What it really means to work collaboratively
At any given time, Innovate Services can be working with multiple local authority partners on various children’s services improvement programmes. The success of each project hinges on how well our teams work with our local authority partners and each other.
We catch up with one of Innovate’s Head of Service, Claire Nelson, and two Innovate Social Workers, Jo Kenny and Laura Evans. Together, they talk openly and honestly about the rewards of collaborative project-based social work.
Could you tell us how a project team is formed?
Claire: “A team is structured according to the needs of each project and the existing set-up at each local authority. Therefore, we take a granular approach. We carefully consider the skill-set and experience required to deliver each of the projects we are responsible for. We have quite a considerable network of social workers (at all experience levels) and multidisciplinary professionals familiar with how we work and who we know we can trust to deliver high-quality work.
“We consider which teams might be coming to an end and if there’s any scope to move them to new projects. This is all very consultative though. We discuss the scope of a forthcoming project with the consultants we know will be a good fit, to ascertain their interest and commitment.”
At the start of a project, how is the team introduced?
Claire: “Although most of our consultant social workers have been working with us for some time, we always start day one of a project with a team meeting with either myself or Darren (our Director of Service Delivery) being present. We also diarise time for local authority team members to meet our team to talk through the scope of the project and be clear about KPIs and expectations.”
Jo: “The induction day is really useful because it gives the team visiting a chance to talk about what the local authority has to offer and supports collaboration with the internal team.”
How easy is it to integrate with local authority teams?
Claire: “Usually, it is a fairly smooth process because the local authority would have prepared for our arrival. If there is some resistance, this can be difficult initially, but it’s always resolvable. We have to be sensitive to the internal team’s feelings about new people coming in.”
Jo: “Speaking as project social worker at Innovate Services, I agree with Claire. Yes, it can sometimes be difficult, but overall, integration is pretty smooth as the local authority is happy to have us there and eager to help and offer their advice, which we are always open to.”
Laura: “At a recent induction, the local authority had team managers, service managers and heads of service present within their presentation. Therefore, we were able to build a good relationship from day one.”
What’s different about Innovate Services project teams?
Claire: “Being a social work-led managed service means we have the time, space and ability to be focussed in delivering high-quality work. You can’t really make the comparison with ourselves and most other project teams. We’re from the same profession, but the way we work is completely different.
“Traditionally, project teams are not managed. At Innovate Services, however, we take ownership of the project; everyone understands their role, the project objectives and is accountable for the quality of their work.
“Our team have worked together on multiple projects, and so they also have a good understanding of how each other works.”
Jo: “Just to add to this. As a social worker, I feel well supported and appropriately managed. Other project teams do not always have a management structure, and there is a restriction in terms of what can be achieved.”
What do you enjoy the most about project work?
Jo: “Innovate are supportive and see strength in their employees and nurture that. I do not feel micro-managed. I have the freedom to be creative to achieve positive outcomes for the children and families I work with. My managers trust my judgement, and they know my capabilities and support me in areas that may be required.”
Claire: “That’s wonderful to know Jo! For me, personally, I love who I work with. My colleagues are fantastic and there’s no delay in decision-making. This means the teams I manage can provide the best for children and their families. I also thoroughly enjoy working with different local authorities, seeing how they work and respond to change.”
Laura: “The change we are able to make as a team. Recently, I enjoyed being part of an SGO team that was successful at giving children a place of permeance – away from being a looked after child, which in some cases had been for several years. It was extremely rewarding to see their faces once orders had been made and seeing the positive impact this had upon their lives.”
What do you enjoy the most about working on projects that take you anywhere in the UK?
Jo: “Like Claire, I feel working at different local authorities has given me an insight into how authorities work and the key issues in each area. I constantly observe different standards of practice to promote my learning and development as a social worker. I take the positives and negatives from each area to develop ideas on how things should be.”
Laura: “There are not many other places where you would get this type of experience. Essentially, we are going into local authorities that are struggling to help them make vast improvements, and you learn something different from each project.”
How often do you work with the same team members?
Laura: “So far, I’ve moved between two projects with the same team, but I am new to Innovate Services. My understanding is that it’s quite common, which is great.”
Jo: “Yes, it is. I have worked with the same team for around two years now. However, it’s not always feasible. I have recently moved to a new team for geographical reasons, but we’re already getting to know each other well.”
Claire: “We carefully choose our social workers not just based on their skill-set and experience but on how suited they are to working on the type of projects and programmes we deliver. They have to be able to be as confident working in a team as they are autonomous.”
In summary, what would you say is the key to effective teamwork?
Jo: “Good management. In every positive team, I have ever worked in, the manager has been key. Innovate always work together, to support each other, and this comes from the management down.”
Claire: “Thanks, Jo. I will take that! As a manager, I would say it’s a fine balance of many things, including good communication, being supportive, flexibility, trust, and shared responsibility.”
Laura: “To second what Claire says, good communication is key. We support each other and make sure we are available to support our colleagues. As a social worker, although I use my initiative within my practice, I feel supported in the decisions I make, that they are the best for children and their families.”
View our senior management team on our meet the team page.
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