Making It Not Risky: King County Employees Form Their Future

The small Office of Risk Management for King County, Washington, has a big job: resolving claims against King County resulting from bus accidents, items missing from the jail’s property room and other unfortunate occurrences. At times the staff’s work with claimants can be contentious. The staff of the Office of Risk Management needs—really deserves—a good team environment in the office to decompress from challenging interactions. However, the results of the 2015 King County employee engagement survey showed the team had a lot of work to do to create the type of great team dynamics that make for great places to work.

The Lean journey begins in the Office of Risk Management

Risk Management

King County began its Lean journey in earnest a few years ago, prompted by the King County Executive’s vision of becoming “the best run government” using Lean and other business management practices to improve service delivery.

To support the King County vision, the Office of Risk Management developed a vision, mission, values and a tier board in the summer of 2015. They were on their way to becoming a healthier organization.

King County’s Office of Risk Management employees develop key goals and initiatives to reach their vision during a strategic management system session with Integris Performance Advisors.

Survey says: A measure of employee engagement

In the fall of 2015, King County conducted an employee engagement survey across all of the 13,000+ County employees. The survey asked questions about a variety of workplace-related characteristics as well as overall satisfaction, including:

  • Professional development
  • Performance feedback
  • Supervision and management
  • Characteristics of the work environment
  • Internal communication

“The Office of Risk Management’s Employee Engagement Survey results indicated a need to focus on becoming more of a cohesive team,” said Jennifer Hills, Director of the Office of Risk Management. “We have a group of strong individual performers, but lacked a unified approach to our work. With Integris, we are building a solid foundation of team trust, respect, healthy conflict, and accountability which will enable us to then focus on continuous improvement and strategic work.”

Cohesive teams produce better team results

The 22-member office began its work in earnest in March 2016 to focus improving the work environment for staff. The entire team was invited to engage in discussions about the team’s interactions using the Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team model. The model focuses on building healthy behaviors as a team:

  • Build TRUST
  • Engage in CONFLICT around ideas
  • COMMIT to decisions
  • Hold each other ACCOUNTABLE
  • Focus on shared RESULTS

During an action-packed one-day retreat, the team crafted a list of key action items to move them forward in building a more trusting, cohesive team starting with establishing ground rules to encourage respectful, inclusive staff meetings.

meeting ground rules

“The feeling of trust, of being able to express your idea and have someone disagree with you and have that conflict being productive, is new,” said Sean Catanese, Enterprise Risk Management Program Manager. “We are putting the passive-aggressive behaviors to bed so we can be real with one another and that is refreshing.”

Team dynamics are an important predictor of organizational health. Download The Blueprint for Team Cohesion to learn how your teams can get to the next-level.

Continuing the journey: creating operational excellence

In May, the Risk Management team put their improved team dynamics to the test. With the goal of revising the vision, mission, and values and building out key goals and measures, the team once again pulled together. It was clear that the Five Cohesive Behaviors of a Team messages were still resonating, as the team chose to add the values of “teamwork” and “respect” to the previous list.

At each level of their work, the focus on team dynamics was front and center. For instance, the team added “respect” and “teamwork” to their earlier list of values and one of the five top-level goals focused specifically on fostering “a culture of ongoing learning and employee development.” After two days of hard work, the team had another success under its belt, both in terms of work product and team process.

“We had all put aside our heavy workloads, and many of us got together begrudgingly, with a nebulous idea of “team building.” Integris engaged us by providing colorful anecdotes to illustrate the significance of a clearly defined vision and mission,” said Erin Ferrell, Contracts Analyst. “We muddled through word choices together, slowly realizing that the significance was in the muddling, the working together, as much as it was in the clear and concise mission language at which we ultimately arrived.”

The next steps: building culture intentionally

Next up, the King County Office of Risk Management will build out an 18-month plan or “road map” to advance its Lean journey with a focus on the four pillars of operational excellence: customer focus, enterprise alignment, continuous improvement and intentional culture. The improved team behaviors will certainly pay dividends as the team works together to become an even healthier organization achieving ever greater results.

“In the aftermath of our meetings with Integris we’ve seen more people asking for help and more people being willing to step up and help,” said Sean Catanese. “There is a new sense of inclusion and common purpose.”

About The Client

King CountyKing County in Washington is the 13th most populous county in the United States. King County as an organization has 13,000+ employees and an $10 billion biennial budget. Among other major priorities, King County Executive Dow Constantine has set a policy goal of being the best-run government in the United States by employing business practices like Lean management to deliver government services more efficiently. King County’s Office of Risk Management has 22 employees and a $60 million biennial budget. The division provides claims, insurance, enterprise risk management and contract review services.


Gwen Voelpel

Gwen Voelpel has 20 years of experience in coaching and mentoring leaders at all levels of organizations. She has an undergraduate degree in communications, a graduate degree in public administration, and has served as an executive leader in several organizations. Gwen is an accredited Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team and Everything DiSC Workplace Facilitator and a Certified Master in Training for The Leadership Challenge.