Work & life

Thoughts/musing about how separate facets of our life are connected & integrated rather than simply balanced separately

Ioana Finichiu

It seems we often chase the perfect (everything) – the perfect tweet, the perfect selfie angle, the perfect job, the perfect outcome. On top of being exhausting, it sets us up with unrealistic expectations.

What if we were to try, once in a while, to appreciate the beauty of what we have, flaws and all?

The OneTeamGov Canada stickers are some of my favourite things in the world, because they are all different and their very existence is representative of everything that’s perfect about this movement.

I ordered the first run of stickers myself. We had just gotten our logo in both languages (a story for another day) and didn’t have the skills or tools to recreate them in high resolution. So these stickers are smaller than the rest – and for some odd reason very hard to peel from the backing, making them extra quirky!

The second run was done by our friends at the Canadian Digital Service, through our champion Kylie. CDS was ordering stickers to bring to the OneTeamGov Global London event and offered to get some made for us. At the time, Ashley had a graphic designer colleague who offered (and we gladly accepted) to redo our logo in high resolution and in multiple formats (so, so grateful for that). I’ll never forget meeting up with Kylie at the QEII Centre and getting a bagful of stickers (that batch is definitely well traveled). You’ll recognize them by their size (they’re larger than the rest) and their transparency.

Mark, our friend and champion at the Institute on Governance made the third run. He trusted us with participants at their biggest annual event and carved out the time for the OneTeamGov Canada team to facilitate an unconference teaser as part of the programme. In addition, they included OneTeamGov Canada stickers in participants’ swag bag. They’re the same size as run 1 but easy to peel from the backing.

We ordered the fourth and most recent run to include in the OneTeamGov Global Victoria participants’ swag bag. Due to unforeseen procurement shenanigans (another story for another day), this order was paid for and picked up by our friends in the Government of British Columbia (yes, we refunded them). They’re the same size as the CDS run but have a white background and are distinctly glossy.

Clearly, we don’t have “perfect” stickers or the “perfect” process. But each of these has a story and is a perfectly shaped symbol of the friends, allies, champions, and supporters of the movement, of true collaboration, of coming together for the greater good, of breaking down physical and institutional barriers.

When you look at your sticker think of its story and how many people pitched in to get it to you. See the beauty in the less-than-perfect and ask yourself “If I spent less time chasing the perfect, how many more beautiful things could I get out into the world?”

Photo of four OneTeamGov Canada stickers

Ioana Finichiu

I'm seeing 'trust' discussed a lot these days – I mentioned it myself in a recent post where I talk about the triangle of... well... everything. There's chatter about how trust should be automatically given when someone is hired (perhaps just like handing out an access pass to a building?) I'm also hearing things like “I'm a professional, you should trust me” and variations on this theme.

Something has been bugging me about this discourse. Now that I think about it, we probably do a lot more background checks on a person before we allow them access to a physical space than we do before we allow them access to our emotional and head space. While this may be good fodder for a future post, today I want to talk about how we like throwing the 'trust' notion around when grappling with hard truths – and I genuinely think some issues may be other than 'trust issues'.

Let's take flexible work arrangements as an example – I don't want to overly define the term, I just want us to think about it like this: 1. Can the work only be done in the physical location designated by your employer (typically your office)? and 2. Does it matter at which time of day the work is done?
If the answer is no to either of these questions, how this work is done can be called flexible, right?

It's 2019 and a bunch of us have access to the internet and devices that can remotely connect to our employer's network just as if – gasp – we were to be physically present at the office. Why, then, when the benefits of flexible work arrangements are highly touted, do we struggle to make it a reality for more people? Whenever this topic is brought up I invariably hear about 'trust issues'.

But what if this isn't (just) about trust? I realized currently a lot of people seem to talk about flexible work arrangements in terms of right and privilege. When looking at it in those terms, it's easy to see how quickly things can become confrontational, especially when something is dangled in front of employees as reward or punishment. It's easy to see how (terribly) this plays out for morale, credibility, fairness, transparency. It's easy to get upset, to lash out at “the system”, to feel the injustice and the difference in power and privilege.

To borrow the words of a great friend of mine, this is not helpful. We need to re-frame. Instead of talking about flexible work arrangements as a privilege that can be given or taken away, what if we were to refer to it as a simple choice in how you do our work, a choice you get to make from the moment you get a building access card, a mobile device, and a way to connect remotely, a choice you get to make every day?

