Weeknote w/c 4 and 11 March: getting out to learn about colleagues’ work

A ‘fortnight note’ to get myself back in step. I’m loving seeing spring arrive, especially the brighter mornings which I find a big improvement after the winter gloom!

A day with the waste team

When I joined Hackney I promised myself that I’d take time to get some first hand experience of our users’ work and reduce my risk of ‘ivory tower syndrome’. I’d planned to do something similar at my previous job but didn’t manage to follow through on that, so I’m resolved to do better at Hackney.

I’ve had really valuable visits to colleagues in Housing and Children’s services, and this spring I’m learning more about the work the Council’s Public Realm teams do. Two Mondays ago I started that with a day visiting our waste teams at Millfields. This covered several teams including the commercial waste service (the Council sells waste collection services to businesses, competing with private sector providers), cleaning on the Council’s estates, dealing with pests, the kennels where stray dogs are looked after and learning from the team who manage the waste collection shifts and requests from the public.

I came back with a list of things to follow up on, some of them smaller issues that our support team have picked up and some of them ideas for opportunities that we can look at together to help the services and explore links with other services in the Council. I can highly recommend taking time to do this and I’m looking forward to taking time with the libraries and parks teams in the next few weeks to learn about their services too.

How to HackIT

Last month I mentioned the work we are doing to create ‘How to HackIT’ – as part of developing an effective but light touch approach to governance and standards across the team (https://bytherye.com/2019/02/18/weeknote-20190218/). On Thursday a group of us from across different HackIT teams got together to look at the approach we’ve proposed, carry out a mini-assessment of some of the guides we’ve produced so far so that we can make sure they’re useful and clear, and agreed some areas that we will prioritise for the next month or two. It was really useful to take this time to reflect and it was a lively and enjoyable session. Our notes from the session are here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/118xLCcfmBHrIc-kS3IptMa2MTs8ZDydM5j5vXpLs5bg/edit?usp=sharing.

Linked to this, I think the single best thing that’s happened over the last two weeks was a note from a colleague in another part of the Council sharing a version of the induction plan that they’ve developed based on the ‘How to HackIT’ guide we developed for welcoming new starters into our team. They wanted to share their version because ‘there may be elements you may want to use to develop the ICT one and more importantly to let you know that your ‘working in the open / sharing’ has prompted us to adapt the way we work!’. I’m thoroughly chuffed about that!!

Other highlights from the last fortnight were:

  • I took some time with Ollie, Sarah and Tom to look at our position statement to make sure that we are providing colleagues with clear information about our plans for moving away from eDocs. It’s complicated because eDocs is used in a number of different ways and the volume of historic data means that a simple ‘lift and shift’ isn’t likely to meet our users’ needs. We’re going to be updating comms to colleagues shortly which will hopefully help to provide clear guidance on what they should expect.
  • Every three months senior managers from across the Council’s services get together for our Senior Managers’ Network meeting. We had one of these the week before last and it was the best that I’ve been to. This sort of cross-organisation meeting can often feel like a corporate broadcast, but this was quite different and included updates from across the Council’s work. We learned about new approaches to safeguarding, strategic Planning policy, work to promote healthy living, the work that Scrutiny do and the supported internships which are helping young people with special educational needs into work. It was a brilliant reminder of the important work that local authorities do and a good opportunity to look for ways that services might link up. Cate and I also used this as an opportunity to ask colleagues to help design the staff engagement we’re planning to get feedback on our thinking for the future mobile telephony service we will provide. I was really chuffed with the quality of response we got and we’re now looking at how we use that to develop our approach to the engagement work.
  • Tapan gave me an interesting overview of the work that he and colleagues in the Data & Insight team are doing to explore ways to publish more open data, including using AWS Lambda to help deliver that. Our hypothesis is that by linking this with our smart search tool for FOIs we can make a meaningful reduction in the number of freedom of information requests that colleagues receive, helping to reduce the significant cost of FOIs to the Council.
  • I joined a visit to a primary school in Dalston where we saw some great work that they’re doing using technology to support teaching and learning.
  • On Friday last week the Mayor and I did a joint presentation to a ‘data and digital masterclass’ for Councillors run by the Local Government Association. This was attended by Councillors from a range of authorities, including unitary boroughs, county councils and district councils and I found it really interesting to hear their experiences of working with data and technology in their authorities and enjoyed sharing our experience at Hackney.
  • We’ve had a challenging week and a half following the go live of the new pan-London Libraries system which Hackney is part of. This has particularly affected the self-service systems for borrowing and returning books, causing some pain for residents and libraries staff, and I’m really grateful for the hard work that has gone into resolving this (there are a few things outstanding but things are much improved now and heading in the right direction). We’ll need to make sure that we work through the causes of these issues and identify lessons that we can learn for future upgrades. From an initial look these are likely to include issues covering the technical set up, testing process and the way that support for externally managed systems like this is organised.
  • In happier news, the work to migrate the Council’s payments system has gone well and this was successfully completed last week. A huge thank you to everyone who helped to make this happen and put in lots of work to make sure that it ran smoothly.

Something I’m learning

We had our quarterly Divisional Management Team away day last week and we began that with a session that Cate ran, inspired by a post shared by Emily Webber (https://emilywebber.co.uk/the-team-manual-a-exercise-to-help-build-empathy-in-teams/). The Delivery team have used this recently but we were a little nervous that it might not work so well with a smaller group. I thought it was great, and it worked very well as a catalyst to a very productive day.

The exercise is designed to build understanding and empathy in teams and I liked how it helped to bring out some of our key motivations and the aspects of work that we enjoy and / or find more difficult. I’ve put my notes below in case it’s of interest (let me know if you can’t read my writing!).

Three of the things that I found thought provoking from this personally were:

  • When I began my career I got a lot of fulfilment from personal successes (for example, achieving strong sales results at the shop I managed) but I realise that what matters most to me now is feeling that I’ve been able to help others succeed.
  • I know that one of my challenges is delegation and resisting my urge to micro-manage. I find this especially difficult when something significant has broken operationally, because I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility (even guilt) for that.
  • I’ve never been very good at knowing clearly what I want to do for my career in the longer term. I used to wonder whether that ought to worry me, but I’ve now decided it shouldn’t and as a result I can enjoy what I’m doing without fretting too much.