Working Better Together – a case study

This week, the culmination of six months hard work in DG DIGIT came together and we took the first step as an organisation along the road to becoming the IT Service of the Future. We held an Away Day to begin to collaborate better with each other and work out how we can create together the culture and conditions for a working environment that people love and feel proud to be part of. The organisation of the day itself was carried out by a Project Team composed of colleagues from every part of DIGIT at every level, working together as equals and giving their time, skills and support to make it the enjoyable, productive day it was.

What I would like to share is my experience of being part of the Project Team; to show how it was a model or pilot of the kind of collaboration and ways of working we are hoping to foster as we go forward. The day itself was just the beginning; as I said during the final ‘check- out’ with the project team, the ‘easy’ part is finished, the hard work starts now, so this is my first contribution to help make that happen, by outlining the way we did things and why it all worked so well – the ingredients or ‘recipe’ if you like for the success of DIGIT Day from my perspective, in no particular order:

– The team were self-selecting, ensuring that we were all motivated and enthused from the beginning. Nobody was there against their will, we all made an active choice to help out, with no pressure at all to do so.

– Our participation was facilitated by management who agreed to allow the team members as much time as we needed to dedicate to the project; this made us feel enabled and empowered which is exactly the role of a good manager, to enable their staff and facilitate their work.

– Hierarchy did not exist in the team, we all respected each other and treated each other as equals. Everyone’s opinion counted and was taken into consideration.

– Team meetings were conducted in a participatory manner using Participatory Leadership techniques. It felt strange at first; the principle of ‘Checking In’ and ‘Checking Out’ for example, asking how people were feeling at the beginning, giving everyone time and space to speak, establishing the frame of mind people were in, speaking the often unspoken thoughts and feelings we bring with us. It is not something I have done before but by the end of the six months we spent together it felt completely normal and now I feel strange going into meetings ‘cold’ and not checking out at the end.

– Openness and trust – the previous point is one of the ways in which this developed and the team was able to bond by sharing these personal thoughts and feelings. It made things a lot easier; there were some team members who had never even met each other before, and when disagreements arise as they inevitably will this lack of personal relationship can lead to hostility and conflict. Through this process we learnt to recognise when we were speaking the voices of fear, judgement and cynicism and try to avoid reacting to these. Instead, by getting to know each other, we could understand why people had certain opinions and views and think more carefully about how to respond to each other.

– There is a marked difference between listening and hearing; similarly, there is a difference between voicing something and making sure it was understood. These are all very subtle things but can easily lead to misunderstandings and through this process I have learnt that checking understanding is important, another reason why PL techniques are useful.

– Each team member brought a certain skillset, which wasn’t necessarily anything to do with their actual job. Rather than simply being assigned tasks on the basis of our ‘day jobs’ we chose for ourselves what we wanted to take ownership of. Yes, there was a risk that too many people would want to do one thing and not enough people would want to do another, but in practice this rarely ever happens, people will fill the gaps of their own accord.

– Communication within the team was extremely fluid and constant; I will feel strange now, not being in such constant contact with my project team colleagues, as I have spoken to one or more of them almost every day for the last six months! We did as much of our communication as possible in a face to face way, whether in person or via Videoconference; since we were all based in different locations the Lync system became a lifeline for us.

– In terms of using collaborative tools, we organised our work using a collab site. we all knew that this was the place to find anything we needed; agendas for meetings, team discussions, photos, ideas to share, any documentation we needed, everything could be found there. It became a reflex action to check the collab site whenever I had a question, or if I needed something or wanted to share my ideas. This reflex is a crucial thing to develop, the use of these kind of tools should be natural and automatic and yet one of the things it seems we are still clinging to is sending endless emails with attachments, when these documents are usually already on a shared drive or on a collab site anyway.

– When disagreements arose, which will always happen, we managed to overcome them by focussing on our shared purpose; we found that by always coming back to that, we could put egos aside and decide how the purpose could best be achieved. We also took a ‘no blame’ approach; whatever might have been going off track or if something was not working as expected, the team came together to find a solution rather than wasting our energy deciding whose fault it was.

By the day before DIGIT Day, I can honestly say that I felt we operated as one single organism, there was unity of action, clarity of communication and depth of understanding from everyone on the team. It was really a very special experience and although it was challenging at first and demanding at times I feel that it opened me up to a new way of working and for me there is no going back. I am sure that this will come across from all of my project team colleagues and will inspire the people around them, and I feel sure that everyone who came to DIGIT Day felt the same. I’m looking forward to making it happen, together, starting now!


About Joanne Fry

LocalGov manager, aspiring writer, Politics and Public Policy bore, Feminist, ballroom dancer, dog lover. All views my own.
This entry was posted in Brussels, Coaching, Relationships, Work and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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