different worlds, how are they actually interacting with each other? And what are the really subtle problems that maybe nobody’s recognizing because they are coming from these different spaces and sometimes, they need a little bit of help and support to tease out what those issues are because more often than not, they’re not readily apparent. So, that’s a lot of work that I do. And like you said, it’s critical to making the human trafficking task forces work, which in turn are critical to being able to actually identify and support victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

Sandie [00:05:26] So, when I have reviewed this a bit more, I’ve noticed that you emphasized structure. What is it about structure that is so important, especially in leadership?

Erin [00:05:39] Well, I think that there are three really critical elements of building a task force. And like you just said, leadership and structure are two of them, and then I think culture is the third one. But for me, you know, you need a strong leader to be able to navigate all the twists and turns and complication of bringing together these disparate parties who have similar and overlapping interests, but not the exact same interests. But then what that does is then speak to a structure. You need a leader and a team structure that’s going to be supportive of everybody doing what they do and doing it well. So, for instance, we see a lot of task forces, you know, they’ll create subcommittees, which I think are really important. They’ll have known services subcommittee that focuses on improving service outcomes for survivors. And I think the critical role there is giving that structure just as much attention as you would give the task force as a whole structure, because what you’re really doing is you’re providing guidance for all the members to know what they’re supposed to be doing and help clear some other way for them so that they can focus and do their job and do them well and support the victims, you know, without having to always come back and figure out who they’re supposed to be talking to or what they’re supposed to be working on.

Sandie [00:06:55] Give us kind of an example of what support for a subcommittee might look like.

Erin [00:07:02] Absolutely. So, when I’m working with task forces, I always advocate for any subcommittee or any substructure that you have. It should have a defined purpose written down on paper. The purpose of this committee is to do A, B and C. And then it should also have a strategy and some goals. It should be the purpose of this committee is to do A, B and C, you know, over the next couple of months we hope to accomplish these three tasks. So, guideposts like that that help maintain the focus, because Sandie, you know as well as I do that things can get pretty chaotic at times. Everybody is pulled in 100 different directions and it’s easy to lose focus because someone is yanking on you in one way. But I’ve found that if you actually sit down as a group and you develop this overarching purpose statement and some specific goals, it really helps keep people aligned with each other and makes you more successful.

Sandie [00:08:00] And I think that probably leads to this concept of the importance of culture and collaboration.

Erin [00:08:07] Yeah. So, culture is really, it’s probably one of the softest and most overlooked elements of collaboration, and yet it really can be the key to success. And for me, what culture really means is setting up a tone within your group, setting up an atmosphere of collegiality, of honesty and open communication and trust. And important for me, especially in the trafficking world, is a culture of learning where you’re constantly pushing yourselves to be better. And also a culture of transparency where everybody can come to the table and say, you know, hey, I don’t actually know the answer to this or, hey, I think this is a problem and they can do that feeling safe enough that the other folks in the task force are going to respond in a supportive way and not a way that tries to tear them down or cast blame. So, for me, that really does make or break things because it sets the stage for growth in really positive ways.

Sandie [00:09:08] Well, and those terms that you’re using about trust, and learning from each other, and communication. Those are all pieces of what I identify as strong relationships. So, having relationships that are part of an institution, that’s kind of challenging because relationships often extend beyond your 9 to 5 role. And we have to have boundaries for our family and your lifestyle. And so, managing these professional relationships becomes something we actually have to learn how to do, and it’s critical to collaboration. One of the things that challenge me sometimes is how do I do that when I’ve only got an hour for a meeting? And do you have any tips on how you can structure a meeting to enhance that kind of tone or culture?

