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One who what now?

Helen Graham
Jun 11, 2019 · 4 min read

TL;DR: Come and talk about stuff. It’s much better than it sounds.

I first heard about One Team Gov when a colleague recommended getting involved and I asked what it was, and he said “we just talk about stuff really”. Which doesn’t sound that great, but he seemed very positive about it and he’s quite a down to earth sort of person who would be unlikely to be into something that was just wishy washy nonsense.

“We’re a global community, working together to radically reform the public sector through practical action. We’re driven by optimism and the desire to make things better, and united by a set of core principles.” — One Team Gov website

The description of One Team Gov on its own website is very grandiose and quite abstract. Perhaps because of this, and because the lofty aim of making public services better is so huge and complex, it’s not easy for everyone to engage with. Maybe it’s intuitively engaging if you’re a big dreamer, blue sky thinker, love all that grand thinking stuff. But I am a deeply pragmatic person, an empiricist, a technocrat, a gradualist, a skeptic. What appeal does this have for me?

Not just London

Various events are held under the One Team Gov banner, all over the world, and I’ve been attending the Leeds breakfasts when I can. They’re once a fortnight for an hour and I try to get to at least one a month. People write down what they want to discuss on a post it note, we vote with dots (three dots each), and we talk about as many topics as we have time for, in order of votes. Discussions are time limited to fit several into the hour, with a squeaky rubber chicken telling us it’s time to move on. It’s a pretty solid way to get in a focused hour of chat.

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He has the power

The sort of things we discuss often revolve around particular challenges we’re facing at work — especially inter-personal challenges around getting people on board with our ideas and objectives, effective teamwork, knowledge sharing and networking. Also some slightly more specific things, like ‘we’re about to roll out Office 365, has anyone done this yet? How are you using Teams?’ etc. People can share their experiences of best practice (or bad practice!), and we can all learn from each other.

The format (lean coffee if that means anything to you) and in fact the very thought of taking part in something like that probably feels more appealing or normal to those working in the digital sphere than those outside of it, and a majority of participants do come from those types of roles and departments. But not everyone does, and discussions are rarely technical, and much more likely to be people focused (I think honestly because that’s what tech-y people often struggle with more!).

Why bother

One way to look at it is a networking opportunity, to meet people from different departments and outside government. It’s useful to see what other people do, and get different perspectives. It may also be a way in to a department you’ve been wanting to get in touch with for ages, or you might meet someone who can actually help you with something, because they are further down the line with a similar project, or they have expertise. Or maybe someone who wants to organise something or collaborate with you. Even just having a safe space to get stuff off your chest can be cathartic — even if all people have to offer is sympathy, or can’t suggest anything you haven’t tried already.

So is it just a talking shop? Does anything actually happen as a result of these sessions? I think some people panic a bit that the breakfast doesn’t necessarily generate a load of concrete to-dos, but just because people aren’t taking away actions from each session, it doesn’t mean it’s not making a difference. Frankly I wouldn’t bother if it was something that was going to generate a ton of extra work for me because I don’t need that — but nor would I bother if I wasn’t getting anything out of it.

What I can do is take what I’ve learned, and the fairly sound set of values that the collective aspires to, into my day to day practice as a civil servant. Its effectiveness is in the percentage more productive my day is after a bit of useful feedback, or in the way I’ve managed to bring a better or more revolutionary mindset to the way I work. It embeds a confidence and a resolve to bring about change and look for ways to make things better, and a commitment to positive practices such as working in the open, and including everyone in the conversation.

Not everyone will be interested, and if you can’t see an advantage in any of the above, I don’t think I can sell the concept to you. But there’s plenty of scope to expand. If you’re based in or around Leeds, why not come along to a breakfast? They’re advertised on the website, or get in touch with Lisa Jeffery (lisa.jeffery@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk) for more info.

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