Importance of Working as a Team

Teamwork is one of the most important skills for a Development Assessment planner to acquire. Good teamwork improves productivity, the work environment and communication.

According to ‘Tips For Teamwork’ the following are the top 7 skills team members should develop so that they can succeed effectively as a team:

  1. Listening: There is a time to talk and a time to listen and the time to listen comes twice as often as the time to talk. We can often find ourselves so concerned about what we have to say that we never really hear what the person is saying. Instead of focusing on what they are trying to convey we are thinking about what we are going to say next, in which time we've missed their entire point.
  2. Sacrifice: Each team member has to evaluate what they are truly willing to sacrifice and then continue to be willing when the time comes that they are asked to sacrifice it. It could be everything from time, to resources, to positions of power.
  3. Sharing: What one person knows maybe the key to another person's problem. We have to be willing to share those keys even when it will make someone else look better.
  4. Communication: when there are problems or successes a team has to be willing to communicate effectively what went right and wrong. It is important to analyse issues that you have as a team but it is also important to analyse your successes.
  5. Language: It is so important that you have an established habit of speaking in an uplifting way. If you are at all demeaning or domineering or insulting it will grind the team to a halt.
  6. Hard work: Team members have to be willing to work hard on an individual basis and then turn that hard work over to the team so that as a whole you can make your work meaningful and achieve a greater goal.
  7. Persuade: Everyone should be encouraged to exchange, defend and then eventually rethink their ideas.  

Teamwork takes individual work for a collective good that ultimately increases the good everyone receives. These skills are a basic list but will help you to be a successful member of a team. 

Source: Icles, Bart, Top 7 Teamwork Skills, Tips For Teamwork

Customer Service Tips

Development Assessment (DA) planners usually have a high degree of contact with the general public.  As a Local Government employee, it is important for DA planners to provide all customers with a high level of service.

Some Councils have developed service standards, which are in place to provide the customer with defined timelines and levels of service.  In addition, development applications are required to be dealt with as quickly as possible and within statutory timelines (Development Regulations, 2008, Reg. 41).

DA planners should endeavour to always keep customers up to date with the processing of their applications and should always return phone calls and emails promptly and effectively. As a public officer, you should always be professional, polite and courteous in your dealings with the public, regardless of how they treat you.

Complaints

Most Councils have processes in place to deal with general customer complaints.  It is important when dealing with complaints to try to get the complainant to put their grievances in writing so that you have a paper trail to refer to in the future.  This may also assist in reducing “personal issues” and focussing on the main issue(s) of substance.

Complaints should always be treated confidentially and the complainant should be informed of the outcome of any investigations.

Disclaimers - telephone and written

From time to time, DA planners will be requested to give pre-application advice to applicants either by telephone or in writing.  There is a liability risk for the Council if incorrect information is given out to the public.  Hence, it is important that you convey to the person enquiring that they should not base investment decisions on any verbal or written advice that you provide.

When ending a phone call to someone who is requesting pre-application advice, it may be appropriate to say something such as:

“Please note that the advice that I have given you is subject and without prejudice to what official advice may be given to Council and what it may eventually decide with regard to a possible application. It is suggested that it you wish to make an investment decision regarding a piece of land or would like a more definitive response in this regard then please submit an application for preliminary planning advice and staff will more fully evaluate the proposal.”

When responding in writing (including email) to someone seeking pre-application advice, the following wording at the end of the message may also be appropriate:

“Please note that the above advice is given subject and without prejudice to what official advice may be given to Council and what it may eventually decide in this regard.”

Duty of Care

DA Planners have a significant duty of care when giving advice.  Wrong advice can lead to customer frustration, wasted time, personal loss or significant damage.  There is also a balance to be made between customer service and the provision of advice and if you are in doubt about exposure to liability for Council you should seek a second opinion from other staff designated to deal with these matters.

The main source of liability for Council is the provision of a “negligent misstatement or misrepresentation” which are generally statement or representations made which subsequently turn out to be incorrect and for which Council owed the inquirer a duty of care.

Liability may arise if (not exhaustive examples):

  • The statement or misrepresentation made on behalf of Council relates to a serious matter;
  • The Council or the person making the statement realises or ought to have realised that it/he/she is being trusted to give the best information or advice as a basis for action on the part of the other person;
  • The Council confirms the information either by subsequent phone call, letter or meeting with the inquirer (although this can sometimes reduce the liability risk if clarified comprehensively);
  • The inquirer has a reasonable expectation to act upon the advice and consequently suffers economic loss.

Liability and risk can reduced by (a) nominating specific persons for specific types of enquiries, (b) suggesting that a written enquiry be made and that verbal advice should not be relied upon by the enquirer, and/or (c) keeping records of advice given (including notes of a telephone conversation).

In determining whether to provide advice over the phone or counter on a particular topic, considering the following questions may be of assistance:

  1. Are you specifically authorised by Council to deal with the particular enquiry?
    Statements or representations made by Council staff can, if wrong, give rise to significant liability. It is crucial that staff answering enquiries either over the phone or the counter are expressly authorised to do so.
  2. Is there someone else who should answer this enquiry?
    Carefully consider whether or not questions asked by the customer should be answered or whether they should be referred for advice from another staff member who may be better able to correctly answer the question.
  3. Does the enquiry relate to a ‘serious’ matter?
    Consider the nature of the enquiry. Does it relate to a matter which could significantly affect the decision of the enquirer to commence with or discontinue something which may be of importance to that person? If so, suggest that a written request for advice or information be sent to Council.
  4. Is this a confirmation call or meeting?
    The courts have held that generally unconfirmed advice given over the phone is less likely to give rise to a duty of care than advice given that explicitly confirms or validates earlier advice. If an enquirer calls to confirm earlier advice given, be extra careful when providing any confirmation or advice.
  5. Is it reasonable for the enquirer to act on the information or advice?
    Consider the context of the enquiry to determine whether the enquirer may reasonable act on the advice and subsequently suffer if that advice is wrong.
  6. Have I taken notes of the enquiry?
    In the case of telephone advice or advice given across the counter, keep up-to-date notes of the conversation as it is happening. Particularly note any advice that you give.

Freedom of Information ACT (1991) and FOI Requests

The Freedom of Information Act, 1991 enables third parties to enquire, view and receive copies of certain information from Councils records.  Each Council would typically have an officer dedicated to responding to FOI requests.

The following link provides details on the Act and FOI’s generally:

http://www.archives.sa.gov.au/foi/intro.html

Council records include paper based documents as well as other types of documents including:

  • Computer files
  • Plans
  • Photographs
  • Videos, and
  • Audio tapes.

While the aim of the FOI Act is to provide access to the maximum amount of information possible, a number of exemptions are necessary to ensure that other people's privacy is not breached or that the proper administration of the Government is not adversely affected.

Examples of documents that may be exempt include:

  • Documents that would lead to an unreasonable disclosure of another person's affairs
  • Documents that contain trade secrets or information of commercial value
  • Documents affecting law enforcement and public safety
  • Documents of exempt agencies as declared by the Freedom of Information (Exempt Agency) Regulations, 2008.