Have you noticed how the teams you lead or are a part of have changed over the last 18 months? Have they become closer because of circumstances that no-one would have chosen? Or have you seen teams grow apart?

In talking to staff at a care home we are working with I asked why things weren’t working like they used to. The common answer I got was ‘We don’t know each other’.

There had been a lot of staff changes with lots of new, relatively inexperienced young staff joining the home. Delving a bit deeper, I asked about why knowing each other mattered so much. Eventually it settled on five words: Have you got my back?

Care staff in different places told me about two groups of people emerging during the pandemic – Those who stuck it out and came into work and those who for a variety of reasons, would or could not come into work.

There exists resentment and guilt in equal measures. Add to that the exhaustion, stress and sacrifices staff have made, you can see why someone having your back matters so much.

Despite all of this maybe there will be some clarity that emerges about creating teams that can make person centred care happen. I would like to offer two observations:

‘Getting each other’ – For years we have been working with care teams trying to out across the key point that unless you ‘get’ each other, you will be able to come together and ‘get’ people living with dementia. What people have articulated over the last 18 months is exactly that point.

‘Quality of Service vs Quality of Life’ – The struggle of implementing person centred care seems often to get back to this apparent conflict. How can you do one without compromising the other? Staff often seem conflicted by contradictory messages given by their employers, family members and colleagues. What should I do? Does the thing that I feel is intuitively ‘right’, but will I get punished? Who will have my back?

Getting each other and having each other’s back is a lot about trust.

In reading Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable*, I got three main messages about developing trust:

  • When there is trust the team is free to communicate openly about any issue, which leads to all issues being brought to the table.
  • Everyone feels free to say what they think, and the best solution is more likely to emerge -without anyone getting hurt
  • To foster trust, people must embrace vulnerability. And the first person to show vulnerability should be the leader.

He writes: “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”

I was really struck by his point about invulnerability. I had a boss who could never admit they were wrong. It created a place where people hid mistakes, fearing the consequences of what may happen.

Remember a time when you had got something wrong and did not know how to admit it. Then you got the opportunity to do so and remember the feelings of relief you had when you did? Why did you do it – Who made it happen. I bet it was someone who would not judge you, was interested in helping you to solve the matter at hand and was not motivated by looking better than you.

In re-building person centred teams perhaps we all need to remember the qualities of that person.

*The five dysfunctions of a team Lencioni, Patrick 2002 Jossey-Bass

Consultant Learning & Development Manager
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