Spreading our wings
Wise men say you should never go back. Wise men also say that diamonds are only lumps of coal that stuck to their jobs under pressure, but that’s a story for another day.
Recently I found myself ignoring the first of these nuggets of advice and dropping into my old workplace. Having left there a short while ago I had steadfastly resisted the urge to pop in and see how they were doing, unlike many of my colleagues who had been doing so on a regular basis since they left. What they hoped to achieve is beyond me – the place hadn’t fallen apart after six days without them and in any case all they were doing was distracting people.
However, I was asked to go in to talk to a colleague who needed some support with a project I had some skills and history in, so keeping as low a profile as possible I made my way in and said a few brief hellos before going to the meeting room as quickly as possible.
Turns out that two of the other people who had left at about the same time I did had taken it upon themselves to go in that day as well, and had spent an hour or two each sharing stories about the goings-on in their new workplaces and more or less useful titbits of information.
This got me thinking about a shade of the silver lining which may be tenuously clinging to the edges of this cluster-muck of a situation local government is currently in; the forced Diaspora of council officers.
Historically speaking, many officers joined local authorities with the intention of staying there for quite some time. They built up a wealth of institutional knowledge and historical contextual information, generally turning into those hubs around which so many projects rotated. Besides those ambitious souls who were trying to move up the structure charts, many experienced officers stayed put and weren’t under any pressure to do otherwise, performing their duties more than adequately for years or even decades at a time.
Move on to more recent times and these same individuals are finding themselves in a new and very different situation. They are being forced out of their comfort zones to take on the work of other teams and colleagues, and are often finding themselves on the endangered list. Whilst their skills are undoubted, they are not protected in any way and are needing to consider moving on from their roles to others, both within and outside of the local authority.
And it’s not just those experienced individuals who are doing this; more and more, younger members of staff are moving from council to council, taking on new roles and developing new skills at a faster rate than ever before. In some ways it feels like a full time version of the seemingly doomed but nevertheless excellent NGDP scheme, only with placements lasting a lot longer and being paid a decent enough wage.
Before Christmas some of the WLLG team are planning to meet up to celebrate Winterval along with as many old colleagues as we can draw together. Just two or three years ago this group all worked for the same local authority; now the count between us is nine authorities, two self-employed consultants and three charities (with others spread across three continents as well). Thanks to a lot of effort our links are being maintained and we are all staying in more than vague touch, and this is already beginning to pay dividends.
For example, no matter how much one may strive against it, spending all day working with people and then some time socialising with them creates a significant if unaccepted amount of group-think. However, some time apart has exposed each of us to the opinions and thoughts of a far wider group of colleagues, which we have either agreed with or argued against. These debates have then been fed back to elements of the wider group and argued out some more, admittedly usually over a decent beverage or two.
We are also finding ourselves privy to very different pieces of information which in the past we wouldn’t have been. Rather than focussing on how a single authority may be dealing with a challenging position, now we can look at things from a number of different sides. Links to interesting posts and articles pass regularly among us, along with the odd insightful comment that unlocks something for a colleague.
And it’s not only what this forced migration has done for us as individuals; we have all found ourselves taking the best parts of our old processes and culture with us. Good practice has been shared along with advice and processes, and reportedly our new teams, companies or organisations are now better off with us than without us.
I’m not trying to say we are some sort of elite team of uber-staff working our way around the employment scene, radically overhauling things (although it’s nice to think so); we are not unusual or different from any other group of colleagues who have built up a close bond over the many trials and tribulations faced together. Many, many others are in exactly the same position, and doing fantastic things for their own areas.
The difference now is that without the additional forced drivers to move on it would have been easier for a good number of us to have simply stayed put and continued as we were. The disruptive development we have all gone through and are continuing to go through is doing more for our individual learning than three or four times as long spent in the same workplace, surrounded by the same individuals and opinions year after year.
It might be a painful process right now and small consolation for the pain, but I think that if we survive it we may just find ourselves part of a better connected sector than ever before.