A couple of months ago I joined my colleagues on the Leadership Team of East Lothian Council on a weekend course entitled “The Innerwick Experience”. The Leadership Team is made up of: all Heads of Service, e.g. Head of Education, Head of ICT and Finance, etc; the four Directors – Finance; Planning; Community Services; and Education and Children’s Services (me); and Alan Blackie – the Chief Executive.
Back in October 2007 East Lothian Council received a negative Best Value Report:
Accounts Commission deputy chair Isabelle Low said: “East Lothian Council has so far made limited progress in establishing Best Value for its local population, which is of particular concern considering its advantages. And its lack of openness and lack of leadership have not served it well.
Since that time there have been huge changes in the Council, and the Leadership Team have been working on developing a more positive culture which is focused upon the needs of the population of East Lothian. I wrote about our first meeting back in July of last year when we considered the kind of culture we would aspire to in East Lothian.
Building upon the work started by Alex McCrorie, our team, led by Alan Blackie have been gradually developing our capacity to work together – as opposed to the silos which were a characteristic of the past. A key step in that journey was our “Challenge for Change”conference held in April that was exceptionally well received and which began to develop a sense of belonging to a worthwhile organisation that could make difference to people’s lives. I don’t think anyone would claim that we are anything but at the beginning of that road – especially with the impact of Single Status, and the associated feelings of being under-valued; the challenge of meeting efficiency savings; and the fact that our customers haven’t yet been able to see a difference.
Having only created the Leadership Team in July last year and with only one meeting a month the “team” dimension was fairly limted – and so it was that we decided earlier this year to organise an event which would allow us to build our capacity to operate as a real team where we knew, valued, trusted and supported each other – but most importantly improved the way in which we led our colleagues and delivered our services.
We made a conscious decision to devise and deliver the course from within our own resources – some similar management team building courses can cost up to £4000 per person. We used the Innerwick Field Study Centre (£10 per night per person) and aside from the contribution of two drama coaches the programme was delivered by East Lothian staff.
I think all of us had some reservations prior to attending the event, but on reflection the programme was a great success and more than met the outcomes we had set ourselves. I won’t go into the actual detail of the programme but it put us in a variety of situations where we had to rely upon each other, care for each other, make use of each others’ strengths and -most importantly – work together. Throughout it all we kept coming back to how might we work more effectively in the future and change the way in which we currently did things. It was the creativity, courage and honesty which emerged that made it such an exceptionally powerful team experience.
It all came together when we were asked to try to create a collective metaphor to represent our vision for the kind of service we would like to provide for the people of East Lothian Council. We started off trying to create an arrow, showing a sense of purpose and direction but this was felt to be too focused upon us as opposed to our customers; then we tried a shape which involved supporting people and moving them from one place to another, but this was thought to be too much like a conveyor belt and created a dependency culture; then we struck upon the idea of a doorway, through which people could choose to enter and which led into a space where they were welcomed and supported – we also created high above our heads (and out of sight of users) a network of canes which linked us all together. As we discussed the idea it reinforced the idea of a single doorway to services, a customer facing organisation, an organisation which was well connected (but where the connections are out of sight), and, lastly, an organisation which welcomed others to join it. One of the observers commented that she really wanted to go through the doorway and enter the space. This led back to the discussion back in July of last year when one of the possible strap-lines had been “East Lothian: A Space to Grow”. Certainly it seemed to strike a chord with all of us present – a place which enabled people to grow and develop. The idea of giving people space is also a critical concept in creating a healthy public service, i.e. to choose and have a personalised service.
The difference between now and July ’07 is that we now have the bond, the capacity and the shared commitment to actually deliver such a vision. As is normally the case I’d like to thank all those who worked so hard to put this event together but without any doubt the group which made it the success it was were my colleagues who showed such immense commitment towards each other and who, above all else, showed that they care about delivering a high quality public service to the people of East Lothian.
My last hope that we can consider ways in which we could allow others within the organisation to benefit from such a transformational experience.