MatchFit®

James Simpson

MatchFit Testimonial

An Interview with the Governor of HMP Send

Having spent 16 years as a freelance management consultant, Tim was looking for a new challenge when he came upon MatchFit. We asked him about the experience he has gained over his career and how partnering with MatchFit has proved to be the perfect fit.

An experienced trainer, coach, facilitator and management consultant, Tim’s initial career choice was actually teaching.

How did your career begin?

“I trained as a teacher,” he explains. “But those were the days when teaching jobs were hard to find, so I decided to move into sales, which I loved. I worked in financial services sales and management, in leadership and national leadership.”

However, when he was made redundant 18 years ago, he felt it was time for a change in direction.

“When I was made redundant, it gave me a chance to reflect and think, ‘What would I like to be doing next?’. I’d met one or two people at various events, working on their own in training, coaching and management consulting and I thought, ‘I’m going to give that a try’.”

Tim utilised the skills gained during his time within financial services and banking to train and advise companies across the financial services sector.

“The demand from businesses was varied” he explains. “From sales skills to management skills, leadership and coaching, development skills and then products, I’d often be brought in as part of a wider team to support learning around particular products or systems.”

He also worked with SMEs on core business skills to support their aspirations for growth.

“For SMEs, I was delivering a wide range of support to enterprises keen on growing their businesses, such as managing cash flow and debt, and developing the business. I would arrange sessions around networking, for example. I also had some specific coaching work.”

Tim has always believed in the importance of his own personal development to enhance his client role and qualified as a Level Seven coach through the Chartered Management Institute in 2009.

“I’d done a lot of coaching in my financial services leadership and management work. As my freelance business grew, I felt it was important to gain appropriate qualifications, such as the Diploma in Financial Planning, which is essential for those working in financial services. I was constantly looking out for things that I could add to my skill set.”

How did you come to work with MatchFit?

“I was looking for a new opportunity in 2020 and MatchFit posted that they were looking for facilitators. I contacted them, spoke to Emily Courtney, who introduced me to Bradley, and then I was introduced to the company’s connections in the Civil Service.

Initially my work was with the Probation Service, HM’s Courts and Tribunals Service and a private sector company. I then went on to work with the Prison Service across four establishments.

What are you working on now?

“This year, I’ve been working with the Department for Education, and on a number of programmes for the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee. I’m also working with Civil Service HR Casework and, earlier in the year, continued my work with the Prison Service.

In addition, with a private sector client, I am delivering a Leadership and Management Programme for MatchFit of six modules over a number of months, and that will run into next year.”

Tell us about the MatchFit CLIMB High Performance Teams programme you’re facilitating

Tim explains. “If you imagine a senior leadership team, wanting to develop and embed high performance, their goal is to get everyone pulling in the same direction, including the wider management team.

For the whole team to be high performing, it’s all about culture. It is very much about valuing their people, working with their people, and we support them to do that, whilst helping to identify sustainable solutions to issues identified that may block performance.”

He continues: “So it’s about identifying with people, what actions they can commit to, and how committed they are to doing those actions. How they’re going to know they’re delivering, and how they’re going to measure outcomes. And that’s how you begin to measure change. You start measuring both in terms of people’s learning, but also very importantly, in terms of their behaviour. A fantastic example of a public sector area in the Civil Service who absolutely embraced the programme, driven by their senior leadership team, is the work with the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee. The programme was not without some behavioural and historic cultural challenges to overcome, but it has worked exceptionally well.”

Have you experienced any unexpected benefits?

“I have been working with MatchFit for over two years now and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It is great work, and they are great people to work with.

I have found the work fascinating, challenging, interesting. It’s also quite liberating, because when you go into prison, you can’t take your phone. The removal of your phone means you are temporarily cut off from parts of modern life. You cannot check your emails, for instance.

You quickly get to know about the prison culture, because before you go anywhere you need to prepare. You find out what you can and can’t do. For instance, if you want to take a laptop in, it needs to be registered in advance.”

He adds: “The culture is very hierarchical in prisons, and like a large part of the Civil Service, grade is an important thing.

You are working with senior leadership teams. HMP Bure is a good example of running a three-stage CLIMB where they committed to actions, and they have delivered on actions during that CLIMB. And they continue to deliver, after that CLIMB’s conclusion. As a result of the programme, they’re no longer saying, ‘we’re going to do 20 things’. If you try to do 20 things, you’ll probably do none, because you’re overwhelmed. If you start with two or three and then add another two or three things and you’re committed to them, then you are more likely to achieve your aims. Witnessing these outcomes is very rewarding.“

What is it you particularly enjoy about the work?

“The phenomenological methodology is something that I love and embrace,” he says. “And it’s been a lot of learning for me, because it is so different. But I think once it clicks, you can clearly see the rationale for the steps you are taking.

“I have found the CLIMB programmes tremendous to work on because they are proven to succeed; they do bring measurable results.”

Finally, how do you enjoy your downtime?

“Outside of MatchFit and work, I keep busy with my family, and my support for Newcastle United. Living close to the Yorkshire Dales, I’m a keen walker – the reward of finding a good pub is incentive enough!”

Tim is also in demand as an events speaker.

“I do not see it as work, as, like work, I enjoy it,” he explains. “I speak to clubs and societies and I’m now speaking at events and dinners, which I thoroughly enjoy. But you have to be well-prepared. You don’t want to be in front of a room of 300 people and all of a sudden you think ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to say next? “

Tim also uses the opportunity to raise money for a charity close to his heart – the Leeds-based Candlelighters Children’s Cancer charity, in memory of a family friend who was supported by the charity some years ago.

“When I’m speaking, the fee goes to the charity. I like that because it’s a win-win. I get to speak, the organisation gets a speaker and the charity receives some much-needed funds.”

You can read the HMP Send case study here

An Interview with the Governor of HMP Send Read More »

An Interview with Consultant Tim Forman

Having spent 16 years as a freelance management consultant, Tim was looking for a new challenge when he came upon MatchFit. We asked him about the experience he has gained over his career and how partnering with MatchFit has proved to be the perfect fit.

An experienced trainer, coach, facilitator and management consultant, Tim’s initial career choice was actually teaching.

How did your career begin?

“I trained as a teacher,” he explains. “But those were the days when teaching jobs were hard to find, so I decided to move into sales, which I loved. I worked in financial services sales and management, in leadership and national leadership.”

However, when he was made redundant 18 years ago, he felt it was time for a change in direction.

“When I was made redundant, it gave me a chance to reflect and think, ‘What would I like to be doing next?’. I’d met one or two people at various events, working on their own in training, coaching and management consulting and I thought, ‘I’m going to give that a try’.”

