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So, what has One Team Gov and the Directors’ Network actually achieved?

Part of a series of posts written by the Directors’ Network, supported by One Team Gov and the National Leadership Centre

So, what has the Directors’ Network actually achieved?

One Team Gov teamed up with the Directors’ Network and the National Leadership Centre to develop collective leadership across government. This type of leadership needs a fundamental mindset shift, as well as time and space to think how best to work collectively.

It is our responsibility to develop collective leadership, nurturing cultures of collaboration, experimentation, and creativity — with openness, learning and willingness to take collective action at their core. So, we are playing out a large scale experiment on how to grow a community of Directors committed to collective leadership, co-creation, and building cultures that support collaboration.

I’ve often heard Directors asking, “What has the Directors’ Network actually achieved? Where are we going? Why aren’t we *doing* anything?”, sceptics and followers alike.

Well, after two and a half years of holding space for public sector leaders to connect, talk, and share, I think it’s time to reflect on that question. As we approach the official two year anniversary of Directors’ Network (and I’ve been hanging around since those early days months before that whilst we thought about it), I thought it was about time to bring together some of that story, and to think about what happens next.

Where did this all come from?

Leading public services has always been tough — we have to tackle complex societal issues which no single organisation can face alone, especially during these times. As public sector leaders, Directors are at the forefront of this, wrestling with the systemic and interrelated nature of many issues. Today’s landscape is even harder, with volatility and uncertainty the hallmarks of the last 5 years.

Navigating this complexity requires Directors to work together more seamlessly across boundaries. It is our responsibility to develop collective leadership, nurturing cultures of collaboration, experimentation, and creativity — with openness, learning, and willingness to take collective action. This is a huge challenge to public sector leaders, but also gives us an opportunity to find ways to work more effectively together.

The story of the inception of the Directors’ Network is that essentially Kate, David, Frankie, Gavin, and Naomi built an alliance over their mutual desire to bring Directors together as a group to share collective experience, look beyond departmental silos, and reflect purposefully together. They met at a Civil Service Live 2018 event for Directors, where they had a super interesting conversation about risk (Kate says it is possible!) and how we cultivate a learning culture.

At the end of the conversation, they felt like they needed something regular, where they could learn and share. Before this point, they hadn’t known or previously worked with one another. They bonded over a mutual desire to create safe spaces for public sector leaders to connect with each other. They felt like they needed it — and they were bold and brave enough to say if they needed it…then maybe some other people did, too.

Those early discussions at Civil Service Live 2018 led to an event on collective leadership in times of change and uncertainty, which led to some more themed events, which lead to regular breakfast calls.

What has the journey been like?

“Being part of a small group and finding out what the art of the possible is with a group of people determined to make something happen has been inspiring.”

They’ve learned how brilliant it is to be partners in crime — and they’ve felt braver and bolder for it. They’ve faced their fears as Directors to put themselves out there, harnessing the opportunity, energy, and enthusiasm they have. They’ve challenged themselves about how they make a difference, not just the difference they make. It has taken quite a lot of courage to just do something; they’ve seen a lot of their peers find it difficult to take that step.

They’ve learned that there are fantastic people with things to share. They’ve learned from the journey itself — of creating things if you’re prepared to have a go and just see what happens and having the faith that people will step up somehow. That there will be always be someone out there who wants to make a difference, if they can find a way to do it.

What’s happened so far?

We have taken part in an ongoing conversation whilst we “learn through doing”, practising change in environments where ‘nothing is clear, and everything keeps changing’ (Collective Leadership, Workforce Scotland). The focus of our interactions has been led by the community, working in the open and going where the energy is to convene a conversation together. It’s a mindset — we are changing how Directors give back to foster a leadership community through events that are ‘By Directors, For Directors’.

So far, we have prioritised exploring collective leadership through the lens of these three areas:

  • How do we lead collectively?
  • How do we work differently together?
  • How do we lead inclusively?

Over the past two years the community has done more that it has realised, delivering 4 in-person and 17 virtual events to over 450 Directors across government (many of whom have attended regularly in that duration). The highlights are:

March 2019: The Directors’ Network teams up with the Collective Leadership Team and One Team Gov to develop collective leadership across government. This comes after a conversation during the One Team Gov unconference event dedicated to Exploring Future Leadership.

May 2019 — ‘Leading through change and uncertainty’: We ran our first event, bringing together over 40 Directors to discuss strengthening collective leadership in times of change and uncertainty. It’s a subject that we all cared about. We shared our personal experiences and learning in leadership during times of pressure, challenge and change.

July 2019 — ‘How to be yourself and thrive in a high-risk, uncertain world’: We ran our second event, taking a more personal perspective, as we worked through a simulation exercise to explore how we lead authentically and thrive in uncertain and high- pressure times. It was brilliant fun!

