On Tuesday, March 5, the Oakley City Council and Staff spent a half-day in a team building session. From Wikipedia “Team building is an important factor in any environment, its focus is to specialize in bringing out the best in a team to ensure self-development, positive communication, leadership skills and the ability to work closely together as a team to problem solve.”
The City used to conduct such sessions on a yearly basis, but with a council and staff that had worked closely for a number of years we drifted away from this practice. November’s election changed that dynamic when two incumbents chose not to seek re-election and two new councilmembers were elected. The dynamic was further disrupted during the transition. Concerned that the disruptions may affect our ability to serve the public, the City Manager and I thought this would be an appropriate time to reinstitute the practice. The meeting was facilitated by a retired city manager with 35 years of experience.
The facilitator talked individually with each councilmember and some staff members to determine what issues were resonating amongst the group about how things are currently working and how they could work better. He then developed two paradigms, the old and the new.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the basic meaning of the term paradigm as “a pattern or model, an exemplar”. The historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave it its contemporary meaning when he adopted the word to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline at any particular period of time.
“The term paradigm refers to assumptions: assumptions we carry around in our heads, assumptions about the universe, assumption about our discipline, assumptions about our work, assumptions about people and assumptions about ourselves.” Thomas Kuhn
Both were presented to the group for discussion
Old Operating Paradigm
- Lack of respect between councilmembers
- Closed session items being discussed in the community
- Some grandstanding
- Tenuous relationships, new Council finding its way
- Concerned about “group think”, go along to get along
- Suspicious of past City decisions
- Insiders and the outsiders
- Don’t know where others are coming from
New Operating Paradigm
- Respect for each other’s point of view
- Trust among and between Councilmembers
- Energetic debate, sharing of diverse opinions
- Honest, straightforward discussion, have integrity
- Critical thinking
- Need to get on the same page
- Council discussions and decisions need to be transparent
- Can’t be afraid to make a decision
- Keep an open mind
When the discussion was completed we all agreed to work towards the new paradigm and create a new council/staff relationship.
A concrete commitment was made by Staff to improve the Staff Reports for City Council Meetings by providing more of the history of an issue, including more reference to the governing documents ( State and Federal law, City ordinance, General Plan. etc.) regarding the issue, making reports more reader friendly to the general audience, and more often providing various options in addition to the recommended action.
Councilmember commitments included emailing the City Manager prior to the City Council Meeting to request any information that may be lacking in a Staff Report, providing input on Staff Reports as Staff works to improve the reporting, ensuring that any newly acquired information is distributed to all Councilmembers, assist in informing the public regarding policies and laws that govern Council decisions, and speaking with and about each other respectfully at all times.