w/c 14 January: getting partnerships right

The year is well underway and I’m now well into my annual ‘is it too far into January to still be wishing people happy new year?’ quandary. But 2019 has had plenty of variety so far, which is making for a good start to the year.

We’re continuing to focus on the January priorities that we set at our management team meeting at the start of the month. For me that’s meant taking time with Henry and Ollie to look at the work to refresh our ageing PCs and laptops; with Matthew looking at ways we can make sure we’re helping colleagues get the most from the new productivity tools we’ve been deploying; and working on our thinking for moving forward with some of the work we outlined at our November away day.


A colleague asked for a chat about something that I’d included in my last weeknote and it turned out that I’d used some terminology in a way that had caused a bit of concern and confusion (I think I’d picked up the wrong term). I was really pleased about this. It’s always encouraging to know that someone’s reading my weeknotes and this felt like an example of them being effective. Through sharing work in the open we were able to spot a misunderstanding quickly, talk together to clarify what we were doing and make sure that we’re all pointing in the same direction.

Building confident relationships with our colleagues

Something that’s really important to me is that we (ICT) work in a partnership of equal status with our colleagues in other services. I don’t like terms like ‘the business’, as that’s often used in a way that suggests that ICT are not part of the business, and I am keen to avoid us getting into a customer / supplier relationship with our colleagues because that disempowers us and can limit our contribution to driving improvement (and we all share the same customer – our residents). But it’s also important that we are working as partners and are seen to be listening and responding to priorities, pressures and concerns in the services we’re working with.

This month there have been a couple of examples of where we’ve had to test this approach – making sure that we’re standing up for principles that are important to us but also staying in listening mode and making sure that we don’t get locked into squabbles with colleagues. One of these relates to lack of familiarity with delivering change using an Agile approach and the other a proposed software decision which feels a bit rushed.

I’ve been encouraged by the progress with these and it feels like we’ve taken some steps forward in developing mutual understanding. My hunch is that neither is going to result in the ideal outcome that we would like if it was just down to us, but where a compromise is needed I think we’ll have a better understanding of why that needs to be the case and will have also strengthened our working relationship with our peers.

Other highlights from my week were:

  • Starting the week at the GDS offices in Whitechapel looking at the leadership training that they’re developing to support the Local Digital Declaration and sharing thoughts and experience to help shape that.
  • A good discussion with colleagues from other councils and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government agreeing how we will move forward with the next steps of development for the Pipeline collaboration platform.
  • Cate and I went to the management board to share our thinking on future models for mobile telephony provision. This was a productive discussion and we got a helpful steer which we’ll be using to develop a more detailed recommendation to take back in a few weeks time.
  • Planning a joint Divisional Management Team meeting with colleagues in another service – which we’re hoping to use as an opportunity to develop thinking for ways that central services can work together to help colleagues in other areas drive change and further improvement in their services.
  • Wrapping up the week with an excellent discussion with Catherine Howe and her team from Cancer Research, comparing notes and identifying areas that we might continue to learn from one another’s experiences and share thinking as we develop our work.

Something I’m learning

I instinctively avoid conflict where possible, which often makes me wonder whether I’m reaching reasonable compromises or whether I ought to push harder for things I think are important. The discussions I mentioned above have been a good opportunity to test how I’m getting on with learning to strike the right balance.