And then I stopped dead in my tracks (literally heard a screeching brake in my head). Framing this as a choice in how we do our work means the people responsible for supervising work have to do extra work themselves. It means we ask folks who are already stretched and dealing with a whole other level of organizational slush to add an extra layer of administrative burden. It means we are asking them to create the conditions and to support every person they're responsible for in however they choose to do their work. Yes, they signed up to do this type of job – but are they trained, supported, and prepared to keep the lights on while transforming their environment into an efficiency gold standard while being incredible people leaders? That's asking for... a lot.

As it turns out, some things may not be about trust – they may be about asking others to take on extra work, or a million other things.

I'd like us to start changing our discourse, so we can eventually change our course. It is not helpful to label a new way of working as a privilege, just like it is not helpful to invoke trust issues every time. We are fundamentally shifting our new typical and framing it well means we may need to adjust our focus. We all have a role to play if we want change and sometimes that role starts with changing our self.

Ioana Finichiu

A couple of weeks ago my friend Frank was telling me about a triangle he kept going back to in his most recent work project: Communication – Relationship Building – Trust. I kept mulling it over until it started spilling out onto my team (we now have triangles on post-its everywhere).

Trust-Communication-Relationships triangles on orange and pink post-its

The more I think about it, the more I think everything is linked to these three lines and the breakdowns that occur along them. I really, really want to talk about relationships (I also want to talk about trust and communication because they're important, but, well, I'm pretty engrossed in relationships right now).

Where do I even start? So much ink has flown to write about relationships, we've studied them, documented, chiselled, taped, recorded, expressed them in 1s and 0s... And yet, it feels like we're getting only marginally better at making relationships work well.

In our personal life we choose who we have relationships with and the degree of depth for each of those relationships. We invest the time to learn about people, their preferences, their values, their needs, their vulnerabilities. We set boundaries and create bonds. We work (sometimes) hard at maintaining them, we outgrow some, and yet others end unexpectedly. Relationships are fundamental and help us grow, teaching us as much about our self as they do about others.

Why, then, in professional settings, do we insist on relegating relationship building to the back burner, hoping it manages itself and only paying attention when it boils over?

I don't know about you, but joining a new work team is just about the strangest process I can think of. Most of the time there is little prior interaction with the person in charge and likely none with future teammates. We're expected to enter and stay in professional relationships (and somehow make them work well! ) with frighteningly little information to make this kind of commitment. We offer (and get in return) tidbits about what we 'do', what projects we work on, and what we can produce – but very little about who we are.

Taking a new job in a new work unit is, effectively, like entering into a blind marriage.

We make the best of it and try to build a relationship while learning a new job and pushing for good performance, and sometimes fail to recognize our relationship is breaking down. Even when we do recognize it, we are woefully unprepared for how to fix it or how to move on.

So yes, I am engrossed in investing the time to learn about people, their preferences, their values, their needs, their vulnerabilities. I want to build and help others in my professional life build relationships like we typically would, like we know we should.

I want to build Human Relationships. Because this is the new HR.

Ioana Finichiu

Inspired by this recent post on (over)writing by Seth Godin, I'm going to try something new (to me). I'm going to simply write.

I often want (and have every great intention) to publish elaborate posts that are perfectly structured to get my (many) ideas across. I just never prioritize it. “I don't have time” is a perfect excuse – it is not up for debate; it's not as if anyone (other than myself or my boss) can tell me to make time for something, and it's practically reflex at this point. It's an easy excuse.

So in waiting to find time to write the perfect posts that strike the right balance of thoughtful insights and dry humour I end up not posting anything at all. And that's... an artificial barrier, a miscellaneous bag of excuses rooted in self-expectation and self-imposed pressure.

I'm not sure how often I will simply write, or what structure I'll adopt. I wish I had the discipline of weeknoters but I'd rather be realistic. I'm going to try to find a balance between the instant gratification of a 280-character tweet and the long inspirational posts I somehow convinced myself are the 'right' way to blog.

I have thoughts; they may be good, they may be unremarkable; they will be written.

Ioana Finichiu

I’m a stubborn optimist. For me, that means I refuse to give in to the idea that systems are too big and cumbersome to change, that one person’s contribution won’t make a difference in a sea of pollution, that the status quo is rigged to win every time.

