It’s now over five years since I left Durham County Council. Looking back I still feel that I (we) achieved a lot. Through the freedom agenda (freedom from location, freedom from hierarchy and freedom from dogma) I changed the way that the department thought about itself, giving individuals much more freedom and much more trust than what they were used to. I managed to achieve things that everyone said I couldn’t do, especially in a public sector, local government environment. Nobody ever stopped me from outside the team and asked me what I was doing.
I wonder though if I went far enough. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, we all have a fantastic ability to tell what should have happened rather than what did. If only! I have been thinking however, of something I should have done but never considered.
What then? Throughout my time I made strident efforts to break down the gap between the leadership and the rest of the team. My argument was that everyone should have the same objectives for the department yet each of us has a different job to do. I was and still am certain that I would not be able to do the majority of jobs of the people I was working with while if the boot was on the other foot, many could have made a good fist of what I did. Perhaps I undersell myself.
I think though that I didn’t take enough steps to break down any barriers between the teams. The fact that I still think of them as two teams highlights my point. Whilst decision making in theory, was pushed closer to the point of contact with the customer, I never really brought down the barrier.
On reflection I should have set up some sort of employee representation to sit in with the leadership team. I could have created a form of independent election process, handled outside of the department (after all the Council does have an Elections team) to have one, two, or three fixed term representatives to ensure that communication was relevant, the direction was agreed and that everyone understood some of the pressures that the department were facing. I would have paid them as well.
Perhaps there would have been an enormous amount of detail to consider but experience tells me that it would have been possible, after all everything else was. If I had my time over again, this is something I would definitely have pursued.