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Trust – hard earned, but worth fighting for

Written by: Julie Towers is managing director at Penna
Published on: 15 Jul 2019

Sponsoring and judging The MJ award for senior leadership team is always a privilege. The opportunity to read and hear about the great team work being done in local government and the impact teams are making is inspiring. It’s also educational as we get to see the lessons learned, what’s worked and what hasn’t, and in our shortlisted authorities we get to understand how a group of individuals can come together to create fantastic outcomes.

This year was no exception; indeed, the winning entry – Hull City Council – was a stunning example of how high performing teams can both improve outcomes for the organisation and the place, have fun and inspire others – demonstrating that once you have the right ingredients the influence just grows and grows. So, I was keen to see and share with you what those key ingredients were, what was consistent across all our shortlisted teams and what we could learn from their success.

Matt Jukes and his senior leadership team were impressive from the off, in their written entry and in their presentation. Matt’s views on what good looks like was clear. ‘Good “looks like” a team that is united, that are passionate about what they do, that are passionate about their place (where they are doing it) and has a clear and shared focus on what is required (for their elected members, their place and their people) and the parts they need to play in getting them there…and also understands what that means for their services, how they need to interact and support one another and how they can facilitate and develop the commitment and skills of their staff and, increasingly, the role of external partners and communities that are so important.’

The East Herts team concurred with his views about focusing on the team: ‘We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses really well, initially as a result of having undertaken some constructive team building exercises, which helped us to be self-aware about where we can support each other (and where we can’t).’

All of the shortlisted authorities had unsurprisingly spent time investing in their team work, not leaving it to chance or informality, they were regularly meeting, spending significant time together talking about issues and working on problems together, but also talking about how they worked together, through facilitated sessions, using team diagnostics and really being prepared to ‘call out’ poor behaviour and in particular silo working. With one of the nominees stating: ‘We’d much rather employ someone who is really positive, open-minded and flexible than someone who has years and years of experience or specialist knowledge’. Which further enhanced our view that the successful teams were able to do more together than individually, and through hiring team players that did not use their technical expertise to create empires, were going further faster.

More focus is being put on strengths, values and behaviours when recruiting, and it is encouraging to see more clients investing in this and in all recruitment, but particularly leadership roles. Interestingly but not surprisingly, our recent Chief Executive Annual Survey in conjunction with The MJ concurs with this direction of travel. More of this in a future issue.

The qualities that our nominees had and sought in their leaders were consistent:

• Ambition for people and place

• Enthusiasm and energy to go beyond what is expected

• To engage, influence and inspire

• To find solutions through working with others, inside and outside the organisation

• Commitment to public service and place

And the key ingredient they were all aiming to build in their teams was trust. Hard earned, and often misunderstood but all shortlist entries talked of building trust, with each other, with their employees, their members and their partners. We all know it takes time to build trust and the road to success is not always smooth, but the strong teams stuck together, worked hard on difference and challenge and never walked away when it got tough.

The winning team at Hull City Council know exactly what good looks like and are determined to ensure they deliver on it, as their entry explained: ‘A senior leader must look across, and at, the wider organisation, and the external environment, with the desire to utilise all of the people and the skills they have within it. This requires a conscious effort to make space to “educate” and “explain” (internally within the team, within the wider council, staff and members, and externally), to listen and to utilise the strength from positive challenge (you can and must challenge without isolating) from outside of specific services, and a strong and collective will to focus on particular issues or opportunities and their solutions (not just looking at things in silos) along with an extensive and meaningful commitment to engage with and develop our staff, support elected members, and work effectively with stakeholders and residents.’

Congratulations Hull City Council and our shortlisted authorities. We’re proud to sponsor this category and celebrate your work.

Julie Towers is managing director at Penna

Julie Towers