Tim utilised the skills gained during his time within financial services and banking to train and advise companies across the financial services sector.

“The demand from businesses was varied” he explains. “From sales skills to management skills, leadership and coaching, development skills and then products, I’d often be brought in as part of a wider team to support learning around particular products or systems.”

He also worked with SMEs on core business skills to support their aspirations for growth.

“For SMEs, I was delivering a wide range of support to enterprises keen on growing their businesses, such as managing cash flow and debt, and developing the business. I would arrange sessions around networking, for example. I also had some specific coaching work.”

Tim has always believed in the importance of his own personal development to enhance his client role and qualified as a Level Seven coach through the Chartered Management Institute in 2009.

“I’d done a lot of coaching in my financial services leadership and management work. As my freelance business grew, I felt it was important to gain appropriate qualifications, such as the Diploma in Financial Planning, which is essential for those working in financial services. I was constantly looking out for things that I could add to my skill set.”

How did you come to work with MatchFit?

“I was looking for a new opportunity in 2020 and MatchFit posted that they were looking for facilitators. I contacted them, spoke to Emily Courtney, who introduced me to Bradley, and then I was introduced to the company’s connections in the Civil Service.

Initially my work was with the Probation Service, HM’s Courts and Tribunals Service and a private sector company. I then went on to work with the Prison Service across four establishments.”

What are you working on now?

“This year, I’ve been working with the Department for Education, and on a number of programmes for the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee. I’m also working with Civil Service HR Casework and, earlier in the year, continued my work with the Prison Service.

In addition, with a private sector client, I am delivering a Leadership and Management Programme for MatchFit of six modules over a number of months, and that will run into next year.”

Tell us about the MatchFit CLIMB High Performance Teams programme you’re facilitating

Tim explains. “If you imagine a senior leadership team, wanting to develop and embed high performance, their goal is to get everyone pulling in the same direction, including the wider management team.

For the whole team to be high performing, it’s all about culture. It is very much about valuing their people, working with their people, and we support them to do that, whilst helping to identify sustainable solutions to issues identified that may block performance.”

He continues: “So it’s about identifying with people, what actions they can commit to, and how committed they are to doing those actions. How they’re going to know they’re delivering, and how they’re going to measure outcomes. And that’s how you begin to measure change. You start measuring both in terms of people’s learning, but also very importantly, in terms of their behaviour. A fantastic example of a public sector area in the Civil Service who absolutely embraced the programme, driven by their senior leadership team, is the work with the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee. The programme was not without some behavioural and historic cultural challenges to overcome, but it has worked exceptionally well.”

Have you experienced any unexpected benefits?

“I have been working with MatchFit for over two years now and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It is great work, and they are great people to work with.

I have found the work fascinating, challenging, interesting. It’s also quite liberating, because when you go into prison, you can’t take your phone. The removal of your phone means you are temporarily cut off from parts of modern life. You cannot check your emails, for instance.

You quickly get to know about the prison culture, because before you go anywhere you need to prepare. You find out what you can and can’t do. For instance, if you want to take a laptop in, it needs to be registered in advance.”

He adds: “The culture is very hierarchical in prisons, and like a large part of the Civil Service, grade is an important thing.

You are working with senior leadership teams. HMP Bure is a good example of running a three-stage CLIMB where they committed to actions, and they have delivered on actions during that CLIMB. And they continue to deliver, after that CLIMB’s conclusion. As a result of the programme, they’re no longer saying, ‘we’re going to do 20 things’. If you try to do 20 things, you’ll probably do none, because you’re overwhelmed. If you start with two or three and then add another two or three things and you’re committed to them, then you are more likely to achieve your aims. Witnessing these outcomes is very rewarding.“

What is it you particularly enjoy about the work?

“The phenomenological methodology is something that I love and embrace,” he says. “And it’s been a lot of learning for me, because it is so different. But I think once it clicks, you can clearly see the rationale for the steps you are taking.

“I have found the CLIMB programmes tremendous to work on because they are proven to succeed; they do bring measurable results.”

Finally, how do you enjoy your downtime?

“Outside of MatchFit and work, I keep busy with my family, and my support for Newcastle United. Living close to the Yorkshire Dales, I’m a keen walker – the reward of finding a good pub is incentive enough!”

Tim is also in demand as an events speaker.

“I do not see it as work, as, like work, I enjoy it,” he explains. “I speak to clubs and societies and I’m now speaking at events and dinners, which I thoroughly enjoy. But you have to be well-prepared. You don’t want to be in front of a room of 300 people and all of a sudden you think ‘oh my gosh, what am I going to say next? “

Tim also uses the opportunity to raise money for a charity close to his heart – the Leeds-based Candlelighters Children’s Cancer charity, in memory of a family friend who was supported by the charity some years ago.

“When I’m speaking, the fee goes to the charity. I like that because it’s a win-win. I get to speak, the organisation gets a speaker and the charity receives some much-needed funds.”


Back to Blog

An Interview with Consultant Tim Forman Read More »

CLIMB Case Study: Building a high-performing global team

In this case study, we describe the challenges faced by a leading Financial Services provider, and how the MatchFit CLIMB model was used to deliver the objective of building a culture of trust and positive team relationships.

THE CHALLENGE

Managing a virtual global team of 40 people presents many challenges, even for an experienced leader. The Head of Marketing managed a team of very capable individuals working globally, but there were a number of ingrained behaviours across the team that needed to be addressed.

Lack of face-to-face interaction, together with working across cultures, time zones and with different nationalities created challenges that were difficult to manage. This resulted in mistrust among team members, a lack of team identity, poor collaboration and communication, and not having a sense of control over the collective agenda.

Aware that there were some complex personalities in their leadership team, the Head of Marketing recognised this as an opportunity to develop the team further. She sought a professional development solution that would enhance trust and drive increased collaboration and high performance at an individual and team level.

THE SOLUTION

MatchFit’s expertise in working with global and virtual teams meant we were able to create a bespoke programme (CLIMB – Building a High Performing Global Team) that would deliver against defined success criteria:

  • Engender a sense of trust among the team by exploring and resolving issues
  • Support the development of a team identity which embraces the dynamic of ‘I have your back’
  • Explore individual and team collaboration and identify measurable progression
  • Ensure control and governance over the collective agenda
  • Develop commitment, intensity and motivation towards the above objectives through a development pathway.

DELIVERY

Due to the virtual nature of the team, some of the sessions were conducted remotely and materials were available through a cloud platform. The marketing leadership team followed the three-phase MatchFit Development Pathway over a two-year period, which ensured careful analysis, design, delivery and measurement.

