The GDS 'It's OK' List

In: BlogDate: Aug 01, 2021By: Billy Burgess

The culture is all around you in the Government Delivery Service office, says Alex Segrove, and the organisation understands the importance of internal communication.

In this three minute clip from the 2017 Creating Happy Workplaces in the Public Sector Conference, Alex outlines how GDS has established an agile workplace that's highly responsive to the user, based on principles of trust and freedom.

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The GDS ‘It’s OK’ list

Should you ever visit us, you’ll see the culture all around you. Our office is colourful and decorated with bunting. Our walls are used for thinking out loud and for sharing work with colleagues. The environment produces the atmosphere and the atmosphere produces the work. Internal communication is really important and too often it’s overlooked. We don’t always get it right but one of the things that has worked is communicating via the walls and we make posters that remind ourselves of everything that matters. A really important poster we have is in response to how we’ve been growing and growing is brilliant because there are so many new brains, new skills and faces to get to know.

Maintaining that supportive, empowered and creative culture that we have is so important to us because it’s difficult for those newcomers to expect and what’s expected from them. They often say how different it is to where they’ve come from, where there may be a lot of hierarchy or a very customer facing culture. Now, of course you get told all the official stuff such as how you get paid and who your line manager is but it’s harder to communicate the unofficial stuff, the things that are good to know but it’s no-one’s job to tell you, the things you’ll probably find out in your first few months by accident because someone’s mentioned it in passing and you think to yourself ‘is that a thing?!’ So it occurred to us that maybe it would be helpful to spell out the unofficial stuff, upfront, to be explicit about the things that those of us who have been here longer take for granted. At GDS, it’s ok to say ‘I don’t know’; to stay at home when you feel ill, say that you don’t understand, ask what acronyms stand for, ask for help, to have a loud day, to put your headphones in, say ‘No’ when you’re too busy, to make mistakes, to sing, not check your emails out of hours, to go and talk to someone face-to-face, to go somewhere else to concentrate; it also says it’s ok to challenge things you’re not comfortable with, to work how you like to work and to ask management to fix it and I really like this about GDS.

So, if you were to create your own ‘It’s OK to’ list, what are some of the special parts of your culture that you would let a new starter know about or perhaps remind some of your old-timers of?

“We don’t always get it right but one of the things that has worked is communicating via the walls and we make posters that remind ourselves of everything that matters,” says Alex Segrove, Delivery Lead for the Government Delivery Service.

“A really important poster we have is in response to how we’ve been growing and growing is brilliant because there are so many new brains, new skills and faces to get to know.”

Alex realises that new recruits don’t always know what’s expected of them. They’re quickly informed of official things like how they’ll be paid and who their line manager is, but the unofficial stuff isn’t always so clear. To counter this, they've pledged to be as forthcoming as possible with things people who’ve been there longer take for granted.

“At GDS, it’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’, to stay at home when you feel ill, say that you don’t understand, ask what acronyms stand for, ask for help, to have a loud day, to put your headphones in, say ‘No’ when you’re too busy, to make mistakes, to sing, not check your emails out of hours, to go and talk to someone face-to-face, to go somewhere else to concentrate.

"It also says it’s OK to challenge things you’re not comfortable with, to work how you like to work and to ask management to fix it—and I really like this about GDS.”

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About Alex Segrove

Alex is the Delivery Lead for the GOV.UK programme at GDS. She has a background in project management at digital agencies that focus on user-centric service design, working with agile practises. She strives to create environments where people can do their best work.

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