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The digital team do it like this

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Since the end of January I’ve been doing a slightly different job at the department, working on communications performance and improvement, alongside my work in the digital team.

It’s a pragmatic arrangement for the department, enabling us to cover a maternity leave. But there’s also a logic in more closely connecting some of our digital work with some of our work on communications performance. The team that I joined are often trying to do quite similar things to the digital team, just from a starting point in a different part of the room.

The arrangement has also meant that I have been able to devote quite a lot of my time to the way we are responding to DH 2020, the department’s programme to become a better, leaner organisation. I’ll post more about that separately. For now here are some observations about the time I’ve spent trying to apply a bit of what I’ve learned doing digital work to some non-digital work during the last 6 months.

It has felt uncomfortable and liberating being responsible for something that I’m not quite in command of. In my digital role I’m used to being an expert, I have years of experience, and I know how stuff works. I understand the history, the relationships and the processes to get things done. In my new role, I’ve often been in a position of not quite knowing, and I’ve had to depend more on the judgement of others than I’m used to.

I’ve always admired expertise though, and the people working in the teams I have joined are definitely more expert in communications insight, evaluation and programme management than I am. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of trying to be as helpful as I can despite often being the least knowledgeable person in the room.

I’ve tried to bring a bit of the culture of the digital team to my new work, because I think it's often our open, curious, and collaborative culture, rather than just our subject expertise, that lies behind our successes. But I realised quite quickly that culture is organic, and established over time. I might have said “the digital team do it like this...” a few of times, but nobody has ever thanked me for it, and I shouldn’t have expected them to.

I’ve tried not to be the digital guy. I’ve consciously avoided involving myself in too many conversations about services or software or social media. But I have tried to apply more of a digital mindset to the work of the team, and I’ve tried to use some of the techniques commonly used in the digital team to tackle problems and manage pieces of work.

As a result, I think I’ve had some influence on the way problems are approached, decisions are made and progress is tracked. But sometimes I know that I’ve just confused people by wrongly assuming that people share the same language and understanding of particular methodologies as my digital colleagues. I’ve found myself capitalising words in conversations to compensate (“no, I mean a capital R Retrospective”).

I’ve also learned quite a lot about change, and how hard it can be. But I’ll post more about that in another blog.

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  1. Comment by Yasmin Royce posted on

    Great post Stephen, very honest and open. I look forward to reading more from you.

  2. Comment by Frances Sibbet posted on

    Thanks for sharing your experience Stephen. Some useful tips for all of us in digital teams when communicating with people outside our own teams. Looking forward to your next update!

  3. Comment by Genevieve Hibbs PhD MBCS posted on

    An excellent summary of the kind of experience any of us need to be aware of when working in a different group. It would be suitable as an article in IT now.

  4. Comment by Nicky Wilkins posted on

    "Culture is organic and established over time" really resonated for me. An inspiring post reminding us all to stay receptive to different perspectives and sometimes step away from the norm to do this. I look forward to the next instalment!

  5. Comment by Victoria posted on

    Interesting insight- from 12 years of change within health systems it's imperative that benefits of change are explained from the users and not ITs perspective. Object to the way you've spelt organisation though!!!