In my 12 years as a public servant I have at times felt a lack of connection with our ultimate objective (to serve the public) and I have seen what a lack of perspective can do to a team, to a project. Sometimes, my confidence that I have the tools and information I need to do my work (and do it well) has wavered. This is not uncommon, I’m sure. I am also really, really lucky: at every turn, I had people around me who reminded me of the impact we have and that the work we do matters.

About six months ago, a conversation with a friend struck me so strongly I am still thinking of that particular moment months later. As he was going over some difficulties with a project, I wondered out loud how colleagues could act so callously towards each other. His answer “because we lack empathy towards one another” was so dismaying, so shocking I physically reeled from it. Once I heard it I couldn’t un-hear it; I couldn’t stop seeing evidence of it whenever it happened. The implication is almost too much: if we act this way towards our colleagues, what does that mean for the way we act towards the public? We can do better. We have to do better.

By that time, I had already read James’ post, was following with great interest what was happening in the United Kingdom with OneTeamGov, and was connecting with a few folks this side of the Atlantic in hopes to start a Canadian chapter.

I fully identify with the seven principles that anchor the movement and it’s easy to see why so many folks from Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden (among others) feel the same. We all want to radically reform the public sector through practical action and we all believe that if we work together, across disciplines and teams and geographical boundaries – we are unstoppable.

One example of a (rather big) geographical boundary that came down happened in London in July 2018. The first OneTeamGov Global event took place: 700 people from 43 countries gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre to connect and share about their struggles with public sector reform – and equally importantly, to explore how we could all work together to improve our respective civil services. Realizing our struggles are so similar is quite shocking; we are more alike than different, regardless of the corner of the planet we call home. This makes me hopeful – surely, if we have empathy for people in a land far away, we can find our way back into it here, for the colleague a few offices down, the team mate two provinces away, a peer working in another jurisdiction.

I invite you to read about the experiences from OneTeamGov Global here, in the OneTeamGov Global blog collection. The joy, wonder, and enthusiasm is palpable and infectious, and I for one can always use an extra dose of optimism.

In Canada, we have been busy since the beginning of summer: we host weekly breakfast meetings in Ottawa, folks in Winnipeg and Vancouver have started regular meet ups in their cities, we facilitated an [unconference stream at the GC Open First Day and we continue spreading the word about the movement with every opportunity.

We are pretty relentless in our push to connect with people and help people connect. The status quo is no longer an option. We live and work in a networked age, where information and services materialize upon our (voice) commands, where we need to talk to folks on different continents to help us solve challenges, and where our public is hyper-aware and demanding we deliver well on the things that matter to them. I am fully confident we can do that as long as we act, and act quickly.

In this networked era, leadership comes from all levels – and while it may be difficult for hierarchical structures to adapt to and embrace distributed power, the sooner we do it the better the outlook. We need to empower those who want to make changes, whether they’re within or outside the public sector. The challenges we have cannot be solved by hunkering down, closing the blinds, and hoping the storm will pass. Change is not something that will happen to people or systems; it will not happen overnight, nor will it happen in a vacuum.

I’m going back to OneTeamGov Global, to a specific moment that helped bring us where we are today – one of those moments I think of as a butterfly effect. While there was a palpable buzz in the air about our upcoming day, a friend in Comox, British Columbia expressed his regret at not being able to join us for the event. Rather than simply acknowledging his wish to be part of the next event, he was challenged to organize it. What followed is nothing short of unexpected: bolstered by promises of help and a huge outpouring of support, he accepted.

So here we are, a few short months later, announcing the next OneTeamGov Global event. It will take place in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, on May 21, 2019. Frank will tell you why we chose Victoria, and I for one could not be more thrilled to discover this city, its culture, and its people.

It will take tremendous effort to bring this together. We are very grateful that our friends in the United Kingdom are incredibly generous with their time and resources – they are willing to share everything they created so we don’t have to start from scratch. It is, after all, what OneTeamGov is about.

We will need volunteers and supporters and funding partners. But beyond that, we want you to come and be a part of this change, we want you to bring your hopes and aspirations and challenges to this event. I promise you will at the very least meet others who feel the same way you do, who struggle the same way you do, who will help you the same way you help others. Together, we’re unstoppable.

