Take all the selfies and eat gelato for lunch
reflecting on One Team Gov Global and International Design in Gov
More than two weeks have passed since I flew to London and was part of One Team Gov Global and International Design in Gov. Since then, I’ve been reading the reflections of others and letting my own brain steep…
I’ve spent this past week on vacation with family. Traveling back to where I grew up and reconnecting with my childhood via my kids. Taking time off has let me process the loud thoughts along with the whispers and buzzing in my head that had evaded forming into cohesive notions until this morning. Sitting above Osoyoos lake in the early quiet, watching people casting and reeling... And finally it all just went, “click.”
1. We all need eachother.
I spoke at International Design in Gov about Making Change Without a Mandate. But after three intense days of conferences, another day of tours and conversations, and some much needed reflection time, it is pretty clear… it doesn’t matter. (Sorry, dear self)
It doesn’t matter if you have a clear mandate or not… This work, this making change within institutions (that cannot stop while we fix them,) it is incredibly hard work. It is hard regardless of the conditions, the team, the authority you have. This is why we need each other. This is why the communities we are building, virtual and in person are so important. As we continue to collaborate with conviction, we are all better, faster, and stronger in our work.
The openness and free exchange of ideas, research, tools, code, etc., is like air to small teams starting out… but equally, it matters to larger teams, as the early momentum, enthusiasm, and energy of new teams keeps veterans going. To hear from people inside GDS that our work in Nova Scotia is inspirational sounded like fiction…maybe just flattery… but I now realize, when it gets really hard, when any one of us is struggling to find the energy to keep going, (and we ALL do struggle by times) looking up (across a room or an ocean) and finding the eyes of comrades and peers is a lifeline. Almost every conversation in London ended with some version of, “It really helps, just knowing we’re not alone in this… that we’re all working on the same mission…”
2. It’s up to as many of us as we can bring along.
It feels so good when you find your tribe. But it is even better when you gain the courage to let go of the idea that you have one… maybe you need to be in a room of 700 people who are committed to the principles of One Team Gov to see that it’s not about any one tribe… or maybe you don’t…
As a volunteer for One Team Gov Global I spent most of my day in one room. This meant I didn’t choose what conversations I attended… at the outset I found some of the discussion topics bothered me. Frankly, I didn’t know why we should need to discuss, “As a women how do you stand out in government?” (There are at least three assumptions in that question that made me bristle… and I’m fairly certain it had little to do with jet-lag and the early Monday morning start.) But as the day moved on, I started to see the tension between the labels (woman, designer, policymaker, consultant, introvert, leader, etc.) repeatedly cycling across conversations…
It’s okay to identify these tensions, as long as we’re ready to give them up and move on. Inclusion is bigger than any one set of people whom you never talked to before. It requires us all to listen harder for the voices we don’t find it easy to hear… to look for the wisdom in those that disagree, or more likely, simply don’t start from where you are… to suspend the urge to label them as “another tribe” and walk towards those we recognize.
It requires patience and more importantly intention to include people you regard as a pain-in-the-arse. But we need to bring as many people with us as we can… it’s the only way we can do this… so listen hard and be certain before you write someone off…
3. Change pace, trajectory, and focus more often.
Everyone is moving on this journey in their own way. I often think about how to best align everyone on a team… (Spoiler: it usually involves talking first-hand to users)… But the cadence of both chaos and rhythm at #OneTeamGovGlobal and International #GovDesign… when seen from a distance revealed something else… while successful, you’ll likely be limited if you “stay on track" and “do the thing you’re good at.”
The magic of the 25/10 Liberating Structure we used to fill our agenda, the opportunity to find what mattered in a room of 700 was unlocked when we thoroughly mixed, wandered, and moved randomly but with purpose.
Recent conversations (about how introverts, ambiverts, or extroverts process, refine, and relay ideas) finally helped me put my finger on it (HT Lou Downe and Fiona McAra)… I realized I’m constantly in a state of impatience… waiting for others to just catch up already! But what might happen if I took a loop back to see what they’ve noticed… to see what is getting the careful consideration of someone at a different pace or trajectory? Really… getting somewhere first and then rushing everyone else defeats the purpose of a multidisciplinary team. However brilliant, an insight or solution has no value if you discover too late that nobody came with and you are all alone…
All of this has lead me to acknowledge the need to remind myself to slow down and meander purposefully at times. Being known as a person (or team) that “gets sh*t done” is a great way to earn permission to do more… but to truly achieve what I know I’m capable of, I know deep down the answer isn’t me “head down, going like snot…" I can be a more effective multiplier (HT Michelle Thong) if I circle back and match my stride with others more often… if I turn towards their trajectory to see what’s in focus for them… I wonder if occasionally being a passenger on someone else’s boat will help me more skillfully balance the application of empathy?
4. It turns out synergy isn’t just a sh!t buzz word!
I know that getting to go to London was an enormous privilege. Many amazing and worthy public servants just couldn’t get approvals to attend… some paid out of pocket, at significant expense, to be there… I am so grateful that somehow, Nova Scotia found a way to help me get there.
So, if you’re a senior public servant listen up:
You need to creatively find ways to send people to other places, to be with other teams doing the same work. It is not a luxury. It is a critical catalyst for the emergent, transformative leaders you don’t even know that you have…
While it may be hard to quantify in standard measures of output, there is just no substitute for person-to-person, in real life opportunities to meet, connect, and collaborate with ones peers.
YES! I took selfies to commemorate meeting people I’d only previously known through twitter, slack, blogs, or Skype calls.
YES! I ate gelato for lunch with people I’d only met 10 minutes earlier and then promptly forgot their names (sorry you two lovely humans) (Epilogue it was Tory Dunn and Philip Hogg!).
YES! We traded stickers like school kids!
AND… I had so many meaningful conversations. Many with peers I’d have never known or crossed paths with… never mind for a length of time required to allow for emergent ideas to take root.
AND… I gained new perspectives on familiar challenges. I’ve got a hearty list of new practices and tools to share with my team and beyond.
AND… I’ve increased the network of trusted peers I can ring up or tweet at for advice and support for projects we’re working on. I already know first hand how critical this network is to a small jurisdiction.
If you check… (I did) there’s a concise word for what happened.
Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning "working together".
That word gets bandied about to the point it’s become a meaningless buzz word. My experiences at One Team Gov Global and International Design in Gov were a rare moment when I’ve actually experienced real synergy. Senior bureaucrats, if you want meaningful change, make this kind of investment in your people.
So now, I’m sitting here sipping vacation coffee, high above the lake… people are waking up and more boats below are starting to move about… as they move, each on a divergent trajectory, at a different pace, by varied modes of propulsion, I notice their wakes are crossing, combining, and generating ripples. They spread in new directions, revealing unintended patterns, pushing up against the edges of the shoreline.
For me, this is the metaphor of that week in London… the close proximity, the purposefully random moments, the revealed patterns, the generative conversations and emergent synergy… it’s left me feeling both energized and just enough off balance to reaffirm the value and need to stay slightly outside any particular comfort zone.
I’m conscious and aware of what grounds me in my work. I am ready to reach just beyond what I can confidently know… then circle back, adjust my pace and trajectory… with others… with purpose.