Finding a way together

Thursday 18th of February 2016

A piece by our Consultancy Manager Emma-Jane Flynn on working collaboratively

We are ever increasingly dealing with staff and residents that are having issues with working together. It isn’t easy when you are coming at an issue from different perspectives and trying to find a solution, let alone in the current climate when priorities are changing rapidly. The challenges can seem pretty daunting when trying to make the changes that are needed and the more time spent on ‘trying to find solutions’ the more detrimental it can be on groups working collaboratively together to achieve what is needed - including lowering staff morale and losing expertise brought by residents who give up their time freely.

Organisations, staff and residents can spend a lot of time (and money) trying to identify solutions and can get nowhere in moving things forward. If you feel like you are going around in circles, that there are unresolved issues and you dread the next meeting then your group is probably not as effective as it could be. Don't worry as Tpas can help. We have worked with many groups to support them to work better together - after all this is the business we are in.

We have had many calls from staff and residents to see if support from an independent and objective source would help the group work better together and reach agreement on a tricky issue. Our answer is yes it can - we can help you to save time and money by working with you in identifying sustainable solutions to effective working. We will challenge but not take sides and help you to focus on finding a way together.The most important way to work well together is to prevent any disputes and issues starting in the first place by getting the basics right.

There may be differences of opinion around roles and responsibilities or constitutions and terms of reference.  It is critical to get these right from the word go and keep them under review constantly as they must be adapted as needs and priorities change.  Everyone needs to be involved in the development and review of key documents and decisions.There are lots of example documents out there but you need to adapt these to suit the group - be flexible.

We get a lot of emails and calls from members, where groups are not recognised by a landlord organisation because they ‘don’t meet the recognition criteria’. This hinders their access to support; training and funding which is critical to effective group work and getting things done.  Our advice is to negotiate and agree a 'recognition criteria' with your tenants.

A resident mandate is a really good bedrock to effective working, residents are at the ‘coal face’ of the services being provided and really are the best advisers. They just want to be treated as equal and valued partners and want to attend meetings where they are treated with respect and expectations are understood. It is mutually beneficial for service providers and residents to have clear outcomes for their interactions so that they can have effective and productive meetings. We suggest the following meeting behaviours in finding a way together:

  • Listen first, talk second
  • Consider the value of everyone's input
  • Be willing to amend own view in the light of others' suggestions
  • Ask questions and encourage others to - no question or view is irrelevant
  • Build on ideas and look for common ground

 Behaviours that are not acceptable include:

  • Only being interested in giving your own views
  • Not willing to consider others' views - it’s my way or the highway
  • Speaking as if there is only one possible course of action
  • Using aggression or bullying

Effective meetings usually stick to an agreed agenda and the Chair should sum up main points and agree next steps - these should be in the minutes with who is leading on action points and a time frame for feedback.  If your meetings run on too long think about setting times for agenda items and having an ‘ issue park’ - this is as simple as a flip chart to list future agenda items that are not actually on the agenda for the meeting.

How Tpas can help?

We can help to understand what is working and what is getting in the way. We can help groups to come together to decide what needs to be achieved and how decisions will be made. We can also help you to develop or review the basics. Working with an independent adviser can help to prevent escalation of issues; prevent bad feeling increasing and reduce the likelihood of people not becoming involved. It can improve relationships and ensure that you don't receive bad publicity.

If you are stuck in a rut but are prepared to change and improve then call us on 0161 868 3500 to discuss your consultancy needs. Please also note that we have a great training programme with both inhouse and elearning courses such as:

  • Effective meetings (staff and tenants)
  • Personal development for involvement workers
  • Introduction to resident involvement for new staff
  • Challenging effectively (staff and tenants)

Prevention is better than cure but in future e-zines I will blog about 'how to improve if a dispute/issue has already occurred' and how to deal with disputes if things have got really bad. Watch out for these over the next few months.