The Team

I noticed the other day the Public Digital Positions. I think they published them a week or two ago. They’re great, as you’d expect. I enjoy trying to read between the lines of a list like this and trying to interpret the reasons for–and the implications of–things they’ve said.

A picture of some doodles I’ve done, on a pink background.

As I read, it struck me that they’ve included “Teams are the fundamental unit of delivery” in this list. That phrase (or one like it) is one I remember from right back when I first started to engage with GDS and what they were doing.

I think it’s interesting that over all this time, through all the subtle changes and re-wordings of things like the Gov Design Principles or the Service Standard, this group have stuck with to this idea about the primacy of “the team”.

And yet from experience, in my neck of the woods, this is one of those ideas that is least talked about and least implemented. Sure there are teams, but it doesn’t feel like they’re regarded as the fundamental unit of delivery. They are certainly not funded over projects.

When I started at my current org, I was in a team. A great team. Probably the best team I’ve ever worked with. Not because they were better at their jobs, but because they were a genuinely multi-disciplinary group, and we really worked as a team. Since then, I’ve been in teams less. Either due to a sense that a service designer should “float” across several teams, or by being put in in teams that were just groups of senior-type individuals, working in close proximity, but not as a team. Recently I’ve found myself in a team. A real team. People from different disciplines working together with a shared purpose and a common goal. We work as a team, and the things we deliver (even though they aren’t bits of software) are products of the team. It’s ace!

And it’s brought back to me how important that is, and how amazing it is when it works, and seeing the Public Digital Positions it just made me think: Why are we not more aware of this? Why is this not a bigger deal? I think it goes to the heart of the reasons why digital transformation can sometimes stall. To see a team in this way implies that that team is properly empowered to deliver value. Properly empowering a team like this is a real challenge to the prevailing way organisations are structured. The top-down hierarchies most of us work in.

There’s a load of things you can do that make it look (or even feel) like you’re doing Digital right. But, if you aren’t willing, or you aren’t able, to restructure your organisation away from the deadening straight-jacket of those hierarchies, there will always be something missing.

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