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Why team building is for dummies

Why team building is for dummies

How to promote effective collaboration in community services

Team building. 

*Sigh*

For most people, the very words ‘team building’ will conjure up images of falling backwards onto a pile of semi-acquaintances, hoping that these unsuspecting, and generally unwilling, participants will actually catch you before an accidental fart slips out. Not exactly everyone’s idea of a fun day at work. Besides, most community services workplaces don’t even have time to take the whole staff on a team building retreat – it’s just not practical.

Even if it was, you might have a few laughs as a team – and get to know that if Di from Accounting could be any animal in the world for a day it would definitely be a lion… but how does this get you further along as a team?

Even if we know there are people issues in the team we belong to, many of us would rather eat a jean jacket than sit through an awkward team building exercise, designed to somehow bring us closer together (and facilitated by someone from corporate).

For most people, the very words ‘team building’ will conjure up images of falling backwards onto a pile of semi-acquaintances, hoping that these unsuspecting, and generally unwilling, participants will actually catch you before an accidental fart slips out.

 

Forget team building in community services

We’d like to highlight the ultimate team building alternative: collaboration. Collaboration thinks wider, deeper, and at its core, is aligned with the principles of person-centred practice. Creating a ‘collaboration culture’ in community services means real people overcoming real issues to create real change.

But who are the drivers of a collaboration culture? Well, unlike the top-down approach of team building, collaboration involves every person in the community services organisation. Perhaps you fit into one of these categories:

*  I’m just entering the community services industry and wondering how I’ll go fitting in with the flow of my new workmates.
*  I’ve been around the community services industry a while and have a few years of management or supervisor experience under my belt. There’s untapped potential in my team and I want to be able to grow.
*  I’m somewhere in between – I’ve worked a year or two longer than the newbies just graduating, but I’m not supervising anyone yet. I just want to contribute to a productive and healthy team that works smoothly.

Anyone in any of these situations can apply these principles to help your team work together more efficiently and easily. And the best part? It definitely doesn’t involve falling back and trusting someone to catch you.

 

What is collaboration in community services work? (And why is it important?)

Put simply, collaboration is the sharing of skills, knowledge and resources across individuals and groups. For the community services industry specifically, it could be defined as: partnering in both creative and systematic ways to achieve better outcomes for clients and the organisation.

Most of us made the decision to go into community services work because we wanted to make a difference. But whether it’s aged care, youth work, disability support, or something else – the truth is, no one individual or organisation can create lasting change as an island. By creating and connecting high functioning systems, and utilising our combined knowledge, skills and experience, we can see big changes – more than what we could achieve on our own.

Successful collaboration involves trust, shared purpose, clarity and commitment. This top notch collaboration resource from Community Door (Queensland) highlights six evidence-based partnership principles of collaboration in community services work – although these are mostly focussed on inter-organisational collaboration, the same can be applied for collaboration and communication in whatever area of community services work you may be working in.

 

Keys to creating a collaborative culture

As a manager:

Remember, just because things have been this way forever, doesn’t mean they have to stay this way. Take a step back for some thinking time. Consider your team, your resources and your systems and ask yourself:

  • What are our strengths? You may have team members with particular knowledge, skillsets or professional interests. Use them! Provide opportunities for them to take the lead in a project or program. You might have rooms going vacant and unused. Perhaps you have a supportive local council or other community groups that add value to your organisation.
  • What are our weaknesses? It could be as simple as documentation skills, communication breakdowns or poor referral pathways in / out of your organisation. Perhaps your recruitment strategy is poor, leaving you short staffed and stressed out. Name it and own it.
  • What are the opportunities for your organisation? Grants and funding ideas, access to flexible training and professional support, funded recruitment opportunities, possible links to new referral pathways or services – sometimes there are opportunities right in front of us, but we’re too bogged down in the daily grind to see the individual trees in the opportunity forest!
  • And finally, what are the threats to our organisation? Funding insecurity? Insecure lease on premises? Limited access to specialist services? Think about the things that are out of your control that could present harm to your team or organisation.

Now you have your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), it’s time to connect the dots. Here’s some examples:

  • Got vacant space or rooms (strength), but struggling to generate strong referral pathways to specialist services (threat)? Why not consider a co-location collaboration and open up some space to a local allied health provider who might be looking for a place to set up a clinical space. They win by having secure and stable access to premises, and you win by having them close by to assist with clients. Everyone wins.
  • High turnover with difficulty recruiting and limited funds to do so (weaknesses)? You could consider working with an organisation who may be able take the administrative load, find the right people, train them, and create potential opportunities to grow your team with work placements and government incentives. At Essential Skills Training and Recruitment, we pride ourselves on our track record of working with community services employers to find, train and employ quality new team members across our community services scope. And the outlay for employers is especially attractive.
  • Maybe your team has generally poor documentation skills, which is costing you when it comes to communication and continuity of care (weakness), but you have a standout team member who shows consistently high performance (strength). Give that team member some support to develop a short inservice which could be delivered at handover for the next few weeks. You’ll empower and train your staff with little outlay, and the ownership of that issue rises across the team.

 

As an experienced team member:

You set the tone. New team members coming into your workplace will look to you. As an experienced team member, you can promote a collaboration culture by championing a person-centred approach to care, creating opportunities for clients to have a voice in their own care decisions.

Taking this approach means you’re open to educating yourself about the person’s ideas and preferences, finding out about new services and opportunities that would benefit the person, and then communicating these to case managers / team leaders. Knowing when and who to refer to, and taking responsibility for those duties should they fall within your scope is also important. 

It’s also important to take opportunities to share the knowledge and skills you’ve gained so far. Sometimes we can become ‘stale’ in our role because we don’t take the growing opportunities or mentoring a younger team member, or sharing our knowledge in a more formal way. Modelling a collaborative culture helps to create the tone for newer team members as they come along. 

Remember, the point of a collaboration culture is to create better outcomes for clients – so use that lens to guide decisions and keep up to date with new methods and practices as they come along.

 

As a new team member:

Awareness is the key! As effective collaboration is reliant on effective communication, make yourself aware of how systems flow and how information is translated in your facility. Be on time to handovers and meetings. Pay attention to new, developing, or special information regarding the clients you care for. And follow up – phone to make sure that fax or email made it through, book the transport, or make the appointment and ensure it gets carried over to other carers.

As a new team member, it’s also important to become aware of the personal strengths, knowledge and skills that you bring to the table, as well as the specific learning goals you may have. Make a point of seeking out learning opportunities that will help expand your horizons, and take time to show others through systems and procedures when you can.

 

Making it real – where to from here?

Collaboration isn’t a checklist, it’s a model of practice. The very quality of life of our clients can depend on our willingness to think and act creatively on shared knowledge, skills, experience and resources.

Whether you’re new to community services, or whether you’ve been around for a few years in a client support or management role – every person working in the community services industry has a part to play in creating a culture of collaboration. How will you think differently about your next shift as you look through the lens of collaboration?

Put simply, collaboration is the sharing of skills, knowledge and resources across individuals and groups. For the community services industry specifically, it could be defined as: partnering in both creative and systematic ways to achieve better outcomes for clients and the organisation.

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