Erin [00:10:09] Well, the best thing I think I can do is sort of give you anecdotally from my own experience, because I recognize pretty early on in my days in New Hampshire that some folks only do have that hour or those two hours once a month and tried really hard to figure out ways to maximize it and ultimately realize that a lot of the work done at meetings can actually happen on email or can actually happen on phone calls. So, what we actually did, we would devote that hour, or part of that hour, specifically to what I would call trust-building activities. So, it might be going around the table and everybody just sharing, hey, what did you do last month? What are you going to do next month? And in sharing it and getting to know what everybody was doing, it also opened the door for when there was a break that people could connect in the hall and get to know each other a little bit better. We also did a lot of icebreakers, which I thought was an amazing way to sort of literally break the ice and sort of relax everybody into the moment. And after a while, when you have a habit of doing that, you develop trust in other folks because you see them begin to open up or be more transparent. I guess the third way, if we were working on something like a mission statement or we were working on something like foundational values for the task force, I would bring that to the task force and have them all work on it together during a meeting rather than someone sit back or write it and email it out. It seemed to me that that type of activity was a really great moment where everybody can actually come together and work together.

Sandie [00:11:42] And everybody’s going to be heard.

Erin [00:11:44] Right.

Sandie [00:11:45] Otherwise, it’s just rubber-stamping something somebody worked on all by themselves, which is not collaborative.

Erin [00:11:51] Exactly. And this goes back to I have to say, your point on leadership because they think it’s incumbent on the leadership of the task force to understand the members of the task force. To understand who they are, what their strengths are so that they can be the facilitator during the meetings to help bring out some of those qualities, especially among members who may be tend to be a little bit shy or reserved. It can be really beneficial to have that leader support them and talk in speaking out.

Sandie [00:12:20] So, you’re envisioning a leader that’s more of a facilitator, not “I have all the answers in my binder right here. So, we can get done early”

Erin [00:12:28] I am. And the way that I have described it in the past is in an ideal world I see the task force leadership as a coach, where they have the long-term vision, they have the playbook, they know each of the members, they are familiar with their strengths, their weaknesses, what they like, what they don’t like. And their role is to help position everybody in a way that they’re going to have the most successful and in ways that are going to allow each individual member, as well as the task force at large, to be successful.

Sandie [00:12:58] So, keeping all of that in mind, we do know we are very confident there will be challenges. And so, let’s kind of spend the rest of this talking about what challenges should we anticipate?

Erin [00:13:15] Absolutely. And obviously, you know me because this is my favorite topic.

Sandie [00:13:20] OK. Good, go for it.

Erin [00:13:22] You know, one of my mantras is, “it’s going to be messy, we might as well own it.” And then that comes from the fact that as long as we could acknowledging in advance that it is going to be messy, that when stuff does get complicated, at least we have a little bit of perspective on it. You mentioned it earlier, but for me, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting back and looking at these groups that I’ve worked with for over 12 years. And I’ve come up with four or five things that I think are wrong with that element of culture. They’re sort of more subtle things that people don’t always have the language for, but they always happen. It’s not a matter of if they happen, it’s a matter of when they happen in collaboration. So, being able to flag those for groups in advance and then occasionally repeat them, at least give them a heads up, that when it does happen, they either A) they have language for it and B) they might be better able to address it as a group because they can sort of identify where that’s coming from.

Sandie [00:14:22] So, what’s the first aspect of this that we should have in our minds before we walk into the room?

Erin [00:14:30] Yes, so one of the biggest ones I think what happens is philosophical differences. And by that, I mean again, this is a multidisciplinary group. As you said, they have overlapping networks, but they’re not all in the same circle. They each retain their own identities, their own roles, but they overlap at certain things. But each person or each agency might be coming from a different philosophical background. So, things that, you know, victim service providers are often coming from, for instance, empowerment or a human right underlying philosophy, law enforcement might be coming more from, you know, criminal justice or a rule of law philosophy. You often have a lot of grassroots folks also involved in anti-trafficking stuff. And they’re obviously coming from sort of more of its grassroots philosophy. And if we enter into these collaborative spaces without acknowledging those different grounding philosophies, we missed a chance to basically mitigate pension down the road.

Sandie [00:15:31] Wait. Okay. I have a question now, you said if we enter into this without acknowledging it. Does that mean I, as the leader, just need to tell myself before I walk in the room, or is that something we need to acknowledge as a group? And what would that look like?