Ioana Finichiu

I never really fit into a “box”. You know which boxes I’m talking about – the categories we like to assign to people so they line up with our ideals of order and predictability. Sure, I fit into a few of the big ones: human, check; female, check; Caucasian, check. Beyond those, it gets more complicated.

Even as a kid, I liked doing things differently and I liked doing different things. In high school, much to the chagrin of various cliques, I never picked a side – why should I have to when I could be friends with everyone, mosey from group to group and learn from everybody? This has never really been a problem (1) – I have always had a strong sense of self and was never bullied for my apparent refusal to conform.

I owe this to my parents, who never gave my siblings or me any indication that we couldn’t do whatever we set our minds to. This was my home. We had rules about right and wrong and a strong sense of ethics; beyond that, we were encouraged to explore and make up our own mind about the world and everything in it. I am incredibly thankful for my upbringing, for having a home where acceptance was the standard, where curiosity was nurtured, where debate was encouraged, and where learning was seen as a lifelong pursuit.

Inevitably, I leveled up to an adult in the workforce. More neat boxes, which you’re really supposed to fit into by now because you’ve outgrown your quirks, right? I tried reigning in my wildly curious and always questioning mind but it quickly got the better of me (spoiler alert, you can’t effectively stifle your true self. Nor should you try too hard). This is true as much in my work life as in my life outside of work (2). My goals, dreams, and aspirations are unlike most – I stopped trying to convince folks I’m not in competition with them; we simply don’t want the same thing and that is perfectly ok. This is difficult for a lot of people to accept. So I am used to getting the look (3); I oscillate between shrugging it off, being mildly amused, being mildly annoyed, and (sometimes) doubting myself. But the second I go home and feel the calming wave of unconditional acceptance, doubts and fears wash away like meaningless debris.

I have also been lucky in finding peers and leaders who accept and encourage being different, who let me explore and try things, and have my back when they don’t work out. People who see the benefit of having someone on the team who cannot conform, who always questions, not for the sake of challenging but to seek better understanding and better outcomes. In their own way, they embody some of the familiar, uplifting traits that remind me of home.

A few weeks ago I attended an amazing one-day event, OneTeamGov Global. This was an unconference that brought together public sector reformers from across the world. Each of the hundreds of participants experienced it in a different way and luckily many, many of them are sharing their experience (4).

Naturally, when I came back from the trip, the inevitable question came: so, how was it? I found myself unable to articulate an answer that would truly describe how I experienced it. I recounted bits and pieces, self-contained interactions, logistical details – because some sort of answer was needed. I apologized for offering such sparse details and explained I was still trying to unpack it, make sense of it all. I burst into tears multiple times while reading accounts of the day from Nour, Morgan, and Sharon – thinking YES!!! That’s exactly it, that’s exactly how I felt! I also felt guilty for not being able to get my thoughts and feelings sorted out quickly enough to share with the rest of the world. I still get overwhelmed when I really immerse myself in the memories and let the feelings wash over me. But I finally figured it out. I can finally put in words what July 16 was like for me.

Going to OneTeamGov Global was like going home.

Home, where acceptance is the standard, where curiosity is nurtured, where debate is encouraged, and where learning is seen as a lifelong pursuit.

Your experience of home may not be the same as mine – but I sure hope you have a space in your life that means the same thing to you. Where acceptance is the standard, where curiosity is nurtured, where debate is encouraged, and where learning is seen as a lifelong pursuit. Where judgements are suspended and we instinctively welcome our differences and our similarities. Where peers and leaders have our back, where it’s ok to want different things, where you don’t have to conform if you can’t, where you can bring your true self and are appreciated for it.

I felt we were all linked by one thing at #OneTeamGovGlobal: a desire, or at least a curiosity, to work better, do better, be better. That is powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated. Through #OneTeamGov or other means, find the place that evokes this desire and curiosity in you, pursue it relentlessly, and use it liberally. Find your home.

  1. At least in my opinion
  2. My two favourite forms of exercise are dancing and powerlifting. I’m a powerlifting dancer. Couldn’t have just stuck to running or something more mainstream.
  3. As if I spontaneously sprouted an extra head
  4. The remarkable, ever-growing collection of posts: https://medium.com/oneteamgov/oneteamgovglobal-blog-collection-5b38fb4eaa70

Ioana Finichiu

Drawing parallels between different experiences in my life is one of my favourite things. I especially love it when something seemingly unrelated allows me to understand things I am grappling with in a totally different context. My other favourite thing is meeting brilliant people with different perspectives – their insights are often linchpins and my fleeting thoughts and ideas take a (somewhat) coherent shape when adding their take.

