In this article I will focus on the implications of purpose-driven work for the municipal council, aldermen and the municipal organization could have. First, I describe the agile pillars that also apply to purpose-driven work in a municipality. As an outsider I want to give some notions to municipalities, where a number of my experiences come together. I was a council member and chairman of the accounting and audit committee of 2006 - 2010 in Amsterdam Oost. Professionally I have been working for many years on designing and organizing learning processes. Agile coaching and advice have been added in recent years. I spent a year in a medium-sized municipality as a designer and advisor for purpose-driven work.
In municipalities, it is increasingly common to describe the major issues as a purpose. A purpose would help to better understand the inhabitant in all its diversity. In business, complex issues are increasingly being tackled with scrum and the agile mindset; also, because speed of change is a matter of survival. And that also applies to municipalities: care for children who need acute help and care for the elderly require quick decision-making and adequate services. And it must all be arranged with a smaller budget. This requires a creative and smart approach and everyone is needed, not only the smartest policymaker. The business community has started using agile for this and now it is up to the municipalities. And when you compare the complexity of a municipality with IT companies, agile with municipalities is of a different order. There are so many more stakeholders in a municipality, including the city council and politics.
Externally focused on inhabitants
Purpose-driven work fits well with the concept of new public governance, with its emphasis on cooperation and co-creation with external actors. Municipal issues are defined and realized in collaboration with external actors; management and their executors / officials get a position and work from these purposes (Anderson, 2018). This implies that Inhabitants from the purpose have the 'right to challenge', organized through sprint reviews and purpose meetings. With 'external actors' I distinguish between inhabitants, entrepreneurs and partner organizations. The legitimization of activities carried out by the municipality and partner organizations is about the needs and wishes of inhabitants and entrepreneurs. The term 'cooperation' also requires a note. External focus means that the municipality focuses on the demand of inhabitants and entrepreneurs: from the outside in. Of course, demand-oriented does not mean: your wish is our command. The municipality has a limited budget, which is why the purpose teams also should have the courage to sell 'no' to inhabitants and to the alderman. I prefer to talk about 'customers' and 'customer groups', because these terms better define what I mean. In the agile mindset with its scrum methodology, the customer is the most important pillar; it is about serving customers perfectly. In agile customer stories are central and they serve as a stepping stone for the activities in the sprints. And at the end of a sprint, the team presents its results to inhabitants, to the customer. For more background information about the roles and the various meetings that suit an agile mindset, see the scrumguide.
The above means a lot. If the municipality collects questions from society and anticipates this quickly. This may call for friction with the policy role of the city council. Better said, with the interpretation that many city councils give to their role. What role does the annual plan play with a wide range of goals, when the municipality will actively anticipate customer questions and determine priorities together with inhabitants? Is the annual cycle with annual plan and budget not up for discussion when you start working cyclically? Working together with inhabitants will be a challenge for many civil servants.
When working with the agile mindset in a purpose-driven way, 'cross functional' teams are one of the three pillars, besides customer focus and working in networks. It is important to give purpose teams as much space as possible, so that they can optimally serve inhabitants with a fixed budget. The purpose-owner is also budget holder. Teams embrace self-managing as much as possible and are responsible for their services and results, with team members determining how they do it and experiencing ownership of the purpose. In municipalities the word responsibility is often used; the alderman, the city council, the department manager, they are all responsible, it is logical that teams cannot come into their power. The Dutch word responsibility has its limitations; in English the words 'responsability' and 'accountability' are used and that creates more clarity: the purpose team is accountable to the alderman. To put teams in their power servant leadership has been asked, emphasizing the hierarchy of 'competences' (Gary Hamel and Laloux). ). For more information about management functions, see my previous article.
Governance and interactions between actors
The external focus of purpose-driven working with a central role for purpose teams from an agile mindset, means a lot for the organization and governance of the municipality: for the municipal council, the alderman and mayor, management, the tribelead (department manager) and cooperation with partner organizations. Below I present the most important actors and their interactions in the governance of the municipality. In the picture the so-called accountability loop is central to the relationship between resources (time, money and people) and accountability. Especially the purpose team, the alderman and the municipal council members have contacts with inhabitants. The management has the task of organizing resources, in addition to coordination and information provision.
