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Culture Camp: Learning to live with friction and discomfort

Juliette Kumar, Q member and Associate Director for Improvement & Education at the Innovation Agency, shares highlights from their first Culture Camp event, exploring the key themes: wellbeing, equity and innovation

COVID-19 has impacted on how we live and work and so we ask: ‘What do we need to do now to create the culture in our organisations and across our systems that keeps people resilient, connected, and innovative?’.

Marking the one-year anniversary of lockdown the Innovation Agency Coaching Academy held it’s first ever Culture Camp event. This was a two-day exploration of what it means to build good team, organisation and system culture that is focussed on wellbeing, equity and innovation.

[…] we need to meet the mental health needs of our workforce and communities if we are to keep them well and resilient

Culture Camp provided an opportunity to reflect on the many lessons learned over the past year, gathered from across our health and care systems. Of these lessons, we know that we need to meet the mental health needs of our workforce and communities if we are to keep them well and resilient. As our health and care organisations are emerging from a third wave of the pandemic our frontline staff are exhausted.

Secondly, the pandemic has highlighted many inequities and we have seen particular groups of people more adversely affected than others by the pandemic, both within the healthcare system and in our communities. Sadly, we are discovering that it is not the fault of the virus.

Thirdly, the economy has taken a huge hit during COVID-19: tax revenues are falling and government spending is increasing. The role of innovation in economic growth is critical and our challenge is to create conditions in our organisations where innovation thrives. We are witness to a healthcare digital revolution right now and after so many years of efforts to embed tele-medicine and remote monitoring at scale we are now seeing historical barriers to implementation suddenly being removed.

Finally, our health and care workforce are hugely talented and innovative, so how do we harness that talent and build cultures where we support people to stay well, to create a sense of belonging for everyone and support the great ideas to improve service delivery that they have?

Culture Camp is the place for that exploration, and in March we invited people to be curious about what we need to do to develop great cultures. We had over 250 people register for the event. The first day was split into three sections: people and mindsets, systems and relationships, strategy and sustainability. Each two-hour session examined the themes of wellbeing, equity and innovation.

It is impossible to share all the learning from Culture Camp in this short blog. However, you can access the videos of all the speakers and I would encourage you to do so.

Meanwhile, here are some of my own personal key takeaway messages from just a few of our various speakers:

On wellbeing:

  • Staff are our most important asset. Even before COVID-19 we had a mental health crisis in the NHS. Many organisations were already seeing signs of burnout, stress-related sickness absence and presenteeism. The pandemic has brought significant additional pressures on staff and organisations are required to meet those needs not just now with short-term interventions, but also in the future (Nicole Williams).
  • COVID-19 creates an urgent need to support all our health and care workforce. It has highlighted disparities of offers and access to wellbeing support between different health and care services, with larger providers offering more services than primary care organisations. By working at a system level, recognising the interdependencies between services, we can improve access and wellbeing for all (Sheni Ravji-Smith).

On equity

  • To improve equity and inclusion we first need to recognise our own privilege and bias. This is the biggest challenge facing equity and inclusion in the NHS and tackling it head-on will cause friction. Paradoxically, friction is a good indicator that our norms are changing, that some of the culture change we are trying to affect is starting to work. Therefore, we must get comfortable with discomfort and expect and welcome challenge when examining our own bias as well as recognise when we are benefiting from our own privilege. This is hard but necessary work (Jacqueline Davies).
  • It is better to help people to account, rather than hold people to account. By helping people to account you can work in a coaching way and support people to understand the intelligence they are using, such as WRES, and how to leverage transformational change. If you hold people to account, you get a defensive reaction and a 50-point action plan based on transactional tasks that often have little lasting impact (Lenny St Jean).

On Innovation

  • Building an eco-system in organisations for innovation requires four things: processes, practices, facilitation, and co-ordination. Without systematic processes, useable tools that help unlock understanding and drive decision-making as well as an agreed common language for innovation many organisations do not realise innovation potential.  It is necessary to ask the right questions, embrace positive discomfort and use expert facilitation in organisations and teams to help them get out of their comfort zone (Prof Simon Bolton).
  • It is essential to signal to the organisation that innovation is important, in fact it should be central to the organisational strategy. Realising this requires an understanding of people and motivation and creating the workplace conditions where people feel psychologically safe. Loads of people have great ideas but are modest or introverted and this is where organisational development interventions can help to facilitate and curate a pipeline of innovation (Mike Gibney).

To conclude

My main reflection from the event was that wellbeing, equity and innovation are inextricably linked. To have good culture in organisations, wellbeing, equity and innovation must have parity. This is because you cannot ignore the wellbeing of your workforce AND expect them to be resilient. You cannot create a sense of belonging for all AND continue to ignore your own privilege. You cannot demand creativity and innovation AND tolerate a lack of psychological safety.

Finally, as we go on this journey of building compassionate and inclusive cultures, we must expect to feel discomfort. As I go on my own personal journey I have to remind myself at times of such discomfort – it’s not all about me.

Thank you for taking the time to read about Culture Camp. If you missed the event we have created a video playlist of all our speakers for you to view in your own time.

Do please also listen to our playlist of podcasts we have curated on themes of wellbeing, equity and innovation.

Do you have any challenges in building culture in your organisation, #Qcommunity? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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