Driving Engagement from the Front Line
In 2013 WWL NHS FT launched its very own Pioneer Teams Programme – a programme which enabled employees to adopt practical methodologies to take charge of their own engagement and to the tools to their very own sub-cultures. Since its introduction 67 teams have come on board and have experienced vast improvements in their engagement (one team improved by 25% in just 6 months! Watch the case study here: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAPHUU4X4Uo ). The programme is renowned for its results within the organisation and staff love it because they are in the driving seat.
The principles of the programme remain fairly static; the tools don’t significantly change, although they are kept updated and added to with new and innovative research based approaches.
6 cohorts in and there have been lots of lessons to learn along the way…
Lesson 1 – Are the staff on-board?
The golden rule of the pioneer teams programme is that the team must want to do it for themselves. Yes, tell them about what it involves, encourage them to come on board, but if they aren’t on board proceed with caution. To see results which sustain, the team must want to take part and must see the benefits that the programme can bring. When a manager is keen to ‘put a team on pioneer teams’, whilst you have to admire the manager for supporting their teams, the programme isn’t a band aid for other issues, and it won’t be a ‘quick fix’. The teams likely won’t engage or will drop out along the way. I was recently talking to a team about the programme and although they liked the concept they weren’t on board and couldn’t identify willing volunteers to become pioneer leads; their decision had to be respected as this obviously wasn’t the right thing for them to do. However, it hasn’t stopped us from working with the team in alternate ways.
Lesson 2 – Careful selection of team pioneer leads is crucial to success
Each Pioneer Team will identify key members to become ‘pioneer leads’. It’s really vital that the right people are identified and that they create an effective and complementary pioneering team. Each team will have their own requirements and criteria, but ultimately pioneer leads should be positive yet realistic ambassadors for change within their departments. Teams will often ask should our manager be on the team – again, this is circumstantial. If the manager is highly supportive of the process then it shouldn’t matter if they are a lead or not, they will still be there to support taking actions forward and placing importance on the topic. If the team maybe don’t have that relationship with their manager, then it can present a good opportunity to bridge the gap and will give the team an influential link. On a separate note, the average team will have around 2 or 3 leads, whilst larger or multi-disciplinary teams may choose to have more. The key here is in the early stages to get to know the team and what they may need.
Lesson 3 – Are the team in the right space to engage?
At WWL before a cohort starts, we review all of the teams embarking on the programme to ensure that this programme is right for them. The programme won’t fix broken teams, and can actually cause more harm than good if not timed appropriately. If teams have significant employee relations issues or if change is afoot then it might be best to work separately with the team and get them ready for a future cohort when the time may be better.
Lesson 4 – Keep your training content up to date and relevant
A key component of pioneer team training is the ability to bring the tools to life. For example, sharing practical examples of what other teams have done and showcasing creative ideas from previous cohorts helps to keep pioneer leads focused on what they can do and get the creative juices flowing. Keep it interactive and keep the teams focused on the tools most relevant to them. Using your organisational data and trends you can identify key areas that need to be addressed and this can help to tailor your sessions, keeping it really relevant. For example, staff health and wellbeing has been an area of priority for WWL so for the latest cohort more emphasis was placed on the health and wellbeing tools.
Lesson 5 – Getting the buy-in
After the training, pioneer leads should be feeling enthusiastic and looking forward to getting started. Their teams may not feel the same…
Teams should engage their colleagues early in the process; get them thinking of quick wins that may generate interest, for example, if the team have said in their questionnaire that they need a kettle, can this be organised? These, on the surface, very basic items can have most impact initially. It’s all about action and seeing small changes. Teams can also find ways to educate their colleagues about what they are doing – notice boards and slots on team meeting agendas can work well too.
Lesson 6 – Maintaining Momentum
Pioneer leads will hit a bump in the road, or as some teams have described it – they have opened the can of worms and they can’t shut it! Feeling like they have bitten off more than they can chew can interfere with their levels of motivation and can stop a team in its tracks. Keep teams focussed with bi-weekly coaching sessions, bringing them back to their milestones. Teams need to be realistic about what they can achieve in 6 months, and accept that their role is to facilitate and not to do. Action learning sets and the setting of mini-challenges and milestones are great ways to bring focus back to what they want to achieve; and a bit of peer pressure will spur lagging teams on (in the main! – think back to what I said earlier about the timing of the programme).
Lesson 7 – Be prepared to adapt and change
7 cohorts on and those first teams, spritely and up for it, seem to be fewer and further between. At that time the programme was new and was introduced at a time when engagement and morale was much lower. Teams can seem to get increasingly complex with each cohort! Being prepared to take a more active role in the process and being prepared to flex and change the process to adapt to the needs of these teams will be important in creating buy-in and generating sustainable results. Teams seem to be subject to more and more change which inevitably impacts on the programme – for example, a team that had done really well were suddenly faced with the team splitting and relocating; they had to re-think and adopt a different approach, whilst processing the change. What this tends to equate to is a delay in progress. Some teams will start to take longer and will need a slower burn approach to getting their results, but this is ok… the results will come!
So if you are thinking about a team led approach to staff engagement, these are just a few of the lessons we have picked up along the way.
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