The municipal council focuses on the so-called 'purpose' from its framework role and distributes the scarce resources in general. In the Anderson study (2018), the municipality demonstrated that the district committees were very satisfied and that the municipal council members were dissatisfied. In other words, the customer was satisfied with the services and the municipal councilors as representatives of inhabitants did not ... it does not get much wackier than that! Council members can view the formulation and realization of objectives with inhabitants as an erosion of their own role as council members, especially if they are not involved in the new way of working (Anderson, 2018). Anderson hits the nail here on the head. Council members are generally strongly involved in the internal formulation and realization of objectives and then feel more comfortable with the (waterfall) project management method, even though it often does not work in complex situations. They want to be in the driver’s seat, from their role in the municipal law. A similar reaction was visible in the business world when working with scrum, without an extensive plan of action that people have worked on for month. Teams work with 'sprints' and a 'purpose' and then the management quickly loses the in-control feeling and should have confidence in its teams.
The annual plan is in any case a complicated document for many council members; a budget of more than 100 million can only be understood by a few council members. The vast majority of council members get lost in thick packs of paper and do not see the financial implications of goals and programs. Council members want to be in the driver’s seat, while the policymakers have written the annual plan for more than 90%. How many council members take the initiative to be informed in a private conversation by the controller or department manager about the budget? Writing the annual plan also costs (senior) policy staff a lot of time, time that they cannot spend on the 'customer'. Many agile organizations have stopped for a large part with extensive annual plans, it has to be much more cyclical in our dynamic society. And that also applies to municipalities! Even though you cannot escape an annual budget. The board's supervisory role also takes on a different character in the case of a purpose-driven approach. When you work with an agile mindset, sprint results are discussed in the review meeting, for example. Council members are free to visit these meetings and above all to listen carefully (many employees will find the presence of council members uncomfortable). It is logical that council members crave more insight into youth and WMO programs; a lot of money is involved and in many municipalities council members are faced with substantial cost overruns. But it is complex and the issue is constantly changing. In their supervisory role, council members can emphasize the enormous cost overruns; they can emphasize the urgency of action, but they cannot do more and that is frustrating
The city council is ultimately responsible for the allocation of resources, read money. Purpose-driven work requires a flexible attitude in terms of resources and a budget with policy-free space fits in with this. It is not feasible to ask permission from the city council for smaller expenses outside the budget. This is indeed a question that almost all agile organizations are struggling with. A solution could be that there is a fund managed by a few strategists who advise the board and municipal management. Purpose owners then submit with each other and together with their tribelead a proposal in which additional resources should be allocated for certain teams. Of course, they are assisted and not controlled by the controllers of the municipality.
The research by Anderson (2018) concludes that council members should be much more involved in the purposes. Correct. However, a council member cannot join a purpose team. We will have to think of something whereby council members are involved in the choice and the definition of the 'purpose'. Of course, it cannot be the case that policymakers of the municipality define the purpose in all their wisdom. For example, you could organize a meeting every six months with all actors involved in a purpose, including council members and representatives of inhabitants; such as the participation council. Together the 'purpose' of the purpose is defined and questions, wishes are given to the purpose team. The purpose team reports on its developed products and services six months later and, for example, the client or participation council shares its findings. During that meeting the purpose will be adjusted and the most important dilemmas and wishes will be collected. It is important that council members get a better understanding of the complex matter of the issue and experience that inhabitants, the customer, are in the lead in terms of services to be provided and that all parties do their utmost to serve target groups properly and efficiently. Could it be an option to transform the council meetings into purpose meetings? Commission meeting 1 is then about the purpose youth, month 2 about the purpose care and the elderly, etc. In fact, the framework role of council members is then delegated to that semi-annual meeting. In the city council, the proposals are mainly confirmed. This may mean or feel as a depoliticization of the city council. These meetings will have the character of open-space, deep democracy or hackathon.
It is important that the city council can call the purpose team to account when it makes a mess of it. This often has to do with significant cost overruns. The council holds the alderman 'accountable' and again holds the account teams 'accountable' and an audit can be carried out. The council will usually contract an organization with subject matter experts to set up an (audit) investigation. When it subsequently turns out that the municipal organization can be charged for anything, the municipal council will act.
The aldermen manage the municipality together with the mayor and they implement the decisions of the city council. In a purpose-driven approach, the alderman is generally the administrative client of the purpose team with its purpose owner, as is stated. That would also mean that the alderman provides frameworks in terms of content. The alderman would be responsible for the purpose ...? No, the purpose team is responsible for the results and its services, she collects customer stories. The team is not for nothing the crucial pillar for purpose-driven work. Better to say: team is 'accountable' to the alderman. And what do we mean by that, when purpose teams join forces with inhabitants, with teams that handle the variety in a complex environment and when you know that teams are put their strength into effect to achieve results? Before you know it, the purpose team operates in a situation with satisfied neighborhood committees and aldermen feel that they are out of the game. And that must not happen!
