Bridge Building – Weeknotes S3E01 4-11 June 2021

The theme this week is bridge building, both literal and metaphorical. I’ve decided to re-start weeknotes again, it’s been over a year since my last weeknote, although I have bridged the gap with private notes in my hardback diary. We had a good discussion in our SLT just before I went on leave for the half-term week. There was a feeling that it would be good to work in the open more. This is especially important given that our team is growing, and we’re coming towards the end of a discovery phase for what might be a significant transformation programme. My role is likely to morph again to fit what needs to be done for that.

I’m not going to summarise a whole year’s worth of activity, that would just be foolish. This is very much a reflection on how I feel now, and very recent events in my working life.

This Week

I came back on Tuesday after  just over a week on leave. I managed not to open my work laptop or even look at emails or teams messages on my phone. Although there were a lot of emails in my inbox (1,128) when I logged in, nothing was on fire. Except possibly the laptop that wanted to re-start to finish updates as soon as I’d opened Outlook. So I indulged it and re-started. It wanted a second restart at lunch-time, and I did that then. Then it decided that it needed to re-start again about 1400. So I made it wait until dinner time…

What was really positive is that the team made real progress with things while I was away, including onboarding people through a variety of recruitment campaigns and diversity internship campaigns. We had a new starter last week, who I’m looking forward to meeting. They also managed to develop my outline ideas on a blueprint, which will be the start of the conversations we need to have over the summer with colleagues across Defra group about our future operating model, and how we evolve to deal with whatever comes after the changes we’re currently responding to.

Things I’ve read

Not an exhaustive list, but a handful of links to interesting articles.

What I’ve done

This week I have mostly:

  • Written up how we go from a handful of design principles, through iterations of a blueprint, to a future operating model. On my to-do list for next week is finding some other people across government, or even outside it, that do similar things so that we can swap notes. I’ve done this a couple of times before, and working with Deloitte earlier this year showed that my previous experiences were pretty typical, but there’s no substitute for finding other people that do the same thing to swap notes with.
  • Looked at what we need a Strategic Design Authority to do so that it has a real impact across Defra group. This is another short term to-do where I need to send a paper on it to the programme board next week. Once I’ve got some feedback/had the approach endorsed I need to get it moving and find the other people inside Defra group that do operating model work or architecture and bring them into a working group that can act as our design authority.

Future Leaders Scheme Interview – reflection

  • Prepped for an interview for a place on the Future Leaders Scheme. I had the interview this morning, and did my best to follow the advice I’d been given. I’m not convinced I’m going to place in the top 22 out of the 90 being interviewed.
    • I don’t think I gave brilliant answers about being inclusive (lots of talking 1:1 and focussing on making people comfortable and listening); or career planning (I think my answer was too long in scope – too much big picture and I’ve not got to where I want to be); my answer on being an authentic leader was waffle about being myself, being open about being an active parent, making sure the team have permission to work flexibly, treating people as people, and trying to be human about how we work.
    • on the plus side I squeezed in what I hope to get from FLS, and how I have used reflection to build not only my own capability but also my teams. I also talked about how I wanted to be able to make the high performing teams I’ve built outlast my time in post, and also scale that ability up so that when I manage multiple teams that there’s the same effect across my area.
    • Other areas that I didn’t think went so well were around challenging conversations (I gave some examples, and picked one to expand on, but I don’t think I properly show-cased how I prepped for those, and there seemed to be an expectation that I’d had some lightbulb moment that had dramatically changed the course of my career).
    • There were a couple of those sorts of questions, about telling them one thing that made a change. I find those hard because that’s not how I think, and there are so many things that have affected me and how I see the world, that singling one, or two, out lacks credibility to me (even though I’m sure it would make a great story). Maybe 15 years ago, when I first turned my attention to SCS1 roles I might have had a moment to pick out, because I had less life experience to choose from.
    • I was also asked about how I turned a failure into a personal success, and I spoke about FiReControl, and touched on ID Cards, and how 2010 made me hugely reflective. Even though I couldn’t save that project, and all the small successes (some of which were actually significant at the time) were tarred with the failure of the IT procurement. However I’ve used that experience not only to shape better delivery of government projects, but also to further my career through speaking about failure and the lessons on avoiding complexity.

Outside Work

A brave scout from Woodhouse Troop, 5th Reigate Scouts, is the first one to cross the rope bridge they’ve built (Photo: James Kemp)

We had a bit of an issue with the oil system on our not quite three year old Dacia Sandero, so there’s been a lot of talking to the lovely people at the local dealership about the solution. That’s caused a bit of working round things as we fall back on public transport until the car was collected early on Thursday morning from the garage.

On Thursday evening my scout troop built a rope bridge, which was the first time we have tried large scale pioneering. I was pretty impressed that the scouts (with a bit of adult support) managed to build it and get everyone across. Next time we need to find a stream to cross with it to focus them on not getting wet! The other thing I’ve been doing for scouts is planning an overnight hike. A while back we had a crazy idea of doing a hike near the summer solstice and walking from dusk until dawn before having breakfast and going home to sleep. We couldn’t do it for the actual solstice as the scouts will be at school that day, so we put it in the diary for 19-20 June. We were in two minds about it, but we’ve had a lot of scouts sign up to it (41 scouts/explorers and 5 leaders, plus a couple of adult helpers to prepare breakfast from 0430-0530).

Next Week

I’m back to a normal week (I had Monday off too this week because it was an INSET day). We’ve got a couple of new people starting in the team, and already my diary is mostly full for the week, and that’s before I factor in the Civil Service Live sessions I want to attend, some of which are on my usual non-working day. I’ve also got some spot mentoring sessions for Civil Service Live to fit into my calendar too…

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