No alt text provided for this image

YEAR 1

Working with senior leaders and the wider team 

  • Focused on the ‘Identify’ and ‘Innovate’ phases which included:
  • Base Camp team workshop
  • Online survey
  • Interviews with managers and team individuals, including reflective feedback
  • Development of bespoke training modules.

Base Camp team workshop

A face-to-face offsite workshop for 40 people focused on the challenges and good practice of working in global and virtual teams. It generated conversations around some of the challenges and focused on what the team could do to move forward in order to build trust, identity, collaboration and gain a sense of control.

Online Survey

Post Base Camp, we conducted an online survey across the whole team, asking a series of questions relating to:

  • Their objectives and the challenges they thought were blockers to success
  • What support they might need to unlock those challenges
  • What development they might need to take them to the next level of maturity in their career.

Interviews with managers and team individuals, including reflective feedback

A series of interviews at a senior leader and team level were carried out to dig even deeper. This helped identify individuals’ development areas and we were able to reflect back what their line manager thought they were, to see if they were aligned.

Development of training modules

Based on all the research and feedback gained, we designed 10 training modules that could be delivered virtually to address the key development areas that had been identified. Examples included: building trust, collaboration and your role, developing your leadership style, black box thinking etc.

YEAR 2

Working with the senior leadership team

Based on the ‘Initiate’ phase of the MatchFit Development Pathway, the key areas of focus below were agreed with the aim of strengthening relationships, collaboration and communication. In particular, unlocking tension between specific individuals within the team was also highlighted as an objective:

  • Leadership team dynamics
  • Individuals within it and their styles
  • Supporting the team through change.

This was delivered through:

  • Leadership team group sessions – setting personal commitments to change
  • One to one coaching including targeted development work with individuals to address behaviours that impact negatively on the team dynamic
  • Sensitive coaching and intervention work with individuals at a lower and more senior level to unlock tensions.

OUTCOME

“A lot of the time, this kind of support feels like a ‘nice to have’ when you have a certain amount of budget for CPD. But what I would say now, going into year three, it has to be there. It’s enormously helpful to me as a leader and the people on my team. I don’t think we would want to do without this support. The coaching support I received has helped me navigate some of the complex personalities in my team who all demand a different approach.” Head of Marketing

The impact of CLIMB – Building a High Performing Global Team has been a success story for the Marketing team. The Head of Marketing has seen a dramatic difference across all of the team and in some individuals in particular. In the 2018 company Employee Survey, the marketing team’s Leadership Survey results were the best in the whole business by quite some measure and better than the ‘Best in Class’ external benchmark.

The programme leader and coach, was viewed as an external sounding board and ‘critical friend’ who helped team members focus on their goals and put strategies in place to address their development needs. The Head of Marketing was able to gain an external and independent view of their team.

In relation to the objectives set out at the beginning of the programme, success can be demonstrated in all areas:

Engender a sense of trust among the team by exploring and resolving issues

  • A significant shift is now evident regarding the level of trust within the team. Individuals are instantly more open and honest with each other about ‘work stuff’, so issues can be resolved before they escalate.
  • The team are now more open about sharing accountability across some of the delivery areas and less protective of their ‘turf’
  • The Head of Marketing has gained more trust with their team by empowering staff to manage the agenda on projects.

Support the development of a team identity which embraces the dynamic of ‘I have your back’

  • Most team members have ‘dusted off their sharp edges’ and are now demonstrating collective trust and accountability across marketing projects relating to a number of vendors and internal stakeholders.

To explore individual and team collaboration and identify measurable progression in this area

  • Three team members working together on the customer experience agenda have demonstrated great collaboration, trust and accountability which is delivering benefits to their customers.
  • As a result of the personal one-to-one coaching and intervention work, one individual has made the biggest change in their approach and behaviour, unlocking tensions within the team which has been noticed by the Executive team.

Ensure control and governance over the collective agenda

  • The one-to-one coaching sessions were extremely helpful in enabling team members to have a private space to talk about what was stopping them from doing/achieving certain things, and this has been helpful in guiding the collective agenda.

“There are a lot of facilitators and coaches who run programmes, but Bradley builds trust and engagement. He is not superior towards people, he comes down to people’s levels and that openness is what leads to results. People are not scared of being vulnerable with him – he is independent and not part of a big organisation” Head of Marketing

Do you have a team challenge we can help with?

Please contact Bradley Honnor:

EMAIL: [email protected] TEL: +44 (0)20 3145 0580

CLIMB Case Study: Building a high-performing global team Read More »

The Confidence Challenge: How our thinking can undermine us and what to do about it

Confidence can be a game changer, both personally and professionally. But is confidence innate or something we develop over time?

That’s an interesting question, but the truth is: it’s probably somewhere in the middle. Some people will definitely have ‘natural’ confidence and others will be ‘naturally’ shy. We can, however, build our confidence through hard work and persistence, so it becomes second nature.

However, most people aren’t taught how to be more confident, and have probably never asked. So they don’t consciously develop this characteristic and end up somewhere on a scale between very confident and very shy, or confident in some things, and not in others.

So overcoming the ‘Confidence Challenge’ is about first understanding that it is actually possible to overcome a lack of confidence. There are actions we can take to build our self-assurance so that it becomes a more natural behavioural characteristic.

Reduce ‘thinking errors’

Thinking errors can be key drivers of a lack of confidence. They are easy to nurture, but much more difficult to remove.

Many a scenario can be invaded by thinking errors, but presenting in front of a group of people usually puts them into overdrive!

Even if someone is articulate, senior, smart and presenting on something they know more about than anyone else in the room, if they lack confidence, thoughts such as ‘I’m nervous about this’ or ‘What if I forget my words’ can easily creep in and undermine them. And if words such as ‘always’ and ‘every time’ start to manifest, the lack of confidence compounds.

At this point, the sympathetic nervous system triggers those familiar ‘flight or flee’ feelings: sweaty palms, shallow breathing, rapid heart rate. Together with thoughts such as “I’m going to mess this up” or “Oh my god, I can’t believe they’ve made me do this”. And this is not how we want to be walking into the boardroom ahead of a key presentation!

“I often ask people if those nervous feelings and thoughts are real,” says Bradley Honnor, managing director at MatchFit. “Or have they just told themselves those things for so long that they actually believe them? The latter is almost always true.”

So understanding that our thinking errors will undoubtedly be compounding a lack of personal confidence is a key first step.

Replacing our thinking errors

The second step is understanding what to do about your thinking errors.

This can be a complex process, but it usually helps to start by asking yourself questions like “What do I need to be thinking that would make me more confident?” or “What would a really confident person think in this situation?”