Erin [00:15:47] I highly promote acknowledging it as a group. I highly encourage any opportunity to sit down as a group and have these discussions and they might be messy, or they might be challenging. But the more those groups can struggle together, the better off. And I think also it helps provide a platform for everybody in the room to really clarify what their philosophy is. It’s very easy to say law enforcement comes from a rule of law philosophy. Well, maybe it’s not exactly that, right. So, if I move in and then actually bring this to a second one, which is assumptions. Which I think also can be really tricky. So, an example would be, if I walked into a room just assuming that all the law enforcement in there came from this more severe rule of law perspective, I might be in for a rude awakening or some challenging conversations down the road because I assumed rather than taking an opportunity to talk it through with the group.

Sandie [00:16:41] Okay. So, when you talk about talking through with the group, you’ve mentioned to me before, group readiness. So, what does that look like? Because I can’t just come into a group I just met and start at this level. So, what do I need to do first?

Erin [00:16:59] Well, I think group readiness also speaks back to that, that be on the lookout for that challenge of assumptions because it’s very easy to assume that your group is ready to respond to a trafficking case or it’s ready to go out and do an event. And if that’s not the truth, if you have just assumed that instead of really being there, you’ll realize really quick. But I think for me, group readiness really speaks to everybody there, knows why they’re there, their role is clear, the rest of the team members also understand that role in what they are and what they’re doing. I think group readiness also means that you do have protocols in place that have thought through some of the trickier issues so that you’re not leaving anybody in the 11th hour to make last-minute decisions.

Sandie [00:17:47] Listening to you, I think back to junior high. My favorite P.E. course was basketball with Miss Marston, who told us that if we practiced and practiced and practiced and played our position, we would have a winning team. And if we got out there and we did somebody else’s job that we hadn’t practiced, we’d mess up. And I have seen that happen so many times with task forces. When somebody else takes on somebody else’s job, let them do their job and you do yours, stay in your role and then the whole team works well together. So, I get very frustrated when people don’t understand how important it is to do what they said they would do, in other words clearly serve the role that they signed on to serve.

Erin [00:18:44] Absolutely. And it’s probably one of my biggest frustrations. And it’s interesting that you explain it that way, Sandie, because as you were explaining and giving that example. My immediate thought was initially going back to our conversation about the structure and it’s really critical to have a solid structure. And to your point, though, when someone takes on somebody else’s role, in essence, what they’re doing is undermining the structure of the team, which doesn’t help anybody. It only hurts everybody.

Sandie [00:19:14] So, the idea of training sometimes isn’t necessarily that as a task force, you are training individual disciplines, but we have to actually do training about what it looks like to work together, what is in MDT, what is a multidisciplinary team. And we expect if you’re from law enforcement, that you have the training to be on this collaborative team. And so, we come together, and we think we can instantly because we have all the right people in the room. We can play a good game. But it seems to me that we actually need training on collaboration. What does that look like?

Erin [00:19:54] Well, I just have to say, Sandie, wouldn’t it be great if just having the right people in the room made everything work?

Sandie [00:20:01] Yeah, our jobs would be much easier.

Erin [00:20:04] We wouldn’t be having this conversation today. So, for me, it actually goes back to simple team building, simple strategies around team building. I think that that for all that, we understand what survivors need and Law Enforcement understands how to investigate a case it’s still very easy to come together in these supposed collaborative spaces and not really have any team mentality or never having really focused to get to your point on what does it actually look like to collaborate? So, for me that training begins with basic team-building skills that maybe doesn’t even talk about trafficking at all, but gets people familiar with each other, familiar with communicating with each other well helps them, well this brings trafficking back into it, but help them define their roles and responsibilities. And that’s also what I mean when I say things like it’s often the softer things that injure the collaboration. Service providers know how to provide services, law enforcement knows how to investigate. They can come together in a room every month. And it’s all of these softer things that we’re talking about today, that will really make or break whether or not they’re successful.

Sandie [00:21:14] Wow. So, the sort of landed in this place in our discussion where we’re talking about understanding roles. And you gave me a list of five reasons why that’s important. Can we talk about those in this last segment of the podcast?

Erin [00:21:31] Yes, absolutely. And I do want to emphasize that, you know, over the past three years, I’ve had the chance to either work with or view from closer than before, between 36 and 40 task forces around the country. And I can tell you, every last one tends to skip this step.

Sandie [00:21:50] So, people that are listening, pay attention.

