Opening up wellbeing conversations with team members working remotely
Dr Michael Reilly is a qualified Psychologist and Director at Change Corp. He has previously worked with NHS and public sector organisations on transformation projects such as digital patient pathways, managing change, online mental health services for patients and online education portals for GPs.
We have seen that most team members are open to their line manager starting a discussion on their wellness, how are they feeling and are they coping? (Qualtrics, 2020).
What might this intervention look like? To help you as a team leader, we are going to refer to a consulting model known as “process consultation”. As a team leader, we want you to hold a discussion that is based on working with a team member to help them identify what may be a source of anxiety, not for you to be the “expert” or “doctor” offering a preconceived answer to perhaps a poorly understood “problem”. This discussion may also be part of a group activity.
Edgar Shein’s (1987) model of process consultation focuses on the basic assumption that problems will be solved more effectively and stay solved longer if the organization learns to solve the problems itself.
Process consultation (PC) is based on the foundation that consultation focuses on a helping relationship. There is a mutual nature in which the consultant works with and not for the client (Schein, 1999). In this context, this model encourages the client (the team member) and consultant (the team leader) to act as equals. This approach is contrasted with that of the expert or doctor roles in that the consultant is not expected to arrive on the scene with answers to every problem, nor a prescription to fix whatever problem the organization has identified. The PC approach assumes that problem-identification is part of the process, and that the client may not know wherein the problem lies.
So in adapting the Schein model, we can recraft his definition of PC for our purposes – simply by replacing “client” with “team member” as below:
“Process consultation (PC) is the creation of a relationship with the client (team member) that permits the client (team member) to perceive, understand and act on the process events that occur in the client’s (team member’s) internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client (team member)” (Schein, 1999, p.20).
PC recognizes three main principles that we can use here. First, the client (team member) always knows more about their own situation than the consultant will. Second, the process requires psychological ownership of the activities on the part of the client (team member), and third, that you as a team leader should seek to develop the client’s (team member’s) capabilities to solve their own problems. At a high level, the main focus of PC is on human processes, including face-to-face relationships, communication, group and inter-group processes, and broader organizational issues such as values, culture and norms. The ultimate goal is to establish an effective helping relationship.
Here are some tips on facilitation approaches for opening up that discussion with a team member or indeed when facilitating a team group meeting. These are very transferable skills – for individual or team discussions!
LISTEN with your whole body – your ears, your eyes, your mind and your heart. Let your non-verbal signals communicate that you are fully with the other person. Look them in the eyes nod and smile. Prove that you are listening by responding to the speaker’s comments and recording their statement as necessary.
VALIDATE & SUPPORT Affirm and validate everyone for her/his contribution. When people are complemented for sharing, they are more likely to feel comfortable and share again. Comments like the following encourage productive exchanges.
“Phyllis, thanks for sharing your ideas.”
“Yes, Hector, those are the kind of ideas that get us thinking”
RESTATE FOR EMPHASIS Restate the speaker’s message as you are recording their contribution. This feedback technique communicates respect to the speaker and ensures that you have captured the spirit and intent of their message.
CLARIFY AND PARAPHRASE If the speaker’s message is unclear…provide your best understanding of their idea. Express your understanding very tentatively. This will provide you and the speaker with room to gracefully be corrected if you missed the message. The goal is to achieve a clear message from the speaker that is understood by everyone
OBSERVE & COMMENT This is your most powerful group management tool. It is through observing that you fulfil the traffic cop function of the facilitator. Observe means you are constantly aware of all the dynamics within the group – who is talking and who is not – who seems confused – who seems engaged and who has drifted off – and who is upset or anxious. Observe also means that you comment on what you observe and ask whether it is contributing to the effectiveness of the group. Examples include:
I’ve noticed that Carmen has been quiet on this topic, what would you like to add?
Ben, you seem to be upset about something. Are you having trouble with this idea?
Well… Jason seems to have lots of ideas, how about someone else?
Carver, I’m not sure that you are hearing John. Why don’t we ask John to say it again.
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Schein, E.H. (1987). Process Consultation (volume 2) Lessons for Managers and Consultants, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
Schein, E.H., (1990). Organizational Culture. American Psychologist, 45, (2), 109-119.
Schein, E.H. (1999). Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.