You then need to develop the discipline to catch yourself thinking in a negative way and replace that thought every time. Replacing it over and over again until in the end you quite literally develop a new neurological pathway in the brain. And when that happens, those thinking errors will have been removed or dramatically reduced. New, more positive thoughts will occur automatically, which is a mentally healthier and more confident way of thinking.

“It’s really a process of identifying all the thinking errors and behaviours that aren’t helping your confidence, and then literally eradicating them systematically,” says Bradley.

And it’s a process that is proven to work, yet here we are with most people feeling that they’re just not confident, they’ve always been that way, it’s their nature, it’s their personality.

“If you are looking for that next jump in your career,” continues Bradley, “You can want it but not do anything about it, or even look at other people who have achieved it and think that they just have the natural ability to move more quickly up the ladder. Or, you can think: ‘I know what I need to do to get my next move’ and do it.

“And then it’s about goal setting and relentlessly trying to achieve your goal.

“In a way confidence and thinking errors seem obvious, but lots of people don’t know about it. They’ve never talked or asked about it. And I know that because when we talk about it in training sessions, people are always very engaged. We talk about the cognitive triangle; the link between thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. And whenever we do that, we can feel that people are engaged and saying to themselves ‘I do that all the time’”, Bradley says.

Identifying and eradicating thinking errors is a change that can we make over time that will have a dramatic effect on the paths our careers and personal lives take and, ultimately, our own experience of the world.

“And that, for most people, will be incredibly important,” concludes Bradley.

The Confidence Challenge: How our thinking can undermine us and what to do about it Read More »

Workplace bullying – why are we still having to talk about it? Part II

Part II – A minefield of perceptions

In our previous article, our MD Bradley Honnor and Deputy Director of Civil Service HR Casework, Salina Bowen discussed how harassment and/or bullying is still an issue for organisations, and HR departments in particular.

A challenge that was highlighted is how we define what is—and is not—inappropriate language and behaviour. Here, Bradley and Salina take a very honest look at the nuances and complexities that can create a minefield to traverse in the quest to be properly understood.

Bradley begins “In an ideal world, we’d all have grown up conversations, adult to adult. So if I feel you’ve said something inappropriate, I can have that conversation with you. And you can respect my position and not do that again, and I can forgive you because you weren’t aware that I might be offended by that. And that’s the end of it – there’s no grievance, I don’t feel bullied, you’re not harassing me, it’s a conversation. Unfortunately, things quickly get formally escalated to managers because people don’t know how to have those conversations.

There’s a great model, the Transactional Analysis Model, which illustrates how to do this. You have two people with a view, they can understand each other’s perspective and, if for example, one finds a type of humour offensive, then the other is mindful of that. But this doesn’t happen enough at work.”

“I think that’s a little naïve” Salina counters. “You might, for example, think something’s just a joke, but there are some things that aren’t actually a joke or funny. So you need to have baseline?”

“If you look at someone like Ricky Gervais”, Bradley responds, “everything is a joke. He jokes about all sorts of things. It’s comedy unless you’re offended because it impacts on you personally. That’s why we just have to be able to talk to each other.

People make jokes with their friends that they wouldn’t dream of saying at work, even to shock just because part of humour is being shocking” Bradley says. “But does it make that individual sexist, or misogynist or racist or any of those things in a private conversation? I do think this is where we get it wrong sometimes. There’s no forgiveness at work for clumsiness.

“You do have to establish a baseline of acceptable behaviour though” says Salina. “For instance, a customer used an extremely offensive and widely acknowledged offensive word when talking to me. For them then just to say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was unprofessional to say that’ is just an excuse. Aren’t we excusing poor behaviour by saying ‘anything goes as long as you say ‘I’m sorry. You have to have a baseline of acceptability before you can move on to that adult model.

There are all sorts of things that can be considered as micro aggressions, too. For instance, I’m hard of hearing and find the expression ‘it fell on deaf ears’ offensive, given what the expression implies.”

That’s a good example, I wouldn’t have even thought of that” Bradley exclaims. “But if I’d said it, and somebody came up to me and said, ‘just to make you aware, I’m deaf and actually that’s a bit offensive’, my response would be ‘I had no idea, and I’ve definitely learned something today. I won’t do that again, I apologise’. But they’re more likely not to do that. They’ll thank me for the session, and then go to the manager and file a complaint. And that’s what’s wrong, that’s the crux of it. But I guess if you’re feeling bullied, you’re not going to go to a bully and have a conversation. If you’re feeling harassed, you’re not going to feel comfortable that you can go and have that conversation. So it ends up with everything being formalised and in my opinion, that’s not a very effective way to deal with things.

Sometimes, we’re going to get it wrong, and that’s the point. I was in a three-way conversation recently where I accidentally misgendered a trans person with the wrong pronoun. I felt really bad about that, but actually, they weren’t offended because it happens. I made a mistake, but I could have been held really accountable in a disciplinary because of that.”

“I’ve had a similar experience” agrees Salina. “Some time ago, I encountered my first person who transitioned from being a woman to a man. I had never met anyone who had gone through gender reassignment, and I didn’t know the correct language to use. I was asked to support him from an HR perspective, and I had to say to him ‘I don’t really know the right wording to use’. And he said, ‘just say it – if it’s the wrong word, I know you’re trying to understand and you’re coming from a good place’. We’re now friends and have been for the last ten years. Another colleague, who’s a Muslim, gave me a good tip. She said ‘if you want to know something about me being Muslim or a woman, or in an arranged marriage, just say to me, ‘do you mind me asking? If I don’t want to tell you, I won’t. But if I want to tell you, I’m really happy to share.’ She also offered how helpful it can be to read about a subject before asking questions.

The takeaway is not to be so anxious about getting it right so that right that you don’t ask. Don’t be afraid of using the wrong words, or even sometimes getting letters muddled – like LGTBQ+.”

“That, by the way, is hell for a dyslexic like me!” laughs Bradley.

“It can be difficult to keep up with language or terminology changes, but we’ve all got a responsibility to try to” says Salina. “I think it’s important that we also keep talking and asking questions of ourselves and one another.  Sometimes we don’t do that because we’re worried how others will perceive us or that we will unintentionally upset someone.

Navigating all this can be hard, because of how things move on, what’s appropriate and acceptable one day, the next day isn’t. LGBTQ+ is a really good example of how things change continually LGBT to LGBTQ+.  But for me, I think the navigating comes from people being bolder and more forgiving. So if I want to know something, I ask. I try to make it easier for the other person to ask me questions about my disability, as well.”

“It’s almost as if we need our own personal working charter, where we describe how we want people to engage with us; this is what we feel is acceptable” suggests Bradley.