Erin [00:21:53] Yes. So, roll clarification is so important. And here’s why. First and foremost is it a mitigating conflict. Once you understand what that victim service provider is doing, you know what they can and cannot share. It’s a lot easier for law enforcement. What it does, is it decreases frustration with each other. The second thing that role clear patient does, it helps avoid confusion for victims and survivors you’re working with. I think it’s really important that they know who the case manager is and that that’s the person to talk to for certain things. And that if they asked a law enforcement agent for the same things in the law enforcement agent, you know, break out of their role to do some stuff that’s really confusing for everybody involved. So, it helps mitigate confusion for victims and survivors. The third thing is it helps you identify where your gaps are. We don’t always have the right people in the room. We don’t know we know who we need in the room. But if you understand your role and other people’s roles and you stick to them, there will come a day where there’s a gap in the system. And that helps your strategic plan for filling that gap, for seeking funding, for filling that gap. So, that’s the third one, the fourth one, it helps each individual maintain their role integrity. You probably experience this as much as I have, but because we’re still figuring a lot of this out, there are oftentimes pressures to move outside of your role. And I think if you have a solid understanding of everybody’s roles and what they can and cannot do, it helps decrease pressure on everybody to move outside of their roles when that usually is not an appropriate step to take. And then the final one that I have is, you know, having really well-defined roles and responsibilities, it also helps manage expectations for everybody.

Sandie [00:23:40] Wow. And unmet expectations are often the seeds of conflict.

Erin [00:23:48] Bingo.

Sandie [00:23:48] I’ve seen that over and over again. Wow. Our time is almost out, and I have so much more I want to talk about. And in fact, while I have you on the air, it’s kind of like your captive moment. Will you come back and let’s talk about conflict in the collaborative model in another podcast?

Erin [00:24:10] I would absolutely, and I can, you know, I can talk about any of these topics all day long, but I think that that one is so critical. So, I would be happy to come back and have that conversation.

Sandie [00:24:19] Okay. Because I don’t want to end this. And people are saying, but then they didn’t talk about the problem of conflict. Oh, it has been such a delight to have this conversation. I hope that people will share this podcast. And it applies not just to a federal model. It applies to any group of people working together for a common purpose. And the respect and the communication, those are all elements that will make your collaborative effort stronger. And we want to be stronger because we really do care about the people we serve. Erin, anything you want to close with?

Erin [00:25:03] Well, I would just echo what you just said and say that not only does it make you stronger as a collaborative, it actually makes your role in the collaborative easier. So, it benefits everybody all around.

Sandie [00:25:18] Alright. Well, I want my role to be easier. I feel like sometimes we are pushing a rope instead of pulling it. And there are better ways to do things. So, we’re going to put links in here to some of the things that you’ve done. You’ve done some great webinars and we’ll have those available online if you go to our show notes so people can access that. Thank you so much for giving us your time today, Erin.

Erin [00:25:46] Well, thank you so much. It was great to chat with you, and I look forward to exploring other things in the future.

Sandie [00:25:53] Alright.

Dave [00:25:54] Sandie, we’ve hit on some key topics here, and I’ll just reinforce what Erin has said. And it’s not enough to have the right people in the room, it’s a great starting point. I think about the work that we do in our academy groups on leadership. We never talk about leadership very much in the first session. It’s really about building relationships and then that intention first that Erin discussed. So, our invitation is for you to consider the same. And also, if you’re just joining us for one of the first few episodes, I would also invite you to take the first step and hop online and download a copy of Sandie’s book. It’s absolutely free and it’ll get you started, The Quick Start Guide to Ending Human Trafficking, The Five Things You Must Know. It’ll teach you the five critical things that Sandie’s identified in her work here at the Global Center for Women and Justice that you should know before you join the fight against human trafficking. You can get access by going over to endinghumantrafficking.org. And also, while you’re online, please do take a moment to consider investigating the next Ensure Justice conference. That’s coming up in early 2020, it’s going to be on March 6th and 7th here in Southern California, and that’s at ensurejustice.com. Sandie, always a pleasure. And I’ll see you back in two weeks.

Sandie [00:27:20] Thanks, Dave.

Dave [00:27:21] Thanks, everyone.

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