Interview by Anna Betz of Ian Sherriffs, manager of the Memory Service at Camden & Foundation Trust, in United Kingdom.
Can you tell us all the exciting things you have been doing as a team manager in Camden and Islington? What inspired you and what did you enjoy?
Role modeling and sharing practices amongst peers
Dementia is really important for me and has been for a long time. However, I realized it wasn’t enough. When I had the opportunity to become a team manager, I wasn’t just thinking about my contacts with people living with dementia but that people across Camden could receive a good service from everyone, not just from me.
Although I was aware that I had taken over a service that had been through a big change, I was also very aware of all the young bright individuals working in our team. I wanted to focus on them more than anything else. I made a very conscious decision when I took over as manager that they would be my focus.
After all it had been only 2.5 years since I had started at the bottom of the hierarchy as a band 5 nurse. I had always been very aware of the potential within young people that was waiting to be seen and developed so that it could be expressed for the benefit of everyone.
My approach was not to micromanage staff or tell anyone what to do, but to trust their motivation and help them build confidence so they could provide an excellent service and become a point of reference and contact for people living well with dementia. Rather than giving instructions and telling people what to do, my focus was on role modeling and sharing practices amongst peers.
Working in isolation and getting on with one’s own job is not helpful for the team as a whole. I wanted these bright young practitioners to show each other what good practice means and how to lead their contemporaries by modeling good practice themselves.
Two of our young practitioners have been really receptive to learn how they could develop as individuals and become more aware of how they approached life and work. They didn’t want to just improve their knowledge. They acknowledged how their own significant life events were shaping the way they practice as individuals, and that has also been very important. I benefitted a lot from the whole process myself. Receiving the award confirmed that I was on the right track.
Recruitment and working as whole people
When I recruit, I am looking for an individual who has the passion for people living with dementia but I am looking also for people who want to improve themselves and those around them.
Some of the challenges I worked with and found quite upsetting at the time were when people didn’t show up as whole people. They showed up in an inappropriate way with poor judgment of how their actions could affect others and the team as a whole.
Encouraging self-awareness in different situations should be an important aspect of any team or organization. The lack of it can lead to pettiness that harms everyone.
While I was upset about the conflict between team members, it helped me frame my thinking around working with conflict and how we could work more closely together.
I encouraged my junior colleagues to join the QI (Quality Improvement) projects. Rather than focusing on what we liked or didn’t like about each other, it provided a shared focus for joint working to approach real work situations and discover solutions.
It also provided a safe space to express and develop new ideas and support each other to go out and be bold enough to present what matters and needs to be encouraged further.
My role as facilitator of this group was simply to be there in case I was needed rather than dictate an agenda. It was a very rewarding experience to be able to watch the group take their ideas forward.
Turning discomforts into opportunities
I learnt how challenging situations and my own discomfort could also become an opportunity for something that could change. It caused me to reflect and ask myself: ‘How did we get to that point? How could we do conflict resolution differently? How could we integrate people in a team so that they have a shared meaning and shared ownership around their roles? How can we enable individuals to flourish?’
Challenging situations cannot be fixed overnight but they can certainly frame our thinking of how to move forward and how we could approach situations in different and new ways.
It also made me realize the importance of the induction process. This needs to include the opportunity to learn who your colleagues are, who your patients are, understanding the wider network and ensuring that we can call on each others’ experiences as and when needed. Again working in isolation is unhelpful and risks new team members getting singled out and picked on by the wider group.
Since managing a large number of people is new to me, I am still working on ways to include these insights both with existing team members and future staff.
When those at the bottom of the hierarchy take the lead
I want project members to lead themselves and not for me to be their leader.
The QI project went from strength to strength without my involvement. We came second in the QI award. That was really down to the assistant practitioners taking a lead themselves.
Their thinking about the project as a group without needing any prompting from me was a very encouraging experience. Even after some members had left the group they decided they wanted to ensure that the project group continued.
Finding the balance as a leader between giving enough support & pulling people along
I don’t want to be treated like someone that gets constantly asked questions by team members. I want everyone to learn, to be able to think and act—and then approach me if there is still a problem. When there is a problem then we will deal with it together to solve it. I am not someone who feeds answers to people. I want everyone to look for answers themselves.
Of course there will be errors and mistakes as we are all learning and this approach is easier with some individuals than with others. It was quite a challenge to use this approach especially with team members who become easily anxious and strongly feel they need an answer.
Finding a balance between pulling people along and giving enough support to find answers for themselves is quite a challenge but very important when developing a service.
Making people feel valued and relevant actually encourages them to develop their own skills. What is of benefit to the team it is also of benefit to the future of the service as a whole.
When practitioners start working in this collaborative way in their early twenties, then the chances are that they will build on these skills in 10-20 years’ time.
I imagine our young team members in much higher and more influential places in the future and spreading these practices.
What we are doing here is creating something for the future and not just for its own sake now.