Encouraging Collaboration in the Workplace: Lessons from the Government of Alberta | Queen's University IRC

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Encouraging Collaboration in the Workplace: Lessons from the Government of Alberta

Stephanie Noel, Queen's IRC Business Development Manager
Publication date: July, 2013

In 2009, the Alberta government's Connie Scott was a trailblazer, a forerunner in a new learning program that would change the way she and her community would look at their work.

Scott, now a manager of HR Strategies in Enterprise and Advanced Education, was in the first cohort of Queen's IRC HR Business Partner Certificate Program, a curriculum custom-designed for the Alberta government.

Scott was one of 25 students from three pilot ministries, and she was immediately struck by the tenor of the facilitators, their expertise and ideas, and their energy in the classroom.

"The instruction was fabulous. Françoise (Morissette) and Gary (Furlong) were amazing. The knowledge and experience they had was so obvious, they were just clearly highly experienced. Françoise was so exuberant, I'll always remember that," Scott said.

"And I loved that we were part of a cohort of people. I loved that I had this brand new network, and it's a network that I still keep in touch with."

Soon after she completed the program, Scott transitioned from Manager , HR Consulting to Manager, HR Strategies. She was able to apply what she learned from the IRC right away.

"It allowed you to think more strategically. You'd ask yourself: how will this or that impact another part of the organization? If you're implementing a workforce plan or a leadership framework or coaching services, you start to think about the business and how it will be accepted and who it will really impact and what's the best way to get it out so it will cut through the clutter," she said.

While Scott's first cohort only included three Alberta ministry HR department's, the new partnership between Alberta Corporate HR and Queen's IRC now enrolls participants from many of the Alberta government's 20-plus HR teams.

The leading-edge curriculum has five interrelated workshops designed to expand HR professionals' capacity to be internal business partners: Foundations for Internal Consulting, Change Management, Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships, Coaching Skills, and Organizational Design. Other facilitators include former Queen's IRC director Carol Beatty, Sharon Parker, and Brenda Barker Scott.

The goal of the HR Business Partner Certificate program is to enhance the capacity of HR professionals to work as business partners; to develop them into trusted advisors who use the knowledge of business needs, organizational context and HR policy and practices to generate insight and influence decisions.

Barker Scott said she loves to hear stories like Connie Scott's, of HR professionals for whom the IRC training is the basis for a career-long shift in thinking.

"By the time people have been through the program, they've reflected on how they can use the tools, they've experimented, they've practiced," Barker Scott said.

"We've provided a base and a community. But it doesn't stop. We're planting seeds for them. We're tapping into what's already there. And then they return to their bigger HR community and use it. That's what's so gratifying."

Current Queen's IRC Director, Paul Juniper, said that balance of theory and practice, the hands-on experience, are aspects that help set IRC training apart in the world of HR professional development.

"Time and again, the evaluative feedback we receive from our participants is overwhelmingly positive," Juniper said.

"The IRC experience is about learning new ideas, reframing thinking, and acquiring tools and resources to be more effective and efficient in the workplace. Our advanced-level programming challenges participants to thinking critically and more deeply explore ideas and workplace challenges."

Connie Scott said another, subtler advantage of the IRC program is that it encourages collaboration, a central and oft-repeated focus of the Alberta government.

"Participants from my cohort still call me and ask: 'What would do you if...? And that's important, because collaboration is tough. Are you sharing information? Are you talking to one another? Are you literally sharing your resources? Programs like this help us to be a more collaborative organization," she said.

Connie Scott's favourite module was Building Relationships and Strategic Partnerships.

"Even if that's all you took, you'd have the tools to build your network, to consider how people interrelate, how to manage conflict, how people communicate," she said.

"Even how we 'sell' our service has changed in part because of this training. We're more diligent in how we develop our community. We now have HR consultants at leadership meetings. And they're not just there for the sake of being there; they're engaged, they're adding value."