Features: October 23rd, 2009

By Jude Wells

Team building, when people work at different locations and the job they do is changing, is a major challenge. The key factor in team building is communication, ensuring that messages move in all directions. The author outlines the challenge faced by an Adult Social Care Service and how the issue of communication was successfully addressed.

Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Adult Social Care Services department was concerned that a number of key messages about the transformation of adult social care were not getting across to staff. In an attempt to create a culture of learning, sharing and debating, staff were encouraged to take full advantage of the council’s innovative communication and engagement programme. Open communication between users, carers, senior management teams and directors was of the utmost importance.

Adult social care is a highly dynamic and complex arena, one of numerous transformations. Dramatic advances in technology, organisational restructures and government initiatives are currently taking place. We conducted a number of ‘road shows’ with staff groups; this highlighted that there was a low level of awareness of both the national agenda and local government initiatives. They also highlighted that traditional methods of communicating with staff were no longer effective.

With over 2,000 staff dispersed across an array of locations, we were finding it increasingly difficult to keep communication channels functioning effectively. Our ‘virtual teams,’ those that were not often based in the office, for example home care staff, were not meeting with their colleagues or managers on a daily basis. This presented many challenges for conveying messages and timely news to these particular individuals. On a number of occasions there were, what I like to call ‘blips in the system,’ whereby staff were hearing news on the grapevine, or Chinese whispers began to occur. This was something that we were keen to dismiss; we wanted to promote a culture of open communication, a sharing of debate and conversation.

We had a view that our departmental communication could appear to be a ‘top-down telling’ rather than a department-wide engagement. A number of media were utilised including newsletters, monthly staff briefings and the production of a monthly magazine called ‘In touch,’ which regularly featured a section entitled ‘A day in the life of…’ Although our means of communicating departmental messages and nationwide policies were useful, we could not guarantee an effective two-way process of communication. We needed to be more creative in our approach; a powerful system that engaged the entire department asking for views and opinions was key to put us at the forefront of communication.

A culture change

We were keen to transform and encourage a two-way conversation between our staff and leadership teams. Through our established relationship with OLM Group, we partnered with one of its divisions, OLM-Pavilion, to develop an innovative communication and engagement programme. It was to be delivered through a web-based portal, called CareKnowledge. We wished to be ambitious in our approach and seek advice from our strongest asset; our staff.

Our department has certainly embraced the powers of technology through the exploration of blogs, podcasts, ‘talking head’ videos, audio clips and much more. Even the most technophobic are keen to explore the use of technology. Complex issues such as personalisation can now be explained and presented in an informal manner rather than leaving staff to read lengthy strategy and policy documents. At a recent event, many of our users, carers and voluntary sector individuals were keen to provide feedback on the day’s events and topics. Instead of offering this through text, they wanted to produce a live feed through video technology to relay back to their colleagues who could not attend. Even academics from Germany and Holland have also created ‘talking head’ videos from our recent cities in balance partnership.

This interactive technology is proving highly powerful amongst our staff. No longer do they read information with no channel to relay their feedback or thoughts; staff are empowered through digital media to offer their thoughts and debate with their colleagues. Terry Dafter, service director adult social care at Stockport, provides a bi-monthly ‘What we’re up to’ blog; this has been a real attraction with our workforce, recording the most hits on the site.

The implementation of interactive media has achieved significant growth in registration for the site; the views have also increased immensely. A 70 per cent increase in use has been achieved through the implementation of OLM-Pavilion’s CareKnowledge.

We have received much positive feedback from our staff; the most notable being that experiences conveyed through video and audio clips is much more powerful than traditional text. For example we have uploaded a ‘Moving and Handling’ podcast by the team to explain their role and the role of this in the assessment process. Many have remarked that this method of communicating and presenting is much stronger than traditional text. Engagement and learning is forging ahead and even the staff who are not so au fait with technology are not being put off.

In order for our workers to be able to comment on the podcasts, blogs and debates that may arise on the site we are currently implementing an anonymous commenting procedure. We believe that this will boost people’s confidence to offer truthful feelings and opinions. We do realise that the nature of open communication may bring with it negative comment or feedback.

A thriving community now and in the future

Ultimately, our key goal is to promote inclusion amongst all employees. We want to involve more users and carers on a day-to-day basis. A way of doing this may be offering a video diary tool whereby carers can document their day’s findings to encourage debate and the sharing of knowledge. Not only that, but staff could post queries on the site for their colleagues to respond to and help fathom out many a situation. We truly believe that through heightened communication and visibility, a two-way flow of knowledge can occur.

We are keen to continue to work closely with our web-based portal provider, OLM-Pavilion part of OLM Group as we build up our expertise of our in-house programme, so that ultimately staff can take on the running of the communication and engagement programme themselves.

Jude Wells is the service manager at Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council.
OLM-Pavilion is an information services, publishing and events company that focuses on the social care and health markets, for both consumers and professionals.
For more information contact info@olm-pavilion.co.uk or call 01865 887 470.