“We already have a personal charter when we feel bullied or harassed or discriminated against, it’s because we feel someone’s broken our personal charter, our personal rules, our value system.

It really is contextual, as well. For instance, if we were in Ukraine right now, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination would not be a priority for discussion. Some of the misunderstandings are cultural, or generational. There are constructs we grew up with, using common language, which actually wouldn’t make sense to somebody from a different generation. For instance, the term ‘hen-pecked’ was common parlance, but now might be considered misogynistic. I remember when I started doing my psychotherapy training, and talking in a group about what we’d be doing at the weekend. When it came around to me, I said ‘I’ll spend most of the weekend with my bird’. The group were shocked, but I didn’t know any different, all my peers used this kind of language.  It led to a really great conversation about derogatory language and the impact it has.

You do have to keep up with the times. But I do think there is room for more conversation and a bit more forgiveness, because most people aren’t doing these things deliberately.”

“Absolutely” agrees Salina. “I really believe that the majority of people don’t actually want to upset anybody.  For example, when I go on a Teams call and a person’s name comes up and I’m not familiar with how to pronounce it, I can actually feel that horrible sense of dread because I can’t say their name.  And then I worry about saying it wrong, and them thinking that I don’t care. You can get yourself in a pickle over it. But actually, if I just say, ‘how do you say that?’ no-one’s going to be offended. But if I keep saying the name wrong again and again, it is rude”

“Actually, all jokes aside, if you’re dyslexic like me, that’s exactly what you do” Bradley explains. “You get it wrong again and again and again. And what’s really interesting is that then I could be accused of not showing any diversity awareness. The irony being that maybe it’s the other party who are not being inclusive and aware, because part of being dyslexic is that processing new, unfamiliar words takes ages. If I’m looking at a screen, with its tiny writing, that compounds the problem.

We don’t always know why someone has done what they’ve done, do we? They might be aggressive because they’re really stressed; their partner might have cancer. Quite often we don’t know what the root cause behind a person’s behaviour is. And there’s no real understanding or acceptance before we jump to accusations of being bullied, discriminated against or harassed. Being online has made it worse, in my view. People hide behind technology – they’re more aggressive over email than they would be face to face.”

“Another reason is the lack of general rapport-building” adds Salina. “I took a call the other day and the person started the call by saying ‘there’ll be no chit chat or jibber jabbering on this call”. And that means you don’t build those relationships with people which allows you to understand and get to know them. You don’t have that five minutes of face-to-face time getting coffee saying, ‘how are you?’ You don’t see the human side of people.

Cancel culture is also interesting. We do seem to be very bad at being non-judgmental and forgiving at the moment. If someone does say the wrong thing (I don’t mean deliberately or repeatedly), people can overreact, and even if the person apologises, it can still lead to a formal complaint.  Surely we should be able to have an honest conversation and say ‘don’t do it again’. We need to break that really vicious cycle.”

Yes, it’s interesting, cancel culture, because it’s exactly what’s not needed” agrees Bradley. “It shuts down those feelings and views and puts them behind closed doors, which is really unhelpful. People aren’t necessarily going to change; they’re just not going to say it out loud anymore. That defeats the object, as nothing is overt anymore. And then for me also, who actually gave them the rulebook? You know, what makes one opinion so right and another so wrong? For example, I can think of a black comedian that got cancelled based on his act. Most people I’ve spoken to about it found him funny. So who’s doing the cancelling, and where did they get the power?

I think what I find quite disturbing about the whole thing is that it’s not okay to just say sorry. It’s almost as if people are being punished for even thinking the wrong thing, before they’ve even said it or had a chance to reconsider. But the reality is that we all have an unconscious bias. If you take my earlier example, mine led to me misgendering someone because I made an assumption based on how someone appeared to me.

But you know, the thing about unconscious bias is you cannot not have it. You can become better at thinking about what you say before you say it, and why you might think it. But if, for example, you associate a group of young blokes with getting stabbed—maybe because of the area in which you live, or you know someone who has had that experience—unless you do a significant amount of work, your natural inclination is always going to be ‘be a bit careful here’ when you are around a group of young men.

We need to be honest about that, and have those adult conversations in a framework of respect, forgiveness and understanding. The truth is that the majority of people that we will all cross paths with throughout our lives will never intentionally be trying to offend.  Having a conversation will usually not only resolve the situation but allow us all to be that little bit better informed the next time.”


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Bradley Honnor talks NatWest and how great it is to see a large organisation supporting a small business

With MatchFit’s strong NatWest partnership flourishing, the end is in sight for the development of an online training app that will not only prove hugely beneficial to organisations looking for inclusivity across their employee base, but has also been used as a mechanism to retrain at-risk staff at the bank.

“The idea of creating an online app for the MatchFit programme came about because of that need for inclusivity,” says managing director and MatchFit owner Bradley. “If you’re going to develop a high-performing culture, and want to engender culture and values that everyone can buy into, understand and play their part in, you really need the right tools to do that.”

With MatchFit’s typical client profile being well in excess of 200 staff members, highly inclusive face-to-face programmes can take significant time and resources to implement successfully. 

“The app is a way to bring some of what we do face-to-face to a wider population whilst keeping the content tailored and unique for each individual.”

Accessibility is key and the app will allow participants to consume content that is relevant to them in their own time, in bite-sized chunks. The high-flexibility infrastructure will also enable a client organisation to select what subjects are available to which groups, so the training can be very tailored, yet with everybody being involved and having their own specific journey.

“NatWest’s agenda was to reskill and redeploy a number of at-risk staff into IT roles. And for them to work on a live project of this complexity from start to (almost) finish has been fantastic,” said Bradley. “In the process, NatWest has been able to support my small business, which I personally think is a brilliant thing to do and something larger companies should do more of.”

The app in action

“One of the things I think the app does very well is enable measurement. Managers can see how far their team members have transitioned through their personal development journeys and that’s incredibly useful,” Bradley continued.

With the app driving users to content they need to know more about, managers can see metrics on individual journeys. This provides insight into what developments are necessary for teams and how far each member has progressed.

“The app has been built such that any content can be added, so it’s really flexible, right from the top to bottom. Clients can use the tool to address any concerns their particular organisation has,” he concluded.

 

Ready to ‘go’?

“Right now we’re in a position to go completely end-to-end. So we’ve got all of the content in for the CLIMB with GRIT programme as proof of concept, and clients can start right at the beginning—at Basecamp—and work all the way through to the summit,” according to Bradley.

With the main functionality up and working, including the ability to see where you are in the journey and what you’ve completed, the MatchFit team needed to convert content that was used in a face-to-face environment to work online.

