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Creating space for conversations


When people are stressed and anxious, creating a shared, safe space to keep thinking and to maintain and develop relationships with colleagues is important.

Leadership consultants at The King’s Fund have developed some suggestions for having virtual conversations – based on their work with leaders involved in the Covid-19 planning response – to help people collectively download what’s happening for them, stay connected to each other and provide a space to think together about how best to lead.

How to have a conversation about ‘taking stock and preparing for the next steps’

  • Start by checking in with each other. Give each person (including yourself) space to share what’s happening for them and how they are doing. At the moment, teams or groups need to spend time together – if only virtually, supporting each other and keeping connected to where each person is. Taking time to share thoughts and feelings can help to stop things from festering and helps build emotional resilience as a team. This is not a self- indulgent activity, but an essential task as colleagues and communities need leaders to work together to give confidence and containment to the wider work. Senior teams need space to just be with each other for their own wellbeing.

  • Talk about what’s on people’s minds about how they have been working as a team. Take the time to stop and reflect collectively on the things people are noticing (and perhaps thinking and feeling) about how team members are working together. It’s important to do this to nip any problems in the bud and talk through any changes that are needed. The Covid-19 pandemic is an emergent and fast-moving situation and, as we transition from emergency planning to recovery, teams need to keep adapting and refining their approaches as they learn more about what is needed and about how they need to work together.

  • Share thoughts about what team members need from each other, now and as they move forward. The current situation warrants honesty about what people need to work at their best. Encourage people to think about whether they can take some risks with each other to get what they need (do people feel able to show their vulnerability or to put their trust in others?) and how they can support each other to get what they need to work well.

  • Leave time for a check out. What’s left to say – both anything appreciative and anything that is left unresolved that may need more work – and what might happen next as a result of this conversation?

There is value in having conversations regularly, eg, weekly, as an anchor point for relationships and communication, using a short, time-limited structure and ask to people to attend consistently. The process can be used alone or at the beginning of a business/planning meeting, allowing relational issues to be dealt with ahead of the business agenda.

External, objective facilitation can also allow everyone to relate to each other as peers, rather than in hierarchical roles. This is one way to keep system/collaborative working alive in a command-and-control environment and to protect the value of collaborative working for the future beyond Covid-19.

Leading through Covid-19

Short resources and shared experiences to offer some help in supporting leaders working in the NHS, social care, public health, local authorities and the voluntary and independent sector.

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