Leading Great Teams in the Public Sector

14th November 2018
by Sara Peake

Public sector leaders have a tough job. As well as handling typical internal pressures such as delivering to tight deadlines, managing their teams and keeping up with technological advances, managers in local government face another level of accountability entirely. Their work directly impacts the lives of UK citizens, so every decision they make is under scrutiny and has to be backed up. There’s much more transparency: committee meetings are made public and leaders are subject to stronger codes of conduct than their equivalents in the private sector. A case has to be made for any costs funded by the public purse – being able to demonstrate results has become vital, particularly when justifying new hires.

None of this is simple, but, in my experience, there are many factors which can lighten the load of the leadership role. Technology is of course one example but equally what is often overlooked is an organisation’s internal processes and how teams can work better together.

What does a leader need to handle the pressures of the job?

Finding the best way to excel as a team while handling internal and external pressures is a challenge that every organisation faces. You have to keep things in perspective and maintain a healthy attitude. Being able to adapt to change is an essential part of every leader’s role in these circumstances. You can stick to your strategy and plan ahead but you will need to make adjustments along the way. Choosing when to apply those changes and understanding the impact of doing so comes with experience.

What role does technology play in local government today?

We are lucky to live in an age where technology can support the work we do. A great knowledge management platform will help with transparency, with everyone pushing all their information into one place to form a single point of truth. This kind of visibility is fundamental for effective decision-making, especially if combined with workflow automation.

As for recruitment and retention, we use our own software, Iken, internally as well as with our clients to help get new starters up to speed quickly with your organisation’s working processes. Many workers in the public sector will use Iken at one point or another during their career but it really can be applied to any organisation. The platform works in the same way, wherever you are, and enables managers to monitor their team’s work, so they can easily report on the progress of tasks and activities.

How “hands-on” should a leader should be in terms of their team’s workload?

It depends greatly on a number of factors: how experienced your team is, how embedded your processes are, whether you have specialist expertise you need to pass on to others, how well the business is performing – there are many, many different considerations.

I think it’s good practice to trust your team to do their jobs well and to escalate issues or queries to you. For new starters you need to be more involved, but for an experienced team you should delve deep only when required. Building transparent processes and ensuring that you have the management information you need to run the business means that you only get hands-on when you need to.

Visibility around the work everyone is doing is also very useful when it comes to management reporting – using technology to track your team’s activity and performance can help you demonstrate their value to the wider organisation and the people they serve.

How can we prepare the next generation of leaders?

Succession planning can often be overlooked, especially with all the daily distractions of targets to reach, reports to submit and projects to complete. But it doesn’t have to become overly complicated.

At Iken, we take the following approach:
• Invest in personal development: devise a robust personal development programme
• Gently pushing people outside of their comfort zones: encourage people to be the best version of themselves
• Lead by example: constantly show the team what ‘good’ looks like
• Present change as an opportunity: transformation is inevitable with the speed of today’s advances in technology and is not something to be afraid of

James Altucher has a relatable theory – you can change every aspect of your life for the better if you aim to improve by 1% every day. I think this is a great philosophy for busy managers to adhere to, giving us perspective even in the most pressured of times. And it is certainly an attitude we need to be instilling in the leaders of the future.

By Iken Director & CEO, Tanya Corsie

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