Collective leadership – making it happen

28 Jun 2019 02:44 PM

Blog posted by:  and , 28 June 2019 – Categories: Effective leadersGood management.

Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary, Department for International Development, flanked by Kate Josephs and David Hallam at a leadership discussion event

Matthew Rycroft, Permanent Secretary, Department for International Development, flanked by David Hallam and Kate Josephs

At one of the events of Civil Service Live 2018, we joined a table of directors discussing how we cultivate a learning culture – learning from successes as well as missteps; creating the conditions for our teams to take balanced risks, to ‘fail fast and learn’.

What happened was a recognition that on that table we had a huge amount of experience to share – delivering in crisis situations in the Middle East; responding to provider failure in UK public services; or leading through the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy. Thirty minutes wasn’t long enough – we needed something regular, where we could: 

Network event

In March this year, we teamed up with the Civil Service Leadership Academyand One Team Gov to organise a directors’ network event for directors from all government departments. We stepped forward to run the ‘event’ and set the theme of strengthening collective leadership in times of change and uncertainty. It was risky, but at least we would have something to learn from! 

We spent time designing an event with Nour Sidawi and Jason Brewster from One Team Gov that we hoped would break the mould. 

Would anyone actually turn up! We needn’t have worried, over 30 directors from a wide variety of departments joined us, along with two Permanent Secretaries and three inspiring speakers.

The theme of ‘Leading through change and uncertainty’ really struck a chord. It’s a subject that we all cared about. People shared their personal experiences and learning in leadership during times of pressure, challenge and change. 

The discussions didn’t develop entirely as we expected. Conversation took a reflective and personal turn – participants were open, honest and vulnerable, showing a willingness to share. 

What we learned

So, while we didn’t end up able to distil our combined experience into a handy checklist of ‘hints and tips’, what we learned, and what we’re sharing, is more meaningful and gives us a clear sense of where to take the network going forward:

Next milestone

This event was a milestone for us and we are already planning our next Directors Network Collective Leadership event on 17 July. This will focus on 'How to be yourself and thrive in a high-risk, uncertain world'.  All directors across Whitehall are invited – details are here.

We will share how we designed the event to help others create the space to do the same. Huge thanks to the Civil Service Leadership AcademyOne Team Gov and all the directors for making it such a success.

The support and help we need is in and comes through networks that allow us to be vulnerable and ask for help. If you are a director and would like to join the network, e-mail:

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