Jennifer Hale Te Aka Whai OraCan you tell us about your role at Te Aka Whai Ora, what you love, and what it is teaching you about yourself?

My role has changed a lot over the last 11 months. Initially, I was the sole in-house counsel at Te Aka Whai Ora, which then turned into leading the establishment of the legal function, to establishing the team and then eventually being given the opportunity to lead the team. My role now is to lead the establishment and development of a new legal team in a new organisation tasked with the awesome but challenging wero to achieve better hauora Māori outcomes and achieve equity in the health system.

The role can be really challenging at times, engaging with new and unique legislation, navigating the establishment of a new organisation and challenging how the health system operates. Despite this, it is an extremely rewarding and exciting role, presenting many opportunities to think about how we can use law to effect positive change. I love this about the role and that it requires me to really consider how we think about the law and confront my own assumptions and thought processes. What is this teaching me about myself? Well, I’m still figuring that one out, but I’m definitely learning a lot along the way!

Leading the legal function must be full of diverse tasks. Could you describe what a typical day looks like for you?

A lot of the team’s work at the moment is centred around supporting our colleagues across the office to engage with and understand the Pae Ora (Healthy) Futures Act 2022. As Te Aka Whai Ora grows and establishes, we provide advice on what it means to be an independent statutory entity and on what some of our independent functions and obligations are. We work closely with different rōpū across the office and in any given day we can provide advice to our Policy team, Commissioning teams, Data and Digital team, Matauranga Māori team, Ministerials team and People and Capability team.

The mahi can range from contract reviews, to OIA requests, or to input on bigger organisation positions, for example equity or Māori data sovereignty.  Given the organisation’s establishment phase, the team also does a lot of work to assist in the drafting of corporate policies, processes and templates, as well as developing basic guidance on key priority areas. The Privacy function also sits with the Legal team and we have been working hard to get it established. No day is ever the same!

When it comes to building the legal team, what are the key attributes you prioritise?

I think first and foremost a key attribute I look for is whether someone is a team player and whether they are willing to work with and support other members of the team. The mahi and kaupapa can be really challenging, new and overwhelming at times and it’s so important that the team can work well together and look after each other. Everyone needs to be willing to pitch in and help with all the work, both the new and exciting issues as well as the less exciting but still important issues.

Can you share some strategies or initiatives you employ, or wish to employ, to foster a strong team culture?

As a small team we check in with each other regularly and have a strong collaborative culture when it comes to mahi. We have established an anchor day to ensure there is at least one day a week when we are all in the office. We have our weekly team hui on this day which is an opportunity for us to check in on how we are all doing and whether anyone needs any help with anything. Key features of our team hui include:

  • Kei te pēhea koe? How are you? This is a chance for everyone to honestly describe how they are doing in that moment with two kupu. In the continued spirit of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and Mahuru Māori, we do our best to look for te reo kupu.
  • Kupu hou: we take it in turn to share a kupu hou (new word) we have learnt over the last week.
  • Sticky issues: this is a chance for the team to wānanga any particularly difficult or sticky issues they are working on for input from the team.
  • Oh and of course, we do the Stuff Quiz!