New Work & Public Authorities - An Interview with Sana Tornow

New Work within public authorities? Sounds disparate at first but Sana Tornow tells us about her experience as an agile coach for public authorities.

November 29, 2022
November 7, 2023
Tina Ruseva

For this interview, we sat down with Sana Tornow, Fellow and Agile Coach at the Federal Ministry for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth in Berlin to talk to her about New Work and implementing those strategies in public authorities.

New Work & Public Authorities - An Interview with Sana Tornow

Keep reading to learn more insights from Sana’s new work practice, career a-ha! moments, and the future of New Work in public authorities.

Can you tell us about one of the most challenging times in your career and how you overcame it?

When I reflect on it, there were several challenging moments during my career, but I will tell you about two of the most significant ones.

The first was in the Spring of 2010 when I realized I no longer wanted to work as a Graphic Designer without being able to use my media informatics skills. I also realized that I didn't want to work in advertising anymore. At that time, the agency I worked for had just gotten a new client, and the assignment was to do advertising for weapons (guns). For me, that was the icing on the cake and I quit. I wanted to do something nicer and engage myself with good things. So I changed companies and started an internship at a very successful children's and young adults' book publishing company. It had been a dream since I was a child to work in a publishing house. But in order to work for the publishing house, I had to commute nearly 160 km per day. In addition, I had to get accustomed to earning less money. As a result, I had to do an additional job in a bakery to afford the internship.

When I began at the publishing house, I started in comics, manga, and online marketing, but because of my strong technical background, I was asked if I also wanted to work in IT in the Digital Department as a project manager. That's how I ended up with a job split between two areas: one in IT administration and one as a project manager for digital products.

The second challenging time was in the Spring of 2013. I wanted to work full-time as a Product Owner in an agile team and no longer have this disjointedness of the two 50/50 task areas as a Project Manager and IT Administrator. I decided to leave the company to join another publishing house because I could be part of an agile development team there full-time. But that decision was not easy as I knew that once I left, I would never be able to go back. And even today, I’m still sad we never found a solution where I could work as a Product Owner as they were one of the best employers one could imagine. Nevertheless, I never would have gained all the experience I have now had I stayed.

After many years as a Product Owner, a period as Head of Marketing followed, then a few years as Business Owner and Project Lead up to interim management. During my time as Project Lead and Team Leader, I increasingly gained experience in organizational development and in facilitation and workshop creation. Through this background and my involvement in the education sector, I got a job with the Hanseatic City of Hamburg, which involved working with a target group to develop a new digital offer. My experience from that time awakened my desire to focus on accompanying people and teams - especially in agile working methods. That’s why I decided to develop my skills in organizational development, New Work, and Agile working methods. This decision has led me to where I am today.

When I feel stuck with my work and don't know how to move forward, I treat myself to coaching. I have a business coach who always guides me back on my path by asking specific questions and taking a change of perspective. I’m very thankful for her.

How do you define New Work?

For me, New Work basically describes two things. The first is attitude. It’s about rethinking and developing one's own attitude on the topic of collaboration. It’s a welcoming attitude and a YES to the team. Likewise, it’s celebrating successes and generating learnings together. It's letting go of the lone wolf idea and gaining the WE. It's about exposing yourself to the concert of wisdom instead of the megaphone of power, as Dr. Marco Behrmann said perfectly.

And the second is asking what we really, really want, to use Frithjof Bergmann's words. It’s about experiencing meaning in our work, being self-efficacious, and being able to act in a self-determined way. New Work is a method and a mindset that can help us face and overcome the great crises of this time. It’s about bonding the individual with its work, and ultimately with society.

While the pandemic was certainly challenging, do you feel it helped accelerate the embrace of New Work in Germany? And if so, how?

Absolutely. There has never been a moment in my life that has evoked such a collective "restart". In my perception, never before have so many people - worldwide - reflected on their lives and careers as in 2020. It’s no coincidence this movement has been given its own labels like the "Great Resignation", "Big Quit", and "the Great Reshuffle".