“Now that we’ve been through that difficult process once, we know exactly what the developers need so uploading content for subsequent modules will be that much easier,” said Bradley.

In fact, implementing a technical solution for a non-technical team has been a challenge for MatchFit.

“There were lots of iterations of the content and lots of backs and forth with quite a few lessons learned. But we started to work pretty effectively as the project went on,” said Bradley. “I think what we’ve ended up with is very innovative and market leading, and it’s been great to work with such a supportive partner in NatWest all the way through.”

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Workplace bullying – why are we still having to talk about it?

Despite an increased focus on employee wellbeing, inclusion and adaptation in recent times, harassment and/or bullying is still an issue stubbornly adhering to the list of challenges that organisations, and HR departments in particular, have to deal with.

A widespread issue that’s not going away

In a 2018 TUC survey, 45% of safety representatives listed bullying as one of their top five workplace concerns, and the second biggest workplace issue after stress. The survey found that bullying/harassment was worst in local and central government.

And it’s not just in the public sector. A 2020 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report found that 15% of workers experienced bullying in the last three years, while 4% said they’d been sexually harassed at work and 8% experienced other forms of harassment. Moreover, 24% of employees thought challenging issues such as bullying and harassment were swept under the carpet in their organisation.

Whilst research suggests that the most common type of bullying is by a manager against a subordinate, 9% of senior managers report being targeted in the past nine months.

An HR perspective

Someone with a particular insight into this area is Salina Bowen, Deputy Director of Civil Service HR Casework & HR Technical Consultancy Service. Bullying, harassment and discrimination figures have risen in the Civil Service in many areas, as shown by the Cabinet Office Bullying, Harassment and Misconduct Survey 2018. MatchFit has been working with Salina and the HR Casework team to deliver the CLIMB development programme, and address some of these issues. One of the very positive outcomes has been the increased tendency for people to speak out and stand up when they feel that they’ve been subjected to harassment or bullying.

MatchFit Managing Director Bradley Honnor says “when we do this kind of work, we often see an increase in grievances, or an increase in people wanting to report or talk about this particular subject. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it enables people to be more transparent.”

“And people become more confident in calling out bad behaviour” says Salina. “Once they’ve been through some of the processes of the CLIMB programme, people know each other better; they feel an obligation to speak out and more empowered to do so. They also feel more competent in delivering that message as well.”

“An increasing incidence of grievance reports is no bad thing” Salina agrees. “Because to me, this actually shows that people are happy to complain formally, rather than behind your back, when you can’t actually do anything.”

How useful are staff surveys?

“This is one of the problems we’ve had with staff surveys, because they are anonymous. You can’t work out what the problem is, you just get a general, often blurred picture of the issue, without the context, and without actually being able to ask people directly what they mean.

But that’s what’s so good about the CLIMB programme and the work that goes into that. It digs down to actually, what is the real issue?  Harassment, discrimination, bullying, victimisation: this is only headline information. What sits behind it, what is the root cause?

People think they know, but actually, the root cause could be very simple. It might be the way I talk to you, or you talk to me. It might be that you don’t make me a cup of coffee but make everybody else one. We can jump to conclusions after a survey that we’re all harassing each other, we’re calling each other really inappropriate names, when actually some of it could be quite simple stuff. And I think that’s what we’ve discovered – there’s often something far more straightforward that sits behind these headlines, which is actually solvable, if known about.”

Is the focus in the right place?

Bradley agrees. “We had a similar case recently” he says. “The client’s employee survey cited bullying, harassment and discrimination as all being disproportionately high. And then when we looked into it, it wasn’t their staff or leadership causing the problem at all. It was their stakeholders; essentially their clients phoning in and acting inappropriately and their staff feeling like they were bullied by the customer. So, without that context, the organisation was being lead to believe they had a negative culture of bullying, harassment, discrimination, and it wasn’t like that at all.

When we looked at the issue at hand, we could see that what was needed was to develop staff resilience and stakeholder management, so they can have those challenging conversations without feeling intimidated or being bullied. So you do have to ask if a survey that doesn’t give you clear information is something you can actually act constructively on? You might make decisions based on those survey results which could be entirely the wrong course of action.”

Defining terminology

One thing that’s important to consider is the definition of the terms, because one person’s perception of bullying could be another person’s perception of assertiveness.

Bradley explains “When we’re consulting, often clients will say that they think there’s a bit of sensitivity around a diversity, or harassment, or discrimination issue. If I think you’re harassing me, that’s my reality, my truth. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it is an issue. You may not even have done anything wrong. But it’s still real to me. This creates conflict. Identification of how we define these things is really important.”

“But then it gets even more complicated, doesn’t it?” Salina adds. “A common survey question is ‘have you witnessed harassment?’. That’s a very complex question, because people’s perceptions can be so different. The person supposedly being harassed may think nothing of it at all, but the ‘witness’ may have a completely different set of boundaries which mean they view the behaviour in a very different way.”

In the next article in this series, Bradley and Salina look at the nuances and complexity of defining what is appropriate language and behaviour.


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A forward-thinking reskilling project with NatWest

There is no doubt that technology-driven changes to working practices can cut business operational costs, increase efficiency and deliver incredible benefits to customers. However, this can come at the cost of employment as automation replaces jobs, and the loss of intangible human skills and knowledge built up by employees over many years of experience.

This has been an area of focus for the NatWest Group, where a number of employees were at risk of redundancy due to the closure of branches and increasing digitisation of functions. The Group were interested in testing whether some of these employees could be reskilled and redeployed as software engineers within the organisation, thereby avoiding the loss of talented staff with customer-facing knowledge, as well as supporting staff at a difficult time. The third phase of this reskilling programme—and the point at which MatchFit became involved—entailed developing a suite of learning resources via an app, to develop the software engineering skills of the reskillers.

Heading up this project on behalf of the bank was Damian Sellers, Head of Tech/Change Workforce Capability at NatWest Group. We spoke to him about the project, whether he thinks it’s been successful, and what it means for the future.

Firstly, we asked Damian how and why he became involved.

“My role involved heading up the tech capability stream of our workforce enablement in our services space. Services in NatWest covers a broad area, but it comprises most of the system support functions; so mainly tech and change. It employs 30,000 people—half the bank—and what we were trying to do is look at what today’s skills are, and then, in this rapidly changing world around us, what skills would be needed in the future and what the gap will be.

Banks are also changing massively and instead of being these big grey monoliths, we are all trying our best to be agile, digitally savvy, and digital-based across everything we do. Everything is changing around us and the workforce needs to change too.  

