Earlier in the year I blogged about my experience and reflections at the first module of the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. I made a commitment to share blogs after each module, and promptly failed to blog about module 2! Not a great start, but let me explain…
In June, Network Rail and 13 Train Operators took strike action. That caused difficulties to travel arrangements and the decision was taken to shift to virtual delivery. There was much opposition, given the additional benefits of meeting in person, but ultimately the decision had been made.
2 days of training from my dining room was about as far from stimulating and thought provoking as it’s possible to get. Frankly I just didn’t feel inspired to write about it.
The great news is that Module 3 was back to in person delivery in glorious York, and was enlightening (and a little provocative). As with the first module, I’m documenting my early reflections ( subject to the group agreement about confidentiality) after two days of examining and challenging concepts relating to partnership working.
In 1642 the Dean of St Pauls Cathedral, John Donne, gave a sermon and said
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; is a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
There’s some heavy irony given Brexit, but this really encapsulates my views about partnership working. Everything is a partnership, or a collection of partnerships, or a complex, interdependent system of partnerships. We champion qualities such as independence and self-reliance, but non of us can exist without others, nor would we want to. Partnerships are fundamental to how society functions.
Things that I learned:
- An early activity was to highlight a personal strength and match with somebody who’s strength was an area for your own development.
- I’m good in a crisis (helpful, that!) and comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, messiness and shifting sands. I matched with somebody far more disciplined, boundaried and goal oriented to be my co-coach, providing feedback on our observations at the end of the course.
- This built on the Module 1 advice that self reflection isn’t enough, it is helpful to hear feedback from people who are not like us.
- This was incredibly powerful and I’m very grateful to my co-coach and it was fascinating what they observed about me within just a couple of days, it all rang true but was delivered in ways which would have taken me far longer if I was just navel gazing.
- Picciotto’s definition that partnerships are “a means to an end – a collaborative relationship toward mutually agreed objectives, involving shared responsibility for outcomes, distinct accountabilities and reciprocal obligations” generated much debate, particularly about whether they are a means to an end, or could be an end in themselves.
- We talked about whether partners were equal and how power relationships affect the relationship and ways of working.
- Considering how we might improve on Picciotto’s definition we covered factors such as trust and transparency, but also recognised that there would be limits to that, and that different partnerships might need different things as a result of their context and personalities.
- There were suggestions that the definition also needed to reference clarity, but I’m less sure about whether that is the goal, or if understanding would be more suitable – in some respects it’s easy to have clarity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people understand.
- Various activities and scenarios were presented where we were invited to consider rules and assumptions.
- The first activity related to an escape room challenge. I love an escape room however, this activity rubbed me up the wrong way because it seemed to suggest that rules don’t matter, which I feel opens the gate to anarchy. If the objective was to ask us to consider what assumptions we might be making, rather than suggesting if we don’t like the rules then change them then the exercise failed for me.
- Other activities related to ‘trading’ and ‘making a case’, both of these were interesting explorations and it was interesting to get feedback from the trainers that our our cohort collectively took a different and more collegiate approach, especially to the first scenario.
- The most useful learning for me came from approaching the same negotiation but from different mindsets (avoidance, accommodation, collaboration, compromise and competition), where both individual preferences.
- We considered the role of the Civil Service and it’s relationship to Government, democracy and morality. One particular conundrum is whether it’s better to work on something you’re passionate about or if that can present challenges to objectivity. I also have an emerging question about the use of consultants and contractors and whether this client-supplier relationship also impacts on objectivity.
Negotiations and Conflict
- Distributive vs Integrative negotiations – each have their advantages and uses, but also limitations. Need to consider in advance what might style might work best for a particular negotiation.
- For me there was a lot to learn from the session on preparing in advance for a negotiation. I frequently witness people doing this but rarely seem to find time to do it myself. A useful structure provided to structure negotiations was Process/Behaviour/Substance. In my world things like the Joint Decision Model provide a helpful process, the developed plans or emergency responders represent the substance, but perhaps the bit that is missing relates to behaviours. A useful technique to develop further.
- There was also a connection, for me, back to the ‘VoicePrint’ work of Module 1, where different negotiations can literally require a different tone of voice.
- I want to take advantage of co-coaching – exploring options for that and to learn how to get better at giving and receiving feedback
- I will practice using other conflict approaches which I’m less comfortable with – I currently feel anxious about using these which is a negative feedback loop, so if I try using them more, maybe I’ll change how I feel also.
- I’ll attempt to be a bit more vulnerable myself – this also doesn’t come naturally (and maybe should explore that further separately), but it seemed to be a useful negotiation technique to build rapport and empathy.
How am I getting on with my earlier FLS commitments?
A quick stocktake on whether I’ve kept my promises to myself…I committed to:
- Be more intentional about reflection. Update: 9/10! I have allocated a weekly half hour slot, late-ish on a Friday afternoon, to consolidate my thoughts, what has gone well, what could have happened differently, what I’ve learned and what’s stood out in the things I’ve read. I’m capturing these reflections and sharing with my team and have received feedback that it’s often the favourite email of the week – perhaps because I make extensive use of emoji’s. 🤷♂️
- Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 6/10. I have tried to do this, prompting my team in their quarterly development conversations to consider this and seeking their input on an essay relating to leadership but still find it a little awkward. On the advice of my coach, I also asked some friends how they see me, and whilst there were differences, there are some consistent themes in their observation of my behaviour.
- Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update: 2/10. I haven’t fully completed this yet, it’s harder than I thought to marry my personal values to some objectives and activities in the workplace.
- Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 6/10. To be honest this has been hit and miss. I volunteer to get involved and to lead pieces of work, I make my views known and try to bring balance to discussions. However, I recognise that my comfort zone is to listen before speaking. Lots of things you read encourage listening before speaking and when I hear ‘be more forthcoming’ I internalise that as ‘speaking without thinking’. That’s not helpful, but I think the feedback is actually about being a bit more transparent, and that’s something that requires more work.
The next module is in November, so come back then to check on my progress and latest musings!