Moreover, I observed movement within myself, in my business network, and circle of friends. People suddenly asked themselves what they really, really want and realized that what they were living or where they were being not what they wanted.

Back in 2018 at scoyo GmbH, I lived the concept of New Work. I found it so electrifying and eye-opening that after selling the company in 2020, I didn't want to go back to working in different, archaic structures. This desire for meaningful, equal work in a collective is in the hearts of so many. Especially in administration.

In which ways do you see German public authorities lagging behind other developed countries?

I see that our authorities are stable; there’s an answer to every question and a form for every concern. German public authorities are prepared and secured for all eventualities, which makes them safe and reliable. We have almost no corruption in Germany and are a welfare state in which no one has to go hungry or live on the street. Even though, the forms and official procedures are sometimes so overwhelming and humiliating that one might prefer to live on the street. I was a Hartz V (social assistance) recipient myself and still remember how unbelievably degrading it was at times.

What I have experienced in my 6 months at the ministry is that the people working there are incredibly motivated and hands-on. You can see that the WHY is clear to their employees. What I see in Germany is that people here often have their hands tied. They’re stuck in complicated power structures and have to look for ways to pursue their goals and drive their issues.

What has been the most memorable milestone in your career so far?

It would have to be the moment I realized that career advancement has nothing to do with a ladder; it’s more like a climbing scaffold on a playground. I can be really enthusiastic about ABC, but find XYZ just as good. Careers don't have to be “either, … or”; it can be a variety and instead of always going upwards, it can also go sideways, to the right, to the left and sometimes even downwards. For me, a career means being effective and meaningful and to stay curious. In the words of Gerhard Hauptmann, "If you are a master in one discipline, become a student in another".

Because learning is always on for us at Mentessa, what are you reading right now? Or what podcast are you currently listening to?

I usually read two books at the same time. But currently, there are actually three books on my desk, and podcasts are currently on pause. The three books are: "New Work Needs Inner Work" by Joana Breidenbach and Bettina Rollow. And I have to say, what a match when considering the topic of this interview. The second book is "Agile Organisationsentwicklung" (Development of agile organisation) by Bernd Oestereich and Claudia Schröder. And to balance things out, the third book is "5 Things" by Bronnie Ware. Next on my list is "Reinventing Organizations" by Frederic Laloux. I feel like this book is absolutely a personal educational gap, and I want to change that.

What are your favourite events centered around the future of work?

There are some events I try to be part of nearly every year. I think they have the future of work more or less focussed, but I like them because I can get an idea of what is coming up next. Future!publish, JUG Saxony Days, BIG & GROWING Festival (of course) book fairs in Leipzig and Frankfurt and the OMR (Online Marketing Rockstars festival). Agile Beyond IT, Social Media Week, PLAY Gaming festival and of course a lot of different BarCamps.

What are your predictions for New Work and public authorities in 2023?

Public authorities have recognized that if they do not act and open up to new ways of working, they will not be fit for the future. There are no qualified junior staff coming in, and the good ones are leaving. There’s already a problem with unfilled positions, especially in the upper echelons of the civil service. That's why authorities are working on three fronts. Work4Germany will start its 4th cohort in 2023. The ministries themselves have retained 1/3 of us fellows from the last 3 cohorts and want to continue bringing agile working and agile attitudes into the authorities with us. In addition, there will be a central training unit of the authorities for Agile Coaches, which will start in January 2023. It is great to be part of this movement and I hope that we will be able to transfer the concept of Work4Germany from the state level to municipal level. The need is there, and we'll keep going, according to my motto #allesliegtvoruns (everything lies ahead of us).

About Sana Tornow

Sana Tornow is an expert in digital media, transformations and organizational development as well as a passionate advocate of emotionalized and sustainable learning. She studied communication design, media informatics, and digital journalism. In 2021, she published the book "DAILY PLAY - Agile Games for Coaches and Scrum Masters" together with the coaches of

An Interview with Sana Tornow

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