From Inverness to Ipswich, from Belfast to Bangor, public sector
bodies face disruption on a scale unprecedented in more than half a
century. Across the entire sector, senior leaders are wrestling
with sweeping forces that challenge traditional services, delivery
models and organisational boundaries.
The ever-increasing expectations of citizens, reductions in
human and financial resources driven by austerity measures, and
rapid digital developments are just three forces creating an
imperative for transformational change.
The response so far
Some action has been taken in response. Outcomes-focused
programmes, new delivery models, collaborations with private and
third sector providers, organisational mergers, and the digital
transformation of services are evidence of this.
Yet we continue to see organisations focusing on quick wins.
Some are taking 'salami-slice' approaches to cost
reduction, while others are misrepresenting system implementations
as digital transformation, or addressing multi-faceted challenges
through narrow functional lenses.
We believe most public sector leaders understand the need to
reshape their organisations to become 'different by
design'. Indeed, public sector HR leaders identify organisation
design as the most critical trend impacting them, according to our
Global Human Capital Trends report. Some 87
per cent flagged its importance, with many suggesting they are
planning a redesign in the coming year.
But while terms like 'transformation' and 'agile
working' have become popular public sector buzzwords, talk is
cheap without meaningful action and real change.
The rise of teams
To become more adaptable and future-ready, both the public and
private sectors are starting to consider how networks of teams can
be built into their organisational design.
In a public sector environment where complex problems abound,
with no clear solutions and multiple opinions on the best way
forward, the case for teams is overwhelming. Indeed, if teams can
be defined as 'groups of people with complementary skills and
abilities who are mobilised to achieve results by working
interdependently', they are tailor-made to address such
As our report highlights, using agile multi-disciplinary teams
for specific projects offers a way for organisations to break down
existing hierarchies. By quickly bringing together skilled
individuals from different departments and agencies,
mission-specific teams can gather a range of perspectives to propel
projects forward. World-class project delivery has become essential
to public sector transformation.
Building a new organisation design
Networks of teams will help the public sector respond to
evolving threats and opportunities. But this approach cannot be
introduced overnight. Real action must now be taken in the
Clarity over priority outcomes. Leaders must
be clear on the contribution of their organisation to citizen
outcomes – not just on the delivery of functional
World-class project/team leaders. New project
and team-based approaches often prove daunting for senior leaders
who have built successful careers within traditional hierarchies.
The identification of the right leaders for the right roles is
essential, as are high-quality interventions that support
capability and capacity build.
Sustainable models. New organisation designs
must be developed with flexibility in mind. They should bring teams
together quickly across traditional organisational boundaries. But
leaders must not forget the need for strong functional structures
that deliver deep expertise and provide a home that team members
can return to post-project.
Structures are only half the equation. The
formula for successful change requires both the ability and
willingness to transform. New designs may support an
organisation's ability to transform. But the willingness to do
so will rely on leadership, culture, and the careful use of levers
such as communication, people development and performance
Questions for public sector leaders:
Have you clearly articulated your contribution to
Are you confident your organisation possesses the
world-class project and team leadership capabilities
Does your organisation design support both teaming
and the deep functional structures you require?
How are you ensuring people in your organisation
are both able and willing to transform?
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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