‘There comes a point where we need to stop pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.’ Bishop Desmond Tutu
But first, we need to discover the ‘silent working’ in our organisations.
Getting upstream and stopping people falling in – sounds like an easy journey doesn’t it? But if it were that easy public services would be in this position already and we would no longer need to be pulling people out of the water. In previous blogs (here and here) I explored the issues that prevent police officers and others from making that journey as well as the best attempts by services to get as far upstream as possible though Early Intervention. In this blog I intend to outline some of the methods used by those who have successfully managed to get upstream and who are now preventing people from falling into the river in the first place.
Time to check your organisational values?
Before starting the journey upstream we need to start: building the path through the brambles of, ‘they way we have always done things;’ constructing bridges across the tributary rivers of, ‘we don’t have time for this,’ and to find ways round the boulders of the constant focus on, ‘fixing what isn’t working.’ We need to help prepare everyone involved for the cultural changes that will enable us to start the journey. This all starts with ensuring your organisational values reflect those required by the appreciative and asset-based approaches (see previous blogs here and here for explanation of these terms) that will be used to enable and support communities.
During my problem solving and community engagement courses, delegates often reflect on how the appreciative and asset-based methods they intend to use aren’t fully understood by their managers, which then causes some disorientation and sometimes an unwillingness to take the first steps. To ensure this doesn’t happen, the forces and councils I’m currently working with who are adopting asset based approaches to problem solving in communities are ensuring councillors and officers in management positions are fully briefed on the journey their staff are going to embark on. They’ve also found worth in inviting middle managers to join delegates on the course, which in turn provides advocates in the organisation who are at the right level to enable change to happen. In Gloucester their Chief Constable, PCC and the Council’s Managing Director have all made blogs to open each module and in addition the Chief Constable will also visit the start of one of the workshops to demonstrate their continued support.
Discover what is really working well
For all of those involved in promoting this kind of change their day-to-day actions should reflect the values that are underpinned by more appreciative approaches. In Appreciative Inquiry the first phase of ‘Discovery’ involves individuals and groups sharing stories of what is already working well (asset based approach) as opposed to focusing on what is broken (a deficit based approach). A good start for managers and supervisors, actually for anyone in an organisation, is to ask the following questions of each other:
What is it you have done recently in your community that you are really proud of?
Tell me about a time when you have worked really effectively in partnership with others?
Sadly, when I run this exercise on my courses or at conferences delegates invariably tell me that the only time they have ever asked or have been asked this question is at a job interview. Interestingly though, every time I’ve run this exercise delegates have stated how on scale of 1-10 they feel twice as good about themselves and their work after they’d answered these questions when compared to before. So what would it be like if we asked these kinds of questions of each other on a more regular basis? Well, you’d probably discover some amazing things about your colleagues that you can learn and build on. Could this be a method of improving wellbeing at work?
On a recent Gloucester workshop (part of their Problem Solving in Community Safety course) we found ourselves discussing silo working and its implications when one of the delegates started to tell the group all about how she and others achieve so much but it is rarely appreciated or recognised by supervisors and managers who fail to recognise the ‘silent working’ that takes place in communities on a daily basis. Of course this delegate had misheard the question but it led to a wider discussion on the value of recognising ‘silent working’ more, to take the time for discussions with our colleagues that reveal the brilliant things that are being achieved in our communities.
Call to action
So, today’s call for action is for us all to discover the ‘silent working’ that makes a difference in our communities and to share those discoveries with others, to start asking the questions that really matter.
In my next blog I’ll explore the next stages on your journey – building the first steps for the pathway upstream.