Building digital organisations, creating great teams and enabling transformation

Chris Fleming profile picture

18 November 2020

Chris Fleming
Public Digital

I’ve spent a good portion of my career working in digital teams in the NHS. You’ll have to trust me when I say it’s the most satisfying work you could do.

The ingredients are pretty compelling. Done well, it brings you close to the people you are trying to help. You understand their backgrounds, stories, hopes and fears and live it with them. A minute saved, a question answered, a reassurance given; incremental tweaks making a small difference to the world. Over time these can scale up to something rather powerful. Even better if the team is empowered by leadership to solve the problems the business and users have set them. There is no further level to ascend in Maslow’s hierarchy.

Most inspiring though, is operating in a multidisciplinary environment. The satisfaction of charting a course through what’s safe, what’s possible technically, what the business wants to achieve, and what experience will meet the user need. It requires technologists, designers, researchers, clinicians and operational staff. They each bring expertise from their alien worlds to alight on the thing that will make the service better by next Friday. And the Friday after that.

As part of the Digital Board’s programme we recently helped NHS Providers produce a guide on Building and enabling digital teams. It may sound obvious when you say it out loud but the secret to digital transformation is not magic. It’s teams. While leadership and a window of opportunity are important, all the words and slides in the world won’t save you without a team in place to deliver. Teams are the start, middle and end of your transformation.

The board of any organisation plays a huge role in creating great teams. It also sets the conditions to enable them to thrive. In the guide we propose 8 questions for boards to ask about progress building a digital organisation.


  1. Do you talk about digital services or IT projects?
    Projects imply a one-off thing to be ticked off a list. Services imply a need to understand the people who will use them and help them complete a task. Projects end on launch day. Services start on launch day.

  2. Who designs your services and how?
    Digital is not just a rebrand of your IT department. True transformation happens when the edges of traditional and new disciplines meet. You will design the best services and meet the needs of your users when you bring together multidisciplinary teams.

  3. Is specialist digital knowledge represented at the top table when key technology decisions are made? Digital is about rethinking operating models as much as delivering new technology. Making those decisions in the absence of specialist expertise is risky.

  4. Are you applying new hiring strategies to hire new skills? Senior product leaders or interaction designers are not typically going to be looking on NHS Jobs. If you look in the same places, you will get the same people.

  5. Does your team look like who you are trying to reach? The best way to build services that work for everyone is to make sure that your team, at any level, reflects the people who will be using them. Diverse teams are more productive and innovative, and have been shown to improve patient care and outcomes.

  6. Are digital teams coming to you with problems to solve? As a board, are you servant leaders having an open conversation, or are you trying to decipher the hidden problems obscured in the papers?

  7. Does information flow to authority, or does authority flow to information? There is no argument that good governance is critical to good service delivery. But ‘good governance’ is often confused with extra process, hierarchy and paperwork. There is a better way.

  8. When was your last blog post about your digital transformation published? One of the most powerful ways an institution can differentiate itself and attract a new type of skillset or leader is to interact with the outside world in a different way. The best digital organisations show their working out.


About the author

Chris Fleming profile picture

Chris Fleming

Chris is a product and agile delivery specialist and previously worked for the NHS. He is passionate about applying internet-era approaches to public services, and showing public sector teams a new way of working.

Chris has delivered a number of national platforms for the NHS including the NHS App and 111 online. He also led the delivery of new services to support the UK's coronavirus response including the NHS isolation note, and the coronavirus vaccine trials registry.

Prior to his NHS experience, Chris worked in several UK government departments, the Government Office for Science, and the Greater London Authority. He has shaped strategy and influenced at all levels of civic institutions on topics from data science capability in government, to open access science, to sustainable transport.

Article tags: