Change on the front-line – a Conversation with Lisa - by Bernie White

Jan 27 2017


Lisa works in IT for a large public sector organisation that is increasingly implementing digital solutions to deliver greater public value. She and her team have previously been through the project from hell, so it was surprising to hear her say it was the best thing to happen for her team. The best of times and the worst of times.

 Here is what she thinks she and the team learnt and why it was worthwhile.

 1.      The power of a clear challenge. “We were amazing”. The team really pulled together and the challenge was a catalyst for adopting a different way of working. We had to let go of striving for our own standards of quality and accept ‘just enough’ quality. We had to learn to trust each other implicitly. We had to learn to react almost daily to: the unexpected, the unhelpful and the inconvenient. We learned to laugh in the face of adversity.

2.      The power of working together. There was a culture of relying on heroic efforts or heros to step in and save the day. It wasn’t sustainable. We had to stop people from sacrificing themselves and burning out completely. We made a deliberate decision to focus on longer term sustainability and work heroically together as a team. We learnt to have stand-up conversations as a whole group, not through the manager. We learnt to do something good everyday!

3.      The power of compassion. We had to learn to be more compassionate with ourselves and also with other teams who we relied upon. We let go of the ‘blame’ and just got on with it. We learnt not to sweat the small stuff. We learnt to go easy on ourselves.  We learnt to put some ‘love’ into it. We learnt what it felt like to be alive with our work.

4.      The power of simple principles. Everything relied on two principles that emerged from the project. These were Lisa’s take-aways as a manager and as a leader.

First, the importance of practicing Forgive Fast – don’t carry grudges forward as this would slow us down, distract us and lead us to away from being at our absolute best. Just keep moving .

Secondly, a kinship of Trust became more important as each day passed.  Without it, we were nothing.  With it, we were strong.  It didn’t guarantee any sort of technical success, but it didn’t matter.  Everyone would be there at the bitter end.  And we were.

Over the duration of the project Lisa’s role radically transformed from a all-perfecting action-orientated quality controller to a compassionate supporter of realising the collective potential of the group. When I spoke to her, she showed no signs of reverting back.