It Takes a City: In Praise of Cross-Departmental Teams

Posted on July 19, 2023

The Success Kid meme, showing a toddler on a beach with a determined expression and a handful of sand.

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Erin Krause Riley, Adult Services Coordinator for the Scottsdale, AZ Public Library. Connect with Erin on LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: How To be Perfect: The Answer to Every Moral Question. It’s by Michael Schur, the brains behind the TV show “The Good Place” which is one of my all time favorites, but NOT 

What I’m Watching: Because I am enjoying great writing and some favorite actors by rewatching Gilmore Girls, starting straight from Season 1 because I do every year (I just  finished the Roadtrip to Harvard episode, IYKYK) and Shrinking, in anticipation of the next season. Let’s give it up for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA and hope that an equitable solution is reached soon. I won’t hold forth any longer on the importance of this inflection point for all kinds of creative laborers who have been significantly impacted by rising tech, but again, IYKYK.

What I’m Listening to: Podcasts about the American political landscape – Courtside by Neal Katyal and Deja News from Rachel Maddow. And the soundtrack to Hamilton… as always

One of the things I really love about my job as the Adult Services Coordinator for the Scottsdale Public Library system is the opportunity to work on “non-library” things. Not that I don’t love my library work enough, I really do, but I am increasingly aware that real changes in a city department like mine are often facilitated by cross-departmental collaborations. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a city to really make change. As a city with a pretty lean operational management model, Scottsdale has a network of teams and task forces composed of people from multiple departments who work on initiatives they are passionate about in addition to their “day jobs.”  This benefits both the employees– who get the opportunity for professional development and participation in passion projects– and the city, which leverages a range of employee expertise and infuses departments across the city with innovations and improvements. 

The Success Kid meme with the caption "Collaboration for the win" overlaid on the image.

For instance, I’m the library’s representative to the city’s Green Team which is run by our Director of Sustainability and one of the city’s environmental planners. We have representatives from across the city: from IT, purchasing, facilities, solid waste, communications, planning, police, public works, and more. Not only do team members bring a huge range of knowledge (and therefore, possible solutions) to the table, they are also able to commit to implementation plans which require collaboration by multiple departments. That’s really essential when it’s time to move initiatives forward because it saves the steps required to bring departments on board with new ideas and often lowers organizational resistance to change when some of the change is coming from inside the house, so to speak…

I’m also lucky enough to be part of the city’s High Performance and Innovation Team, which we call HiPIT(pronounced Hype-It) another all-city team which has sub-teams working on Process Improvement, Data Analysis, Behavioral Insights, Smart Cities, and Innovation. The team was conceived and nurtured by its executive champion, Assistant City Manager Brent Stockwell, who is constantly looking for relevant new ways to keep Scottsdale at the forefront of municipal excellence.  His theory has been that while innovation isn’t 100% of anyone’s job, it can be some percent of everyone’s job. And that brings us to the project I want to talk about today, a cross departmental double whammy, where working on the Green Team and HiPIT came together to facilitate change for my library system. 

Toward the end of the last fiscal year, Louisa Aikin, the branch manager of our Arabian Library was looking to implement some operational process improvements as part of her SMART goal for the year. She had an interest in doing something that could also produce a cost savings, so she looked at the possibilities for reducing paper use at the branch, which she felt would also tie in with some of the library’s long term sustainability goals.  But in a building full of people who were constantly printing out information, it was hard to know where to start. 

When I heard about Louisa’s idea, I suggested that she could contact the Green Team to help get the project off the ground.  Working with two of our team members, she looked at staff operations and targeted the areas where she thought she and her staff could make relatively small changes with significant impact on overall paper use at the branch.

Cindi Eberhardt, one of the Green Team liaisons, also heads up the Behavioral Insights Team (BITS) division of HiPIT where she collects and employs behavioral insights to help teams improve city programs and services. Louisa asked Cindi for help in gathering input about staff procedures and getting buy-in from the Arabian Library staff to make changes and reduce paper use. Though there wasn’t time to do a full BITS workup or set up a trial, Cindi coached Louisa on ways to zero in on any pain points the staff might have when committing to using less paper, so that she could anticipate concerns and have answers ready for staff members who wanted to hang on to the processes they were familiar with. 

Following Cindi’s leadership suggestions, Louisa started by modeling paper reduction strategies for her staff by confronting her own “printer addiction” and reducing her own paper use. Instead of printing lists and outlines for every task and meeting, she committed to keeping her own notes in the cloud. Her next step was talking to a Green Team IT representative who could move the team forward with making all branch meetings paperless. Their idea was to do away with printed copies of agendas and meeting notes by using the branch laptop to manage the meetings and preserve those documents for the staff to refer to later as needed.  

Then, Louisa also worked with me (Green Team and HiPIT) to use strategies from Human Centered Design to set up a pilot process to tackle one of the daily processes which used the most paper at the branch, locating and pulling books to put on hold for library patrons. Where staff members usually walked through the branch with multiple pages of printed pull lists, they committed to calling up the lists on the branch laptop and taking it along with them through the stacks. Staff recognized an immediate benefit during the pilot phase, which kept them engaged with the project and enthusiastic about improving the new process and doing more. Because this holds-pull is performed multiple times a day, there was significant reduction in paper use right away. The staff also found that the time saved printing meant that each pull list took less time to complete. As Louisa and her staff examined other daily activities and reduced paper use where possible, they realized that they could not completely avoid printing and paper use, but they could act more responsibly. A Green team rep from purchasing showed how they could always purchase paper with a higher recycled content, and IT helped by setting their printer default to two sided copies. Finally, one of the library staff set up a  collection basket for paper which could be re-used for printing and notetaking. Louisa presented the results of the project to the last library management team meeting, and now we are looking at how to roll out these process improvements at the rest of our branches. 

Saving some paper may not seem like a big win at the branch library level, but if it is adopted throughout the system and the will to reduce paper use permeates the library culture, it will be a real innovation as well as an environmental improvement. Louisa’s process was fairly agile, and she is willing to try more process improvements because she knows that there are cross-city teams to support the projects not only in development, but implementation as well. I can’t wait to see what my whole city does next, and I’m just glad to be part of the action.

A photo of actor Bill Murray from the movie "Stripes" with the caption "Now that's teamwork at its finest" overlaid on the image.

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