NatWest are a purpose-led bank as well. That’s the strategy under new CEO, Alison Rose, the first ever female CEO of a ‘big four’ bank. Climate, enterprise and learning are the focus of our purpose, which is to champion the potential of people, families and businesses.

What we were looking at in our capability stream was ‘how can we align everything so that we’re doing the right thing for our people’, because NatWest don’t want to be a bank that hires and fires.  They want to take the talent out of those parts of the organisation where roles are being automated or digitalised and retrain those people.

So one thing we did, amongst others, is to pilot an upskilling programme. We invited at-risk colleagues—people that had already been told they were going to be made redundant— to apply for one of 20 software engineering training places.

Applicants were assessed and interviewed, and then the successful candidates became a cohort of 20 to be reskilled into software engineering roles within the bank. It’s quite an investment for the bank, because it takes roughly nine months to train people and place them in the businesses. We started with a three-month software engineering bootcamp, which trained them in the fundamentals of software engineering, then another three months of self-led tailored learning, with access to learning materials. Then crucially—and this is where MatchFit came in—we also suggested the idea of the reskillers actually doing a builder project.

A builder project is a recognised term within this kind of learning space and within technology. In this instance, it was to work on an external application build for one of our customers on a ‘no regrets’ basis. So essentially our customer, MatchFit, potentially benefits from the app build, and the bank gets a risk-free training area to test the project participants’ skills and develop their confidence.”

What have been the outcomes?

“The actual outcome is that the reskillers have been brilliant. They’ve built the app, with full front to back coverage and it is going to be great!

There have been some terrific stories! I would get a presentation from the reskilling cohort every week, where they reported on what they’d done; how the sprints went. There are some amazing stories, and for some this has been life changing. People have been really worried about the way forward, but we had no age cap on the project and some people in their 50s have taken the plunge and decided to try and re skill as a software engineer, which I think is so brave!

And now the bank also benefits from the fact that all of these customer-savvy people who know the products, know the customers, demonstrate great behaviours and are about to be deployed into the mix with quite a homogenised group of software engineers. In general, this is still male-dominated, still very tech-focussed, they’re all come from the same STEM university background. We’ve added in some people with very different backgrounds and that is really going to shake things up in a positive way!”

How does the app work?

“The MatchFit CLIMB model itself starts with a review across all the workforce which looks at ‘how good are you at: commitment, leadership, intensity, motivation and belief’. There are similar lenses for the HUMAN and TEAM models as well. This is explored via a questionnaire, produced as an analysis and then recommendations can be made according to any issues highlighted, with the appropriate intervention delivered. This is usually done face-to-face, with whiteboards, and people in a room.

The task was to translate this to an app. We coded it so that teams can be set up within the app, team members can answer all those questions in the app and grade themselves one to 10 on the answers.  It then produces a result and gives tailored learning based on any development areas, in all of those different categories. A matrix calculates which learning content a person should be directed to according to their score, and that content might be a video, recommended reading or a task.

There’s also a manager view, so a manager can get an anonymised aggregate score for their team in each of those categories within the CLIMB, HUMAN, or TEAM model. That manager can then see whether there is an area of weakness, and MatchFit can be called in to do some targeted leadership training, for example.”

What have been the challenges?

“The matrix is quite a complex algorithm to actually figure out – it’s really intermediate training rather than beginner. So the challenge was whether our trainee software engineers could build something that was getting more and more sophisticated. There were the security elements of it, as well as things from a functional perspective, such as password resets, and ‘what happens if I want to take someone out of my team; someone leaves; I add someone to the team? How does someone actually get access to the application in the first place?’  

It was also a challenge for me, in a small team, and I had to ensure I could translate the MatchFit brief accurately, and consider all the complex technical scenarios.”     

What would you consider a successful outcome from this project?

 “From a NatWest perspective, a successful outcome is that their reskillers benefit from it. If they’ve learnt key skills, keep their skills fresh and develop themselves through building this app, then that’s all I really care about. There would be a sense of pride for them, however, if it goes live and they can log on as a user and see what they built.

 

Although the cohort are now being placed in their new business units across the bank, they will continue to work on the MatchFit for a minimum of 30% of their time for at least another three months, because they won’t all start coding straight away due to the critical nature of the systems they’ll be working on.

The internal goodwill that was generated off the back of this has been fantastic. NatWest CEO Alison Rose heard about what we were doing, and sent each of our reskillers a personal email. The feedback was great – everyone recognises that it’s brilliant that the bank is supporting their people in this way, and it aligns with NatWest’s strategy and focus.

It’s not been without cost, but measured against the financial—and human—costs of redundancy, it has proven to be a very sound investment.”

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Is competition holding the team back?

Most of us will have witnessed this scenario at some point in our working lives: the goals are defined, team members are talented, capable, motivated, and ambitious. And yet – the team isn’t achieving its potential. All that ambition and energy is being delivered in different directions.

Whilst competition within a business can be healthy, it can also be the source—or symptom—of a deeper conflict within teams. Such conflict is something we come across quite regularly when delivering our programmes for clients, and there are a number of reasons why that can happen.

For a start, if people within a team are prioritising their own personal agenda over the team agenda, then that’s certainly something which can sabotage team performance. We see this a lot in senior management teams when egos get in the way, when a lot of time is spent in battle with colleagues rather than trying to work together and collaborate.

Sometimes, the competition is more passive-aggressive. An issue we come across is that people will say ‘yes’ when they mean ‘no’. In a meeting with the team, everyone nods their head and commits to their actions, but some will have no intention of supporting that action and will even report back to their own team that this strategy is not going to work.

There is a degree of competitiveness that is inherent in human nature which might be an underlying factor. It’s the responsibility of a leader, then, to address this culture of disruption. The problem, however, is that leaders have often achieved their position due to their competitiveness, and much of this disruption can actually occur within the senior teams.

An example we’ve seen recently involved a long-term strategy that was due to be rolled out across an organisation. Within the senior leadership team, two or three members objected to the concept, and sabotaged the process by pulling the plan apart in an unhelpful way. As a result, that strategy was abandoned, resulting in indecision about how they might move forward.  Those individuals have since left the team!

Business culture can clearly be quite individualistic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the type of work we do, we look at those dynamics and help people to understand when this can be a disruptive element of team relationships. While a degree of competitiveness can be positive, it can also be a symptom of something deeper going wrong within an organisation. Sometimes, people are so dissatisfied with their role, they are just looking to be heard. They might feel their opinion wasn’t sought in the first place, and so haven’t engaged in the idea. This can be a symptom of people misunderstanding what they need to be competing on or knowing who they need to be competing with.

For instance, why would the marketing director compete with the sales director? Clearly the collaboration between those people would be more effective than competing for recognition. If they were both competing to be the best in their role, then the organisation benefits.