The purpose team is best informed about all the questions and wishes of inhabitants in the municipality. If it is good ... but that is often not the case. I see municipal purpose teams that do not visit constantly the network outside the town hall. Sometimes you see aldermen fulfilling that role constantly in conversation with inhabitants. Ignorance characterizes the municipality when it outsources the fieldwork and stays in its ivory tower itself and where policy and implementation are also strictly separated. The founder of scrum Jeff Sutherland argues that product owners, read purpose owners, should spend 50% of their time with customers; that's the purpose! You could say that purpose owners and aldermen keep a close eye on questions and wishes of inhabitants. They can then properly involve council members and the alderman can set out action via management. The alderman can work hard to free up extra funds and ultimately the city council will go over it again.
The alderman depends for a large part on the information and advice that comes from the purpose team. In order to ensure that the aldermen can properly fulfill their role, the purpose owner and the alderman will be constantly in discussion with each other, they are a team and they regularly play each other's ball. Together they come to the priorities for the coming months and thus secure the connection with the multi-year policy agreement. Management should not want to join, they operate more at a distance and that might be hard for many managers, willing to be in-control. Through the half-yearly meeting with all actors; you prevent that it becomes a one-two between alderman and purpose owner. Of course, the alderman is welcome at the review meeting, where the team presents its results to customer representatives, read inhabitants, who then provide feedback. The alderman mainly has a listening attitude during such a meeting; tries to understand what is going on and experiences how a purpose team anticipates developments in the municipality.
When you start working with an agile mindset as a municipality, you choose for serving leadership and then you use the hierarchy of competences (Gary Hamel). This means that the alderman should be the wise and smart adviser for purpose teams; in order to be able to perform even better, also in his or her own interests. Not all aldermen will have this in mind and sometimes do not understand it, after all it is a political appointment. The alderman will act when inhabitants are not satisfied with the performance of the municipality (which falls into his / her portfolio) and when he / she thinks that the purpose team does not perform well. In general, the purpose owner and the alderman will come to an agreement. But it is not up to the alderman to intervene in the purpose team and to give directions, in other words it is not up to the alderman to exercise the hierarchy of authority towards a purpose team. That is a job for the municipal hierarchy, which takes a request from the alderman into consideration. The top of the municipal organization will not blindly follow the request of the alderman, she will first carry out her own analysis (audit). Sometimes it can be important to protect a team for an alderman. If all goes well, the hierarchy of authority is rarely applied in an agile work environment and it is only up to the tribelead to intervene after thorough investigation in the purpose team. If the training team needs extra resources, the municipal organization hierarchy will submit this request to the alderman and the alderman in the city council. Of course, the purpose team will inform the alderman in advance.
Tribelead (department- or team manager)
The department manager, also known as the tribelead, facilitates and creates an optimal playing field, allowing purpose teams to flourish. It serves as a buffer for the whims of management and creates the conditions for psychological safety in teams. He/she is responsible for the management of the organizational change, coordinates strategically with the management and is responsible for organizing the purpose team support by policy support staff, personnel policy, IT, subsidies, finances, etc.
If there is no chapter lead, the tribelead will also be responsible for the HR and performance cycle. As far as the HR cycle is concerned, part of that job can also be laid with the team, team members then decide with each other which skills and competences should be strengthened in the context of the purpose. In the agile way of thinking, professional competence regains the recognition it deserves (via chapters), professional development is therefore a natural choice (see also Tonkens, et al. 2018) and the team works as a learning community. You could also delegate the HR cycle to the organization coach with HR in the background. With regard to the performance cycle, it concerns the periodic and annual assessment. In addition to the tribelead, the purpose owner and organization coach are also involved in these assessments. The tribelead will generally conduct the interview with the team member and preferably a few times a year. You could also ask team members to assess each other. Make it not too complicated.
The tribelead plays an important role in the provision of 'resources', such as time, people and money, which means that the purpose owner is a budget holder. The tribelead ensures that the team has a good composition so that the team can do its job well. And sometimes it appears in a review meeting that certain expertise is needed and then the tribelead gets to work. Extra expertise sometimes also means extra expenses, not budgeted, and the municipal organization must be aware of that. The tribelead also guards that there is time; that agendas are not densely paved and that team members have time to experiment. Especially the tendency to invest a meeting about everything has to be confined.
