Wellbeing Teams – what values look like in practice

Values and beliefs are powerful forces at work deep in our unconscious. Our everyday behaviours, choices and decisions all have their roots in these foundations irrespective of whether we know it or not. Becoming consciously values based creates fresh potential for us to be more deliberate, more mindful, in the actions we undertake and the attitude we adopt when carrying out that action. A values-conscious person is better equipped to reflect upon how likely it is that the behaviour they feel inclined towards will produce the results or outcomes they are seeking. So we wanted to make conscious concrete links between the core values and beliefs of Wellbeing Teams and the working culture we were seeking to nurture.

Values are ‘abstract’ ideas – highly emotionally charged and rich in energy but abstract nonetheless. So the next step in making the values concrete was to work out what they look like ‘in practice’. All behaviours take place within situations and circumstances have an influence over how values are practiced.

Jackie, for example, values ‘simplicity’ very highly and gives this example.

Suppose someone has just spent what feels like a very long time describing a problem to me which can be boiled down into just a sentence or two. Will I automatically reply ‘so basically you are saying that ‘this can’t go on and s/he needs to only make promises they can keep….’ ? No I won’t: to borrow an idea from Daniel Goleman as human beings we are not just responsible for our actions we are also ‘response-able’ meaning able to choose how to act provided our capacities of our self awareness and self regulation are up to it. Now if this is one of my sisters and I have heard all this before (probably more than once or twice) I may jump straight in there. If, however, this is a prospective client with whom I am trying to build a connection then a lower priority value of mine – ‘transformative communication’ – will take precedence over simplicity: I will ask a question or two of clarification to make sure I have heard them accurately and then I will reflect back the essence of the situation and ask whether they have had chance to think about any simple changes that might improve things…… depending upon their response this may become the right moment to cut to the chase. In order for me to feel that I have been true to myself and what matters most in the practice of a person like me I will need to get the conversation to a point where I can explore the issue in its simplest terms. I know from experience that when I don’t honour my simplicity value it will later cost me time and energy in questioning whether I did my best or missed an opportunity.

When we behave in ways that align with our priority values we are kinder to ourselves and are significantly less vulnerable to second guessing our decisions.

Wellbeing Teams have five core values: Compassion, Responsibility, Curiosity, Creativity and Flourishing. How would these show up in the daily life of the team? Central to this is the context in which the teams operate and most importantly the headline purpose of the team which is ‘to support and connect older people with their community’. We arrived at ten key features of living the values.

Each feature was described and illustrated in terms of what it means both for registered managers/coaches and for owners to not only crystalise the abstract values into concrete ideas, but also put flesh on the bones of what it looks and feels like to live the values in everyday work. Here they are (in italics), and for each one, why this is important.

What matters to us

  1.   Relationships are everything

We invest time and effort to develop great relationships, both with people who use our service and with our colleagues. We proactively support people to develop or maintain relationships – combatting loneliness and beating boredom.

We work together in ways are kind and thoughtful; by paying attention to what matters to each of us, communicating well, co-ordinating and working harmoniously in teams that bring out the best in each other.

This focus on relationships is at the heart of Wellbeing Teams and differentiates from a ‘task and time’ approach that is common in many services. The statements also relate to Atul Gawande’s ‘scourges of old age’ – loneliness, boredom and helplessness and the explicit intent of Wellbeing Teams to contribute to addressing this.

Here the emphasis is also on relationships is with colleagues. Loneliness can be present in the workplace as well, and research shows that it not only impacts on people’s individual performance but the the performance of the whole team (Friedman, 2014).The famous Gallup research revealed 20 questions that were the best indicators of employee engagement. Question 12 is ‘Do you have a best friend at work?’. Friendships in work is one of the strongest predictors of productivity. Studies show that strong relationships at work means that employees are more focussed, passionate, loyal to the organisation, get sick less often, stay with the organisation longer and result in more satisfied customers (Friedman, 2014). One of the interesting things about this is we are often drawn to forming friendships with individuals whose priority values align and resonate with our own – begs the question whether adopting a values conscious recruitment process increases the likelihood that we will end up working with people we will feel friendly towards

  1. Wellbeing

Wellbeing matters – for the older people we support, and our own, feeling good about life and work, and everyone getting the support they need, when they need it.

Also central to Wellbeing Teams, as the name suggests, is the focus on wellbeing. Again, this is explicitly the wellbeing of people supported and the wellbeing of colleagues. The New Economic Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing demonstrate how they are associated with improved mental and physical to wellbeing. These are embedded both in the way that people are supported and in development sessions with the team – right from induction.

  1. Person-centred support

We provide support that is designed and tailored to the individual, person-centred and flexible, delivered in a way that keeps the person at the centre. We support older people to be in control of their life and service, combating helplessness.

Co-production is the underlying theme in this statement. This means people having choices and control over decisions about their life and support – choosing what they want support with, when, where and how. This is both a policy imperative in health and social care (The Care Act, 2014) and seeks to address Atul Gawande’s third scourge of old age – helplessness.

  1. Bringing our whole selves to work

Bringing our whole selves to work means actively using our strengths and interests in our roles: we all have family and friends and recognise that you may have caring responsibilities as well which we must be mindful of.

