Workforce Scotland – Where is that ‘kaftan of weirdness’ now?

Janet Whitley, Head of the Workforce Scotland Team at The Scottish Government, shares her reflections on the journey of Workforce Scotland.


JW profile

Very often there are things that happen in our lives that cause us to look back and reflect, reset our priorities and bring new energy around these. Some colleagues will be aware that I was away from work for a spell last year with breast cancer and that is certainly one of those triggers to think over what is important, what brings me energy and what is it that I enjoy doing.


So, with all of this in mind, I have been thinking a lot about our work on Workforce Scotland over the last 6 years. My initial engagement with this work came at a time when I had recently moved into Scottish Government after working in Universities for a long time. I was feeling really ready to do some work on some different approaches to public service leadership. We started off with really widespread engagement with colleagues across public services, spotting together some of the areas that were ripe for development and where there were emerging needs. A relentless focus on collaboration throughout the work has not always been easy, but has become increasingly important as we recognise the crucial need for us to find ways to work more effectively together across our public services to tackle complex, societal issues.


That being said, there have been many times, particularly in the early stages of our work, when it has felt like our focus on collaboration, and some of our models and approaches have been felt as too weird for some colleagues. People would look at us aghast at the prospect of “check-in” at the outset of meetings, rather than the more conventional job-title introductions.  It has taken a while to gain a wider understanding of the importance of creating an opportunity for everyone to arrive fully to be part of a meeting, with all participants expressing a fuller sense of what is going on for them and everyone having the same chance to be heard.  Likewise we have often faced real fear at the prospect of emergence and working with uncertainty, with some deeply embedded preferences for holding control over outcomes.  I am sure there are lots of reasons why these kinds of practices seem to be more acceptable now, sitting well alongside a growing recognition of the importance of being more human and authentic in our work.


All of this led to us coining the phrase about our “kaftan of weirdness” getting in the way. This phrase has stuck with us.


More recently it seems that there is a significant surge in interest in the work we are doing, particularly in Collective Leadership, which is drawing very fully on all of the work we have done over the years on Pioneering Collaborative Leadership. I have been delighted at the extent to which colleagues from all sorts of organisations and complex policy areas are keen to work with us.  There are also new opportunities emerging to really build from what we have achieved so far with Workforce Scotland and create a more robust and sustainable future, testing out models for Collective Leadership of the work as we go.


kaftanIt has been tremendous to work closely with Anna Fowlie, formerly Chief Executive of SSSC and now of SCVO, over much of this time and I am very grateful for the energy and good humour that Anna has brought to the work and in her role as Chair of Workforce Scotland over the last few years.


So, thinking about all of this, I feel really clear that this is the work I want to be doing, with the people I am doing it with.


The future looks bright. Our time has arrived and we can wear our kaftans of weirdness with pride.

If you feel ready to wear your own ‘kaftan of weirdness’ why not join Facilitation Pool for Collective Leadership? Applications are now open for the next residential training programme (30 October – 2 November). For more information on how to apply please visits our pages on the Facilitation Pool.


For more information on the Collective Leadership programme or any of the other work mentioned in this blog, please email



1 comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.