Is the tribelead the municipal client of the team? And what do we mean by that, when purpose teams define the purpose together with inhabitants? In business you are not talking about commissioning; I find it a confusing concept. The purpose team is responsible and she does everything possible to serve the customer optimally. You could say that the team is 'accountable' to the tribelead and the tribelead is 'accountable' to the team. However, accountability has more significance between the purpose team and the alderman.
From an agile mindset, the tribelead uses the hierarchy of competences. The team and team members like to ask the tribelead for advice for an even better service. And once in a while the tribelead uses the hierarchy of authority and a decision is made. The tribelead is the only one in the organization that can exercise the hierarchy of authority with regard to the team. In other words: she intervenes. You could position the tribelead next to the network of purpose teams or as a spider in the web and that is he/she is in the middle of the network of purpose teams, in the team-of-teams, as a spin-doctor.
It is obvious that in the social domain the three major decentralizations will be dealt with, along with the housing purpose and the environmental law purpose. The different purposes are quite obvious and yet it is important to define them together with inhabitants, so you make a good start.
With regard to the composition of a purpose team, policymakers and people implementing the policy work together; you can only quickly anticipate changes in the outside world if you do this together, experiment together and learn from each other. Policymakers have to unlearn to spend months to develop a policy paper. Working in a team will not be easy for many officials; since they can no longer retreat to their island! Employees can also no longer rely on their job description because they are contracted for a purpose on the basis of their professionalism, knowledge and experience.
IT increasingly plays a role in the digitizing world. The purpose team can only operate effectively when it has access to brand new data. Each tribe should have its own information specialist (s) who participate in the purpose teams. At an agile organization like ING, data specialists are often in the team! The information specialists are in general positive about it; it motivates to get an information question in a planning meeting and to present the information within two weeks. Then you feel that you are meaningful. And it also works the other way around: team members get more affinity with IT and data. Information analysts also ensure that teams have insight into the expenditures and how they relate to the budget. Management information is first of all meant for the purpose team, which is ultimately responsible. This information is also accessible to the tribelead, the management and the alderman, so that they can support the purpose team even better.
When you operate from the purpose perspective, important partner organizations will also participate in the purpose team. People have to get used to the idea that for example the welfare organization or a care organization will join the team, "is it possible and allowed?" The municipality is often the client and financier of partner organizations and she will generally have to take off her cap from the client, otherwise you cannot cooperate. In first instance, partner organizations often react enthusiastically to the invitation to join the team: "are we allowed to be in charge of the purpose program?" And that is how the network organization takes shape from bottom up and step by step; with a municipality that takes the lead. Working intensively and working with sprints on complex issues also means that the municipality as a client is less able to quantify the output contribution by the partner and to pay off partners. A municipality must be a reliable partner; it cannot be the case that the municipality wants to build up a relationship of trust on one side and confront the partner organization with a sharp budget cut on the other. The purpose owner is in direct contact with the management of the partner organization, whereby the management of the partner organization is accountable to the purpose owner (and not the department manager) and vice versa. The contours of an advisory board for the purpose team become visible consisting of management members of the most important partner organizations, the municipality and the alderman.
Purpose-driven work also has consequences for the partner organization. To begin with, she will have to spend time in the purpose team. Intensive cooperation means that the municipality gets much better insight into the actions of the partner organization; much more will become transparent. The director of a partner organization may shy away from that. Previously, for example, the partner organization did not take it so closely with declarations and the municipality becomes aware of that. Of course, you have to deal with that. To get right out of this wisdom is required; both from the municipality (alderman and declaration owner) and from the partner organization (director and department managers). This also means that the municipality will not abuse the new insights in its supervisory role. That is why the crucial value of trust gets meaning in daily practice. This of course also applies the other way around: the partner organization gets a lot more insight into the activities of the municipality. Do not let fear be a guide, the agile mindset builds on trust and you build that up with each other.
In purpose driven work with an agile mindset, inhabitants, purpose teams and their interaction are the cornerstones for sounding results. All actors do everything to put the purpose team in its power; that is the task of the municipal hierarchy, serving leadership is not something for free. The team is responsible and nobody else! The purpose owner and his/her alderman always play each other's ball; they are 'accountable' to each other. City council members are involved, for example with six-monthly purpose framework meetings, in which all relevant actors participate. During these meetings, the team and the alderman are also accountable, starting with inhabitants. The most important partner organizations participate in the purpose team and the network organization is gradually taking shape.