Why I decided not to give up pushing for change

10th December 2019

Heather is a Deputy Team Manager in Islington who took part in a Fellowship Retreat in 2019. The challenge was set to develop a ‘change-project’ over that period – something that would bring about tangible change. She left with a very different project than she expected, as well as with improved skills and the motivation to take specific action that would benefit children and families.

Heather’s project has brought about positive impact for children and families by having connected leaders within the service ready to support and respond to the needs of their teams. We caught up with her to find out more.

What was the problem you had identified in your local authority? Why was it an issue?

I realised that Deputy Team Managers (DTM’s), were the only group in our LA that weren’t receiving group supervision, despite being the key group to delivered it to others in our service (i.e. team managers, social workers, social work coordinators had group supervision monthly).* This realisation was triggered by the introduction of a new group supervision model which we needed to deliver, but had no experience of how this should be done.

As we didn’t have any group supervisions, DTMs had to try and both share their dilemmas and try to problem solve these over a five-minute chat at lunchtime. It felt like there was a huge missed opportunity for learning, problem solving and peer support.

How did you approach this problem before joining the Fellowship Retreat?

I jumped up and down saying it wasn’t fair! In hindsight, I was probably behaving like a ‘difficult’ child!

Why did you think that the Fellowship retreat might help you bring about a different result?

Initially I hadn’t considered the introduction of group supervision for the retreat as I had already approached management and had interpreted the response from them as a dead end. I was really looking forward to the retreat, but more to have time and space to reflect on what my visions were and to develop and to get a project moving.

However, by the end of the retreat I’d decided not to give up on the group supervision idea and instead try a different approach.

How did the Fellowship retreat help you approach the problem in a new way?

I completely shifted my approach – I needed to clearly evidence the reasons why introducing group supervision for DTM’s would be beneficial to the service and how this subsequently could improve outcomes for children and families.

What did you do differently after the retreat? What effect did this have?

Firstly, I spoke to my fellow DTMs informally about whether this was something they were interested in, and I got a resounding yes. I organised a working lunch where DTMs dropped in and shared their views on what they would like group supervision to look like (including who would chair, how many DTMs would be in each group, what subjects to cover and how group supervision would be different to the DTM training already on offer). I also ran it past the team managers to get their buy in as they would need to allow their DTMs the time to attend.  After getting everyone’s agreement, we had the go ahead to meet with a service manager and our principle social worker.

Prior to the meeting I emailed the notes I made from the drop-in session to the DTMs to check I had gathered people’s ideas and views correctly. This meant that when the meeting was held, we were prepared and could clearly articulate what our vision was and how this could positively impact on the DTMs, SW and the work with do with children and families.

What impact has group supervision for deputy team managers had on your local authority?

We’re still in the early stages (two group supervisions have been held in the last two months) and we have some tweaking to do (i.e. not holding supervisions on a Friday afternoon as people are often fire-fighting or on leave!). One outcome is that DTMs feel more valued and empowered – they want to meet to problem solve, share learning and provide a safe space for peer support.

We now have the opportunity to share direct learning tools, methods of tackling challenges (such as performance management), sharing evidence-based practice, how to keep motivational social work imbedded in day to day practice, discuss the impact of trauma and secondary trauma on our workers (following the death of two teenagers in the borough), how DTMs deliver the new group supervision model and to discuss thresholds and decision-making under uncertainty and anxiety. It also enables us to have a platform to share ideas which are fed up to management via our principle social worker, who chairs the group supervisions.

What would you say to other fellows who want to bring about a change in their local authority?

As cheesy as it sounds, anything is possible. I think sometimes we can feel like small cogs in a massive wheel, but what I have learnt is that if you are driven by child focused outcomes, people will listen. It’s infectious too, once one barrier is overcome, it opens up a stream of other possibilities.

*In group supervision, a small group of peers reflect on their work. They use their collective skills, knowledge and experience to address challenges and improve the capability of individuals and the group.

All of us have the opportunity to influence and be leaders, regardless of our role or position at work. If we stay focused on the outcome and open to trying new approaches, like Heather, we have the power to make a difference to those who need it. What could you change in your organisation?