The public service is a funny beast. We have so many competing identities, from the different networks we associate with, to our classifications, our branches, and our departments. While there are certainly times where this segmentation is necessary and useful, I think it’s important to be mindful that we need to be cautious that we don’t alienate ourselves from each other.
I’m a big advocate for writing about what you know: I know sports, and the best way I can describe the (somewhat) necessary division of the public service is in the context of sports.
I have spent most of my life playing softball. The older one gets, the more specialized a player’s skillset becomes. For me, it was being an outfielder. Part of every practice was designated to working in our specialized groups. Most of the time it was practicing the hard skills, the physical improvements. But sometimes, we’d also work on soft skills, the situational plays where you had to use your judgment, walking through various scenarios. Together we were working on skills to support the greater good: the team.
In the public sector, these specialized groups can be viewed as branches and sectors. It’s in these branches and sectors that we learn hard and soft skills. We learn the business of our branch and how it contributes to the overall goals of the department, and we learn to write briefing notes and memoranda to Cabinet, the hard skills. This is also the place where we learn the soft skills, what type of manager we want to be and the importance of effective communication.
The team is where we’re all working together to achieve a particular set of goals. Every year at Simon Fraser University, the softball team would have a goal-setting session where it would come up with a mission statement and goals for the year. Being on the team was enough to commit us to those goals. We each had our different roles to play on the team. Selfishness was never tolerated; we were united, working toward the same end goal.
A team is like a department. Each department has its values and list of accomplishments. Each person in the department, every branch, has a role to play in the success of the department. Being able to understand your role and how the work you do contributes to the overall success of the department is so important in taking pride in your work.
It doesn’t end there though. I was fortunate enough to compete in the Pan-Am Games for Team Canada. It was the most amazing experience. The Pan-Am Games were the first time that I had been exposed to other Canadian athletes. Regardless of the specific sport, there was something that united us all together. We supported each other; we bonded over foosball; we shared peanut butter and Nutella rations; and we spoke to each other, complete strangers, all through the athlete village just because we were wearing red and white. Our sports were totally separate from each other, and yet, we were united. We all wanted to do our country proud.
Team Canada, at a multi-sporting event, is the public service. The departments are the individual sports, and we’re all working toward the same goal of providing excellent service to Canadians. Each individual department has its own mandate and measures its own success, but in the end, all want to do our country proud. As public servants we all play for the same team, but we don’t always act like it. It’s important for us to be mindful of this fact – we’re all ultimately working towards the same goal.
The realization that you’re part of something bigger than yourself can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. We need to start small, connecting the dots between our sectors and branches, to our networks and communities of practice, to our organizational goals, and to the broader goals of the public service.
If you think about it, every public servant is playing for Team Canada, and should want to do our country proud. Our team is big, and the game is always on the line, yet every day we show up to play our part. I am proud to call you all my teammates.