In long-gone days my colleague Cathy Busani used to work in a housing association, where they had one typing pool serving all the housing officers in the organisation. The typing pool ad a manager and they would negotiate with the manager of the housing officers about workload and response times, when housing officers submitted hand-written work or audio cassettes to be typed out.

The two managers met regularly, and set rules for how things should be done. But somehow it never seemed to work. Neither of the groups of staff were happy. The typists felt the officers made unreasonable demands and the housing officers felt the typists were not responsive enough.

Cathy was asked to step in at this point and persuaded the departments to try a new approach. She asked the managers to step out of the negotiation and got the typists and officers to talk directly to each other, encouraging them to find their own solution. Suddenly they were able to understand each other’s needs. And without having to set absolute rules, they could explain where they could be flexible and where they found the demands unreasonable.

The result: the officers understood the typists’ work and how to approach them when they did have an urgent need. The typists felt understood and appreciated. And the managers had less to worry about and more time to focus on their real job, supporting their people.

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