R00 OXD United On The FieldInsight Assets Hero V20 ST

United on the field: Government teams and vendors in action

Bridging the gap between government teams and vendors, Gordon Ross discusses how blended digital teams can transcend traditional roles to achieve success in public sector projects.
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A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate as a speaker on a vendor panel discussion at the Ministry of Citizens’ Services Exchange Lab open house event. Steve Chapman, product lead for BC’s modern procurement platform, the Digital Marketplace, convened the panel and asked us the question: “From a vendor’s perspective, how can government best leverage vendor talent on blended teams (teams including government resources and external vendor resources)?”

My panel colleagues had some good answers, and I added a few points. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I compared government-vendor-blended digital teams to my son’s community soccer team that I coached this past year, noting the varying degrees of skill, motivation, and coachability of the players and the challenges associated with forming and performing as a team. I received a few knowing smiles and nods from the volunteer coaches and parents in the crowd. 

I left Victoria with that simple question: “How does government get the most from its vendors?” feeling not so simple after all. I’m sharing a few thoughts here with the hope that it might be helpful for those of you working on blended teams (either as a vendor/contractor or as a government employee) and wondering how to encourage team effectiveness and performance in your own government digital work. 

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Understanding team dynamics

If we can agree that a team (blended or otherwise) is a group of people working together to achieve a common purpose or goal, who share responsibility and interdependence in achieving that goal, and who exist in a larger organizational/social context (a team within a department, division, or Ministry), then there’s lots of different aspects to consider when we’re talking about getting the most out of, or “leveraging” a particular type of person on that team. 

Players on loan

Let’s return to soccer again, though this time in its professional version, to consider an example. It is common practice for players to be on loan from their home club, where they hold a contract, to join another club to play on a temporary basis. The duration could be for weeks, or even a season or longer. 

If you’re a coach or manager of a club with a player on loan, is it useful to ask “How do we get the most out of players-on-loan?,” or is it more useful to ask, “How do we get the most out of our new attacking midfielder, Jessie?”

Focusing on individual contributions

The player’s loan status, aside from suggesting how long or short you can rely upon the player, also has economic implications. Despite this, the loan status is likely eclipsed by other aspects of the player. These aspects include the quality of their play, their skills and experience, and perhaps their personality and disposition, as well as their contributions to the team.

  • Can the player fulfill their responsibilities and play their position alongside their teammates?
  • Can the player help the broader organization (club) beyond the core starting 11 players, contributing to the other duties of what being a professional might entail (e.g. working with trainers, with media, with community outreach responsibilities)?
  • Can the player adapt, innovate, and learn as demands and opponents change, within each game, then game-to-game, week-to-week, season-to-season?

Good coaches focus on people; the positions they play, the roles they perform, and how they do that as part of a collective alongside the other unique and diverse individuals who make up the team. 

The power of team identity

Great digital teams I’ve had the privilege to be part of, and witness in my 25+ years working with government have been able to transcend their contractual status. They have developed a team identity, rallied around an important purpose or mission, experienced psychological safety, earned each other’s trust, shared and reflected what they have learned with each other and those around them, and have therefore been able to achieve great things often in challenging circumstances. 

Coming back to how we get the most of our players, be it those on loan or those in their fifteenth year with the club, comes back to how we think about creating effective, high-performing teams. 

Great teams are contingent upon team composition, interpersonal dynamics amongst team members, and where knowledge resides and how it’s shared across team members; that’s where the hard work happens across the people that make up that team. They are also shaped by the game they have to play; the challenges they face, the problems they are trying to solve, the jobs to be done. The team has to fit the work, both at an individual and group level. 

If we’re going to succeed, we need to exceed each other's preconceived expectations and stereotypes of vendor-government roles and relationships.

Going beyond expectations to achieve success

Vendors have contractual obligations to fulfill and standards to work by. Government employees have codes of conduct to uphold and job descriptions to enact. And together, we have a product or service to build, public outcomes to achieve, and each other to rely on when the going gets tough. 

If we’re going to succeed, we need to exceed each other's preconceived expectations and stereotypes of vendor-government roles and relationships. 

We need to value the knowledge and experience of all team members. 

We need to earn each other's trust and respect over time. 

We need players who are capable of performing in their positions. 

And we need to foster team cohesion and develop an identity that goes beyond who our respective employers are. 

If we can do those things, we’ll be a lot closer to realizing the potential of blended teams in tackling some of governments’ biggest digital modernization and transformation challenges. 

At that point we’ll know that our team left it all out there on the field and played their best. And that’s something to cheer for and celebrate, no matter what side of the field you find yourself cheering from.

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