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SAMPLE PROJECT: Children’s social care

Projects have been undertaken in Cambridgeshire County Council, and on a smaller scale in Norfolk County Council, the London Borough of Croydon, Birmigham City Council and Cheshire County Council.

Most of what follows is compiled from the first of the above assignments. One of the chief triggers was the work of the Reclaiming Social Work initiative pioneered by the children’s social care team in the London Borough of Hackney (subsequently becoming the Morning Lane Consultancy) in which Dr Tate had a close connection.

What follows is not a blow-by-blow account of the project, but a mention of important issues, aspects and learnings.


  • The level of deference and caution towards the most senior manager, the assistant director.
  • The unhealthy power of micro-management at senior levels.
  • The lack of questioning at senior levels of what is leadership for.
  • The liberating excitement felt by the 50-strong management team towards the ideas and possibilities opened up by systemic leadership thinking. This contrasted with the cool reception by the senior management team.
  • The strong hold that HR had on the management process.
  • The strong attachment to the non-systemic mechanistic management model (e.g. a 21 page appraisal process for managers to demonstrate their compliance with a top-down HR-driven model of one-best-Cambridgeshire way of managing, thereby evidencing why they didn’t need to learn to do anything different).
  • The attachment to large monthly meetings aimed at achieving a consensus before action could be taken.
  • The novelty of spontaneous initiatives and contact across departmental boundaries.
  • Curious exploration and experimentation with the ‘Proceed until apprehended’ approach.
  • The process of encouraging greater innovation and the extent to which this was perceived as a good idea, whether it was felt to be needed, and how it would be monitored and managed.
  • Attempts to speed up decision taking by circumventing traditional mechanisms.
  • The natural identification of young stars who shone during the process, and how this contrasted with older and longer-serving members of the team.
  • The difficulty in getting some top managers to take part.
  • The benefits of mixing teams and grade levels in working groups.
  • The extent to which the contracting process needs to test out assumptions made by consultants and a few enthusiasts at the initial contact stage, and the need to check out in the contracting process how widely these assumptions were subscribed to at higher levels in the organisation.
  • Resistance to change often comes from the top of the organisation, contrary to what is expected.