When those two things materialize at the same time, magic happens.

One of those magical moments happened last week, in the margins of a significant event (1) that will have ripples across the globe for years to come. The brilliant people (2) in this instance were from far and wide, from Canada’s East Coast to New Zealand’s capital. We were talking about what we had learned throughout the event, about good examples other countries were setting – this was after work hours, after dinner; a lively conversation about our public sector woes and hopes and aspirations (yes, yes we are public sector nerds). As is often the case these days, we were chatting about Singapore’s Smart Nation, Taiwan’s vTaiwan, and Estonia’s… well, Estonia’s everything, really.

Once again, lamenting the seemingly glacial pace of (digital) modernization in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. I wondered out loud, what could these three countries possibly have in common that no one else has? Why do we struggle with things that everyone else seems to have figured out, or at least started to? (Ahem, the UK is also a few years ahead of us)

I (half?) jokingly said that we are Westminster system (3) Commonwealth countries and we have that in common, unlike anyone else (4). And then, my parallels aligned. My life became an inspiration for my thoughts about this conundrum.

I am an immigrant to Canada. My parents left our country in search of a brighter future, a safer place to call home, a place where their values and way of thinking better aligned with those of the society around them. We brought few belongings with us, and even fewer traditions and customs. I guess you could say we’re not typical. I have, however, observed behaviours in my friends’ families that were different from my own. Grandparents who had emigrated in a different era, for different reasons, who often treasured traditions and objects from the homeland and spoke of it with a reverence and wistfulness often reserved for first loves. You could not pry honoured traditions from them, try as you might. Funnily enough, customs had changed back in the mother country – as time passed and people evolved so did these traditions. Some were updated, some simply vanished as they were no longer relevant to people and society’s context. Yet you could still find them thousands of miles away, exactly as they were decades ago. Like a delicate insect preserved in amber, frozen in time, preciously guarded and put on display, shown to guests as proof that the ties were still there, alive and well.

What if – what if– we (inadvertently) did the same thing with the Westminster system in Commonwealth countries? Safeguarded its customs and quirks and traditions from eras long gone, not allowing it to evolve and adapt as needed, but instead guarding traditions against all elements, encapsulated in this unwieldy substance meant to preserve them until the end of time? All the while, in its original birthplace, the system is changing and adapting to new realities.

There it was. Someone said it (5).

Are we more Westminster than Westminster?

Like the customs and traditions brought over by immigrants generations ago, the processes and customs of the Westminster system were brought over and not allowed to evolve. We were slightly stunned as we considered the implications. Clearly, we were all having the same conversations in our respective jurisdiction (6) – you know which conversations, the ones that inevitably circle around to the Westminster system, how rigid and difficult it is to change it, how it is to blame for any major roadblock that gets in our way. It turns out it’s not the system itself.

If not the system, we have to look at everything around it, all the traditions we brought over that no longer make sense in this connected, digital age. We have to examine them, ask ourselves if they serve a legitimate purpose, if they bring any value, if they make sense. And if they don’t – we have to let them go. It will be ok.

There’s no one to ask for permission to stop doing nonsensical things that hinder our ability to evolve and serve people the way they need to and deserve to be served. Obsolete traditions, you have to go. You will have a place of honour in history books and we will fondly reminisce on our time together. But this relationship is no longer working for us. We’re breaking up.

  1. OneTeamGov Global, a one-day event, the culmination of months and thousands of hours of work, supported by hundreds of volunteers, that showed everyone what a collective can do when we care about making our work better, our world better. Here’s a sampling of write-ups: https://t.co/UfJPFmbDiq
  2. Who I now hope to call friends
  3. I chose this article on purpose because of this sentence: “The model, used by many other nations around the world, including Australia, has endured partly because of its ability to adapt in the face of major social changes and the checks and balances that have evolved.”
  4. Technically untrue, as a host of other countries share both these characteristics – India, Pakistan, Malaysia among others
  5. It was Beth. Told you she’s brilliant.
  6. Three separate jurisdictions, as it happens

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