Large government agencies can be daunting places for new starters especially for those people who have never experienced working in a vast and complicated bureaucracy. I know the feeling well having experienced a first day in 2000 joining IBM and trying to make sense of that 300,000 person strong fuzzball. Now imagine how you might feel if you are an Aboriginal person who has recently worked in a small community organisation and is now starting a new career in a large government department.
Earlier this year we won a tender to help a government agency with 12,000+ employees develop what they were calling an Aboriginal staff induction program. We were successful largely on the strength of our experience with narrative techniques and our proposal to use stories to help understand how Aboriginal staff experience starting with the department.
Like many of our projects we divided the activities into 3 parts: discovery, sensemaking and intervention design. Discovery involved using anecdote circles to collect stories from Aboriginal staff and people who manage Aboriginal people. We helped them recall their first days, weeks, months with the department, what challenges they faced and what (or who) was helpful. We collected a couple of hundred anecdotes.
We were also interested in the perspective of those people who managed Aboriginal staff because they have an enormous impact on how well their employees settle into a job and it was also important to help new managers of Aboriginal people appreciate the cultural differences they might face.
We allocated half a day for the sensemaking and intervention design workshop, which is much shorter than we would normally run because it was difficult to get everyone together. We started the session with a gallery walk of all the anecdotes and had people working in pairs noticing, and jotting down on hexi post-its, what they felt was important or interesting in the anecdote and also writing the morale of the story. The participants clustered these post-its and identified about 12 issues that they would either nurture or disrupt, such as connecting to networks, walking in two worlds, and understanding how things fit together.
We then asked the group to divide into small teams and adopt a cluster so we had one issue per table. From here we ran a world cafe style activity to develop ideas for interventions. We finished the workshop with a pre-mortem to ground the participants in reality of what they really thought could be done and to tap into the group intelligence in the room about the challenges this project might face.
We were warned at the outset that this project would be difficult because of the intense politics involved. For that reason we focussed on getting as many people who had a say involved in the project. They were either in the anecdote circles, interviews or at the sensemaking workshop. We wanted them to come to their own conclusions on what should be done. From what we hear the project was successful but we will really only be able to gauge the success in another 6 months and beyond.
As we got into the project we realised this wasn’t an Aboriginal induction program because everyone (regardless of your heritage) needed a standard induction to the department. This program was about helping Aboriginal people get connected and productive in their new work environment and hopefully do a better job of attracting and retaining Aboriginal staff, a stated objective of the government.
Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.
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