September 2019 — ‘Leading across boundaries’: Our third event saw Directors sharing their collective insights and experiences of systems leadership in government.

March 2020: We had our annual retrospective and goal-setting session to come up with our three goals for 2020. Due to COVID-19, we also made made the decision to move our meetups to fortnightly breakfast calls on Zoom. There would be 17 in total from March to December 2020. We worried that the pandemic would extinguish the network — but it did the exact opposite — and our breakfast calls built momentum in this duration.

April 2020: We ran three breakfast calls on Zoom (first, second, and third), where we connected with public sector leaders across the country. It showed us just how far we could reach!

May 2020 — How do we ‘bottle the positives’ from the COVID-19 response to continue working differently in the future?: We heard from annarandle (Collaborate CIC) about ‘bottling the positives’ as she shared her insights on public sector leadership, collaborations with local government, and tackling complex social challenges. Anna prompted a lot of reflection and gave us all sorts of ideas!

June 2020 — Climate change in complex policy environments: We heard from Dr Andrea Cooper about her insights into government systems and climate change, and how we collectively work towards positive change in an issue that is global, complex, and expansive.

July 2020 — ‘Power, privilege, and difference’: This session, part of the Civil Service Live 2020 agenda, is where we had conversations on racial injustices, power, and privilege. We were joined by those in the public sector community who are passionate about this and committed to demonstrating personal action. We asked ourselves, “What are we doing to bring on the next generation of civil and public servants that look and sound different to what we’ve always had?”

November 2020 — ‘Postcards from the future’: Here we imagined what the Directors’ Network might look and feel like in 2025. We had an open conversation session about where we want to get to and what we could do to start to building towards it, and came up with our vision for a bold and meaningful public service of the future.

December 2020 — ‘What makes you optimistic’: In these times of change, how we relate with each other has never been so important. So, we rounded off the year with Victor Perton, advisor and founder of the Centre for Optimism, in a joyous session, with kindness and optimism aplenty!

These events have provided a valuable safe space, combined with exchange of learning, peer support, useful tools and new perspectives to shed fresh light on today’s environment and the role of public sector leaders. We have created a space that is safe enough for Directors to bring their whole selves, to experiment and practice, and to say how it is going to feel.

What keeps us coming back?

Community is best when it fuels honest conversation, and is fueled by a culture of curiosity where people are in a constant state of discovery, learning about themselves and others — and this is enabled by safe spaces. Directors need safe spaces to have conversations that open up possibilities, build connections, do work that they believe has value, and create the change they want to see and do things differently.

One of the things that this community has afforded us is the time to be curious — and there are not many other better uses of our time. We are seeding things (and that makes it difficult to point to a single practical outcome achieved). Every time we have a conversation it is thought provoking, challenging, and refreshing. It has given us some time to reflect on our leadership and what is going on in the system of government, and to triangulate our experiences.

We’ve learned that we’re not alone. There are not many spaces to come together at our level and it is important to foster it. It is a kind place to come to, a place that is helping us grow, and where we’ve spent time looking after ourselves and others. There is now a community here — that means something, that you can lean on when you need it or when you get stuck — and that is a really good thing.

We’re helping create and build a foundation of relationships: there are connections being made and renewed that go beyond the actual events we run. Our community is growing, and bigger than just a small group of people trying to start something. It is becoming more of a self-organising movement, which is what we always wanted.

And, what’s happening now?!

There is an energy for driving for something different.

The community has changed and grown over the past two years — it has evolved into something bigger than we expected. Having a foundation that people can return to and is a way of connecting across government is a core part of this. Here, we can work openly and across boundaries, build relationships, start with the public in mind, and strive to become more diverse and inclusive.

Our big conversations now must lead to meaningful action. We want Directors to feel there’s a place where they can come together to solve problems, when they’re trying to find a way through the system to address issues that we’re all struggling with. A place where we all take responsibility for the success of the public sector as a whole — not just for our own jobs or areas. We can be a driving force for thinking about how best to work collectively: how we can turn our conversations into action and working together.

We want it to be somewhere we can be our real, true selves and where we can support each other. We are injecting challenge, insight, and ideas into our conversations. We must try to keep finding opportunities to open up conversations, move them forward, and evolve our practices.

The Directors’ Network is constantly changing and evolving. We now intend to create space for others and grow outwards: to build, deepen, and sustain connections across government. This requires a deep, deliberate, and sustained effort.

We are shaping it together, one conversation at a time.



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.

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Nour Sidawi

Mastering the art of disruption in procurement, leadership, and change @MoJGoVUK. Reimagining the future of multifarious possibilities with @OneTeamGov 🌍