Tuesday 9 July 2019
GCS Apprentice, Gabriella Jessup, writes about her experience attending a training workshop on “Diversity of Thought”, as part of the Conversations Connecting Diverse Voice (CCDV) programme. The session was delivered by MoD officials and based on their Department’s response to the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot) Report.
I became a GCS apprentice with the Home Office a year ago after finishing sixth form and throughout my experience in the department, senior leaders have been supportive, thoughtful and inspiring. Along with my encouraging colleagues, the CCDV programme and training has been a key part of my journey in helping me to gain confidence despite my limited experience in the workplace. In the training, attended by CCDV colleagues of all grades, we discussed how senior leaders can create environments where it is safe to challenge, and strategies for all colleagues to confidently express their ideas. I left the training feeling empowered to contribute my ideas with established professionals whom I admire.
The session leaders explained the mechanics of barriers to challenge (PDF, 1.2MB – see page 62). For example, it’s easy to assume that experts in one area are experts in all areas and that their voice should carry more weight than yours. This can lead to an environment where it’s frequently the same dominant voices which are heard in meetings, and other people don’t feel like they can meaningfully contribute. When this happens, the result is ‘groupthink’, where a situation is not rationally analysed based on diverse viewpoints.
Instead of this, we should create an environment where diversity of thought can dominate, championing reasonable challenge as a key tool in getting the best from everyone involved. In a meeting, the best way to emulate this behaviour is by giving staff the opportunity to fully articulate their different views, as constructive challenge is merely exploring other options. Giving staff credit for offering alternative options strengthens two-way communication as you appreciate the contributions of your colleagues.
In the Home Office, senior leaders have embraced diversity of thought through a recent internally-led project, called Our Home Office. This has focused on actively listening to staff in engagement events across the country. It encapsulates the importance of senior leaders encouraging conversations across regions, commands and backgrounds to hear first-hand what is meaningful to staff.
The training session highlighted the importance of all team members, not just those deemed subject experts, feeling able to express their view (be it critical, dissenting or just a different perspective). The training used the work from psychologists Dunning and Kruger to demonstrate how we are often poor judges of our own ability and the role confidence plays in compensating. Contributions from all members of the team, regardless of experience, are valuable.
The most useful part of the session was the opportunity to practise methods to overcome barriers to challenge. I found it less intimidating to offer challenge by keeping a list of my thoughts to communicate reasons behind my ideas. I also learnt that to create an environment where it is safe to voice and action challenge, we need to divorce ideas from people, by establishing a distance between the person and the thought expressed. We implemented this by writing our ideas on paper and sticking them on a whiteboard, rather than directly in front of us. The physical distance from our ideas allowed us to critically analyse each-other’s ideas without judgement.
After the training I applied these strategies during a survey testing and encouragingly my ideas were welcomed as helpful and thought-provoking. Having more diverse voices included in thought-exchange leads to better decision making and leadership. It also helps us to better understand the society we serve, as we listen to each other and become dedicated leaders as a result.