Even within departments, competition can happen. For instance, in sales, it is often about who gets the leads or makes the sale, and it’s actively encouraged. That’s good and healthy, but it can cause destructive rivalry as well. It’s something that needs addressing directly to recognise the origins – for example, a fear of someone else’s success, or of not getting the credit; anger at being overlooked for a role, or reason for a success.

It’s a complex dynamic, but we see it an awful lot, and it really affects the performance of teams. In contrast, when you look at high-performing sports teams, the need for individual glory usually takes a back seat to the success of the team.

So what steps can be taken to mirror this in a business context?

It starts with having direct conversations. That’s very often the most critical part of the work we do with organisations. We look at the dynamics in the team and if people don’t get on with each other, then we need to understand what that’s really about. Having those conversations is fundamental, but often business teams aren’t doing it. They’ll talk about projects and tasks, and even objectives and goals for the team, but they don’t sit back and look at ‘how are we actually getting on together?’.

We can go into an organisation, and someone will say ‘Oh yeah, the manager and the deputy manager have got real issues with each other’. The staff know it, it’s been like that for a long time, but there’s no real plan to overcome it. It’s really quite interesting, because if those managers aren’t aligned, it has massive implications in terms of how things get communicated and followed through, and how people view the leadership. It can have a very negative ripple effect.

In some organisations, and indeed sectors, there is the problem of blame culture. The focus is on who is at fault rather than seeing things going wrong as an opportunity to improve. In such an environment, it’s natural to try and avoid being the one to be blamed, so problems get hidden, mistakes are made and issues don’t get found out quickly enough.

In a recent documentary on Boeing, this was illustrated very dramatically. Boeing had a reputation for quality and safety first – if an engineer raised a problem, they wouldn’t release the plane until that problem was solved.

But as the commercial drivers became more about pleasing the shareholders, more mistakes were happening. People were still speaking out, but they were told by management ‘we don’t want to know about that, stop causing trouble’. As a result, two planes crashed within five months of each other, which had never happened in the history of aviation, since the introduction of safety protocols.

Rather than working for the good of the company, the leadership were working on behalf of the shareholders, and indeed were themselves major shareholders. That agenda took Boeing from the most respected airline manufacturer in the world to being massively overtaken by Airbus.

Sometimes organisations can’t have these difficult conversations without external help and support, because generally people don’t like conflict. It can be uncomfortable raising issues, and it’s often easier or more of a priority to just get the job done. But this overlooks the benefits of improving those dynamics.  Getting that team working more effectively together impacts the overall success of the business.

A leader really needs to be able to address these dynamics, but like anything, there’s a skill in facilitating that. It’s not necessarily just the responsibility of a leader either – two members of the same team may be having an issue that is making them negatively competitive, but they may not have the skills to have it out with each other.

There are frameworks that can be implemented to address issues as they come up, but there is a skill to doing it, and it does require candour and trust. For example: we worked with a client who had a leader that was very unpopular in their organisation. We had to ask their team and colleagues ‘why don’t you like them; why are you cutting them out?’ We delivered some difficult feedback – they were considered to be rude, demanding, and difficult. That’s challenging to address and difficult to hear.

Of course, people don’t get on from time to time, and we find some people easier to get on with than others, but it’s part of our professional responsibilities to deal with that, to operate authentically. When a leader becomes aware of these situations, they really should address them as a performance issue.

But fundamental to this all happening successfully, is for people to be comfortable enough to change. That requires trust. With the work that we do, over a period of time, working both one-to-one and in the group, our consultants earn the trust and foster the trust of and between those individuals and that team. So then, at that point when potentially contentious changes are suggested, or the need to address certain dynamics are raised, people are ready to hear that message.

The founder of Person-Centred Therapy, Carl Rogers (1957), talks about creating the core conditions for personality change, which are empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard.  When you create these three conditions, it facilitates the foundation for the open communication and trust that ultimately enables positive change. We would argue that these are just as relevant to business psychology as to psychotherapy.

References

Rogers CR. The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Psychotherapy (Chic). 2007 Sep;44(3):240-8. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.44.3.240. PMID: 22122245.

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When Team Opinions Divide

One of the key themes that emerged from our recent interview with MatchFit consultant Alison Phelan was how much divergence of opinion there could be within a team during the initial research and analysis phase of a MatchFit programme. Whether it’s thoughts on the culture; day-to-day experiences; or leadership, there are often wide-ranging opinions. 

Even within the individual there can be conflict – a person might absolutely love their job, and yet still have strong criticisms about things that they perceive to be going wrong.

This is actually fairly typical and illustrates just how complex company culture can be. It’s also why the phenomenological element is really important, because we can all experience a culture completely differently from one another, and even that is fluid.

“Do you like your job” may seem like a binary question, but actually, it’s more complicated than that. There may be aspects of my job that I enjoy, and others I find challenging or frustrating. But that might also depend on my frame of mind at the time.

Within any team, there will be polarities and that’s why we look at group dynamics. Because it’s a dynamic, it moves and changes, and that’s OK. That phenomenological aspect addresses this by looking quite literally at the here and now. There are similarities with what I often found in my psychotherapy work: an individual could be really consumed by a particular issue one week, and yet by the next session it wasn’t as important anymore. This was either because something else had taken priority, they felt differently about it, or had worked it through.

So it’s really important to think about the sort of assumptions that we might make, how they would impact the conversations we have, and how this will steer those conversations and the types of questions we might ask. Part of the skill of the facilitators, when we move on from the analysis phase, is to navigate those ever-changing dynamics for the individual and group. We look at how the individual can move towards having more of those components that they’re satisfied with, more often, and then how the team can unify themselves with a shared direction and joint objectives. We also have to appreciate that this is not always going to be cohesive, comfortable and positive for everyone all the time.  That’s the definition of dynamic.

The first thing a leader needs to do to help address some of these issues is to recognise individual experience, and not make assumptions about how someone should be experiencing the culture, and therefore categorising people into groups.  The most effective way to get to the bottom of what’s happening is by listening to the experiences people are having, but not asking leading questions to direct those conversations.

For example, in designing in a survey for a certain programme, we were asked why we hadn’t referred to a certain category of people and their experiences specifically. This was interesting, because there were many different identities of people that we weren’t asking about. Our response was that if those employees were experiencing the culture in a negative way specifically because of membership of that category, then this would be emerging organically, without bias, in the conversations.

Ultimately, it’s all about ‘how do you impact on the individual experience of people, their interpretation of their environment and culture, and how do you then collectively deliver across teams to try and unify people’s working alliances?’.

That isn’t really happening as much as I believe it should.

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