What does the ‘ideal’ communications team look like?

Blog post by Victoria Ford, Head of Communications, HM Courts & Tribunals Service

Thursday 17 December 2015

What does the ‘ideal’ communications team look like? This is a question that many of us are considering as budgets tighten and demands increase. I know that we have to change the way we work. So as a communications leader in a government agency, what are my priorities?

If I were an actor I expect that I would often be asked why I became an actor. As a civil servant I don’t get asked that question often. If you did ask me I would say that it wasn’t that I grew up wanting to be a civil servant (how many 6 year olds say that?). I kind of fell into it but what I have discovered over the years, is that being a civil servant gives you massive opportunities to not only experience places and challenges that you might never otherwise consider, but also to create solutions and provide services that really make a difference to people’s lives.

Being a government communicator is one of those opportunities. It is our responsibility to support the objectives of our organisation by delivering clear, creative communications that meet the needs of our users. It is also our responsibility to do this in a way that recognises the skills that our people need and the financial constraints in which we should, and must, work.

What does the ‘ideal’ communications team look like? This is a question that many of us are considering as budgets tighten and demands increase. I know that we have to change the way we work. So as a communications leader in a government agency, what are my priorities? In no particular order:

1. Understanding our users – I need to know where our audience is, how to best reach them and what they need. Without this I will be expending energy and resource with no idea as to whether it will meet our objectives.

2. Internal communications – without an engaged workforce our organisation will never be able to deliver the scale of change and customer service it needs. We need to work in partnership with our leaders to deliver engaging, two way communications with integrity and clarity.

3. Integrated campaigns – communications teams can no longer work in functional isolation. Our work has to be cross discipline, designed and delivered to meet the objectives of the organisation and be able to flex in response to feedback in real time, not at the end of a campaign. We should all be delivering to the same objectives and using our functional expertise to do so.

4. Partnerships – our audiences are diverse, geographically spread and generally tend to engage with us on an ad hoc basis. As a single organisation we will never be able to reach them on our own. We need the skills to develop relationships with partner organisations who already engage with our users so that our messages are heard at the right time and in the right place.

5. Digital – this needs to be integral to what we do. It isn’t a nice to have, it is a key communication skill. How we get our teams fully skilled will depend on where the organisation is, but we need to get there or we will be left behind and never reach the people we need to engage.

6. Risk taking – I need a team that has the confidence to take some (calculated!) risks, that is prepared to fail, and then learn, and has my backing to do so.

So, my communications team needs to cover all of these. It also needs to be agile, able to adapt and willing to develop our capabilities beyond those we may be used to. What it can’t be is large, functionally disparate and isolated. Government communicators have a responsibility to support each other, sharing both resource and learning.

Recently GCS launched the Modern Communications Operating Model. It makes for essential reading for all of us as we develop the right skills and learning to support our teams in delivering world class public sector communications now and in the future.

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