What, if anything, do public sector organisations have in common with the England football team? In a recently published MJ article, Amanda Reynolds and Craig Clarke use the positive example of the recent World Cup as a reminder of the leadership often displayed in the public sector, and how a team approach can reap significant rewards.
Few predicted England would make it to the semi finals of the football World Cup this year, and while it might seem trite to compare the challenges faced by the public sector to a game of football, it might be worth considering whether there is anything we can take from the ‘football’s coming home’ phenomena of the summer of 2018.
Many say Gareth Southgate has become the nation’s new spiritual leader and the England football team captured the hearts of even the most sceptical. Grand claims indeed, but some truth nonetheless, since even if only for a short time almost everyone – regardless of their normal interest in or knowledge of the subject – has had something to say about football, the leadership of Southgate and the team’s performance.
So, what if anything, do public sector organisations have in common with the England football team?
In a recent article, Jonathan Freedland talks about the law of football nature which for a considerable time was ‘It would rain in summer and England would go out on penalties. You could set your watch by it.’ He goes on to suggest that Southgate and his team have however refused to bow to the pressure of the past and are in fact trying to write their own histories. As Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis Tweeted ‘Southgate has just proved what it is to understand past mistakes so well you turn them into future victory.’
Southgate is reported to be immensely proud of his team and has demonstrated how a diverse and dynamic group of relatively unknown people can be brought together to produce performances that many thought were beyond them. This surely resonates with our public sector leaders today, many of whom are with their teams bravely writing their own histories, facing major challenges and the expectation to go further than they have ever done before.
While much of our work continues to consist of the appointment of individuals into roles, we have observed a marked increase in the number of clients seeking a larger team approach when seeking additional capacity. We think teams of consultants, like a team of footballers, are part of the solution for challenges facing public sector organisations.
A recent example saw GatenbySanderson and Blend associates deliver a project working with a large county council team to refresh their learning disability and autism strategic approach. When reviewing the work that was delivered we considered what had been instrumental in making the project a success. We concluded that like a great football team we bring players with different, yet complimentary skill sets and get them to work as one team focused on one brief.
We utilised a small team of very experienced former public sector leaders with more than 120 years of combined experience working in one team, to one brief. These are people who have worked in teams, like yours, and have faced some of the challenges you are facing too. Associates in the team included a former nurse director, senior policy advisor from the Department of Health, former board members of NHS trusts, finance director, policy writers from local government along with transformation and programme management and technology advisors.
We have huge respect for the many talented individual interims we work with, but this work was not about placing an interim.
A team approach worked well because the problems faced were complex and given the current climate were occurring concurrently. We all know about rising demand and needing to contain or reduce costs, but do you recognize any of the following in your organisation?
- Struggling with gaps in your leadership team and missing key skills.
- Large transformation projects that need additional short-term support.
- A multitude of existing projects taking up time that are not well connected.
- Pressure to review, refresh or write new strategy.
- No headspace as you and your team are distracted by many stakeholders.
- Staff engagement and morale are lower than they have been in the past.
- Challenging budget savings and the need to make better use of technology.
- Complaints of a lack of care and concern in client interactions.
- Loss of key individuals who hold the organisational memory.
Building a team with the right skills and that can work effectively together under pressure can make all the difference when facing these wicked problems. There are occasions when you need to bring in extra skills or capacity to make that perfect team, and that’s where consultancy support can accelerate your teams’ abilities. If you decide you do need additional support, look for the right team to support you.
They should support you like this:
- They understand your issues and bring in a range of skills and expertise you need, and they focus on delivering your overall brief.
- People who put your team and its potential first.
- They start with where you are at and create a tailored model.
- Via active and genuine engagement with your current folks they draw out what your people see as the opportunities and challenges.
- They think 80/20 with you so help you prioritise the most important aspects and challenge you to stop things that are a distraction or are not working for you.
- They encourage you to give up silo working and to bring your team together around one shared agenda.
- They are proactive, and action orientated so will help you to make a start on something quickly that will motivate and mobilise people.
- They get you a strategy BUT will go onto a ‘100-day plan’ to help your implementation.
- They use a coaching approach, so you can learn about yourself from the past, both success and failures, and learn some new approaches to leading change.
- They are easy to have around and are people your staff will trust and engage with.
It’s never been tougher to run public services but we, like you and Gareth Southgate, shouldn’t shy away from a challenge. We believe a blended team approach can be part of the answer and, like the England manager, we are optimistic for the future. A star signing in the form of an interim manager may be the right answer to some questions, but the team approach is also worth considering.