In even the most transparent, tranquil working environments, collaboration between disparate factions can be terribly difficult, and emotional. In a war-torn country whipsawed by rival leaders and conflicting agendas, it's darn near suicidal. But not impossible.
Colonel Andrew Mackay -- a winner of our first-ever Fast 50 readers' challenge -- is living proof. Last year, Mackay led a UN mission in Kosovo that was charged with reintroducing law and order to a society decimated by war and neglect. Along with three resolute teammates, Mackay engineered cooperation in the midst of chaos, uniting the local police, the UN justice department, and the NATO military force under a common cause: security and justice in Kosovo.
That Mackay survived, and ushered in a dozen groundbreaking national reforms within the span of one year, is not just noteworthy; it's incredible. His initiatives, inspired by the business world and powered by a tenacious young team of change agents, included a witness-protection program, a reorganization of the justice department, and a stronger prison system. He achieved all of those goals, and more.
"We had a vision and a mission to give Kosovo the tools it needed to build a stable democracy," he says. "Promoting, establishing, and delivering effective law and order will be the primary means by which the country manages this transformation."
Here, Mackay -- a 20-year veteran of the British military -- explains how he initiated collaboration between the least likely comrades and introduced democracy in the most unforgiving environment.
When Mackay began his post as head of the UN's Advisory Unit on Security in January 2001, Kosovo bore fresh scars from the short but brutal war that had followed decades of internal and external neglect. Even worse, Mackay says, the UN mission there was unstructured and uninspired and lacked a forward-looking plan for reform. It became clear that Mackay's team would have to battle internal and external resistance, in addition to the obvious challenges of securing law, order, and judicial process in a war-torn nation.
"We began by asking, What is our vision?" Mackay says. "How are we measuring our performance? What are our objectives? Who do we have to convince further? Who's with us, and who isn't? If you're not, why not, and how do we have to convince you?"
Unite Your Forces
Mackay and his team -- a Danish lawyer, a British UN employee, and an American lawyer -- began by identifying the weak and missing links in Kosovo's law-and-order chain. They then set about drafting a vision statement outlining security goals for the nation. But before establishing the framework for an effective police force and an independent judiciary, Mackay says he had to negotiate alliances between local, UN, and NATO forces that weren't accustomed to selfless collaboration.
"There is a core staff within the UN that goes from mission to mission, becoming very set in its ways and resistant to change," he says. "We had to persuade, cajole, and convince these people that our radical ideas were worthwhile, that our proposed overhaul of the department of judicial affairs, for example, would pay off."
More challenges came from outside the UN. For Mackay's efforts to make a difference, the NATO military also had to buy in to his vision. That meant that Mackay, who was not a uniformed officer in this post, had to appeal to 45,000 troops from 40 different nations. "The military is very good at what it does, but it is decidedly not good at thinking outside the box," he says.
Though Mackay's team worked far from the front lines of conflict in Kosovo, it was not sheltered from the real impact of, and resistance to, its work. "The criminal and mafia elements in Kosovo were not interested in seeing us achieve our goals of law and order," Mackay says. "I was rung up and threatened to stop, or else. But it never really crossed my mind to leave the country. I couldn't stop doing what I was doing. It was too important."
Mackay's team kept in constant contact with the local police forces and UN "enablers" working directly with government leaders and citizens. That indirect connection with the Kosovars kept Mackay focused on his mission, and undistracted by daily bumps in the road, he says.
"We were trying to change a system that suffered from decades of neglect," Mackay says. "Not surprisingly, we encountered hardened views among the local population. The vast majority of people were sick to death of criminals ruling their lives, but they were also terribly intimidated. They could see that it was going to take major, sweeping changes to make Kosovo a better place to live."
Ultimately, Mackay helped launch initiatives that have transformed Kosovar society and steered it in the direction of democracy. The UN effort in Kosovo has achieved greater interparty dialogue, broader rights for minorities and women, increased job training, marked advances in the fight for residential property rights, and improved training and education for judges and lawyers in Kosovo, just to name a few successes.
"Put simply, the investment of billions of dollars will have come to naught unless effective and fair law and order is delivered in Kosovo," says Mackay, who is now working for the British Army in Scotland. "And I truly believe that our achievements laid the foundation for law and order to have a fighting chance in Kosovo."
Anni Layne Rodgers is the Fast Company senior Web editor. Cecilia Rothenberger is a former Fast Company Web writer.