Fredrick LaLoux (Reinventing Organisations) describes bringing the whole self to work as one of the three features of what he calls ‘teal’ organisational. Knowing what matters to each other  – from important relationships, hobbies and interests is part of developing great relationships. It is also about knowing how to support each other well at work – to enable us all to bring our whole, best selves to work. This means we can then do a better job of matching to roles within the team (based on strengths) and to people supported (based on shared interests).

  1. Appreciation and feedback

Giving each other feedback, about what we do well, and where we can improve, is a collective responsibility and critical to our success.

In many organisational feedback is limited to supervision, annual appraisal or in the context of a complaint. High performing organisational live off a diet of continuous feedback and this is taken to a new level in what are called ‘Deliberately Developmental Organisational (DDOs)’. The authors, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, point out that talking about ‘continuous improvement’ is usually reserved for processes, not people, and in DDOs continuous feedback is central to that. Feedback can only be used if it is heard and makes sense to the person hearing it. We make sense of things through the lens of our values and our beliefs about our situation. Having concrete articulated beliefs and values for the Wellbeing Teams provides a shared basis or frame of reference for the purpose of feedback which gives it greater meaning and traction, than it might have as a passing observation.

  1. Taking risks and learning

We want to keep developing and learning in our work, in teams and the organisation. This can involve taking thoughtful risks which may or may not work out. Experimenting is how we learn, grow and develop finding new ways to make things better.

In health and social care we are afraid of failure. The risk processes are there to limit any possible failure which also limits growth and development. However there can be no growth and learning without failure. Of course there are areas that we don’t want people to experiment with or take risks in – for example, medication. Taking thoughtful risks is about being clear about what experiments are ‘below the water line’ as Charles Handy describes it, and therefore likely to impact on the boats survival, and which are above the waterline. Wellbeing Teams need to know the difference between the two. Taking risks and failure does not automatically mean that we learn – reflection must be built in to team processes and learning must be recorded too.

Relationships are important here too. Research with nurses by Amy Edmondson showed that the better the nurse’s relationship with their manager and their co-worker, the more errors they report. When people feel psychologically safe and mistakes are viewed as a part of the learning process, employees are less likely to cover them up. Google’s research on teams  showed that psychological safety was the most significant factor for successful teams. 

  1. Celebrating

There is much in life to be grateful for and to enjoy so celebrating who we are is part of what we do – the progress of the people we support, our achievements, birthdays, and the anniversary of you starting to work here.

Celebrating successes and appreciation is deeply counter cultural in most health and care organisational. It may happen occasionally after winning an award, and in Wellbeing Teams we want people to be taking notice of what is working well, as well as what needs to change.  This is not commonplace, in fact Ron Friedman in his book The Best Place to Work says, “in many organisational recognition is rare. Some managers are so focussed on preventing mistakes that they neglect to pay much attention to when things are going right”. Recognising and celebrating when things are going right is at least as important as learning from mistakes.

  1. Challenge and growth

Being happy at work includes challenge – the opportunity to stretch and grow, and we look for opportunities to challenge ourselves and develop, as individuals, in teams and in the organisation.

Mikel Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of  ‘flow’ – when we are working at our best, engaged and absorbed in what we are doing. To experience flow we need to face challenges that match or slightly exceed our abilities. If work is too easy we become bored, too hard and we get discouraged, in Wellbeing Teams, having a challenge – whether that is the role that you in, or a new skill you are developing, is important.

  1. Trust

We trust teams to manage themselves, review their progress and recruit their own colleagues.  When decision-making is as close to the older person as possible teams have the autonomy and authority to use their resources creatively and flexibly, this is the best way to make the most of every moment, every opportunity.

This is the essence of self-management. Research at the University of British Columbia explored the impact upon employees of being trusted. They found that when trusted, employees were more willing to accept responsibility for group performance and were better able to make important decisions about their work. 

  1. Openly sharing information

We can only be successful if we are transparent and open and share all the information that people need to do their role brilliantly.

Aligning values and practice is a key step in enabling a coherent and stable team culture to evolve. One simple way to capture the alignment between core values and practice is to use a table. Here we have taken ‘what matters to us’ – the way we want it to work – and cross referenced the practices to the ‘core values’ – the big energy laden emotionally rich ideas that unlock motivation.

Not every value shows up in every practice which is fine. Some values are ‘goal’ values such as Responsibility and Flourishing that speak to how we want things to turn out in the end; while others are ‘means’ values, concerned with how we get to where we want to be such as Curiosity and Creativity. We would expect (hope), if we are the right track, that our number 1 value would have a role to play in every single practice and here we can see that Compassion does just that.

For Wellbeing Teams to function effectively Compassion has to be their anchor.

We observed at the start of our  blog on Jan 10 the extent to which organisations have clarity about their values is highly variable; also that even when there are values listed they can be jumbled up with beliefs, morals, ethics and principles which makes understanding what is what pretty tricky. We hope that being more explicit about how values show up in work, through the 10 statements of ‘What matters to us’ as an organisation, can help.

Helen Sanderson and Jackie LeFevre

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