Collaboration and elevating the potency of ‘peer teams’ in the APS - Future Leadership

Collaboration and elevating the potency of ‘peer teams’ in the APS

Collaboration and elevating the potency of ‘peer teams’ in the APS

Originally published on The Mandarin, Wednesday January 24, 2024

Author: Melissa Coade

Marianne Broadbent says public service teams often forget the power of building collaborative muscle.

Problems can – and do – strike in any organisational context. But Dr Marianne Broadbent says the unique systems-heavy arena of bureaucracies means public service teams often forget the power of building collaborative muscle, leaving group responses in crisis weaker and less effective.

“Some of that is driven by individuals, but some certainly by leaders, and some of it is driven by perhaps a lack of realisation of the importance of having a shared purpose and a shared goal,” Broadbent told The Mandarin.

“Quite a few times, we’ll start working with the team, and then we realise they are just a group of people. They don’t have anything that they, together, have to deliver.”

Broadbent is a Managing Partner of consultant firm Future Leadership, which offers support executive search support, leadership development, coaching and organisational transformation.

She is also a distinguished academic fellow of Melbourne Business School, a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and director of The Conversation.

Broadbent observed that after 30 years of working with secretaries, CEOs and their leadership teams, it was clear good leadership and teamwork depended on transparency and trust.

Individuals and workplaces all benefited when these values were executed well, she said, however more foundational issues such as team-building and understanding common purposes were often where groups faltered.

“There are many examples in the public and private sectors of great teams and not-so-great teams,” Broadbent said. “But working with individuals, sometimes you realise that perhaps their team isn’t functioning as well as it might — they have trouble dealing with difficult issues, there are conflicts which are not articulated, and there’s [a lack of] role clarity.

“Then you ask the question, ‘When the team was formed, how much effort did you put into really getting to know each other and understanding what the purpose of this team was?’.”

Without a focus on these unifying principles from the get go, usually within three months of a team being formed, Broadbent said teams lost something that went a way to achieving good levels of transparency and trust.

Broadbent stressed that effective collaboration in the public sector tended to suffer in the public sector, where conditions could be more ambiguous and challenging.

“We get this feedback many times when we’re involved in recruiting people into the public sector from the commercial sector, they often find that it is more ambiguous, and that there are different levels and layers often at play.

“And sometimes the stakeholders are not as clear – you’ve got citizens, you’ve got your political masters, you’ve got your departmental ones.

“The agendas might be different, and coalescing those agendas can be challenging, and those agendas can change over time, often more frequently than you will get in the commercial sector.”

Contrasted with the experience of private sector teams and talent, Broadbent said there were more opportunities for teams to encounter problems in the APS. This means more diffuse objectives and also sometimes conflicting priorities.

“That’s part of the challenge, which to me, is why getting clarity around what this team is about is so important,” Broadbent said.

“Many of the roles we’re involved in [recruiting for], they’re either new roles or they’re often roles that involve a lot of interdependencies across different parts of an organisation, or between organisations. And sometimes, teams have to come together quite quickly.

“One of the areas that is sometimes underplayed is the importance of putting energy and effort into building effective teams.

“There are so many things that are dependent on collaboration and people working well, that I think we underestimate what it takes to build an effective team.”

Marianne Broadbent is a panellist at The Mandarin’s upcoming conference ‘Rebuilding Trust and Integrity in the Australian Public Service’. For more information about the February 22 event, see here.


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