Interview: Helen Sanderson, Wellbeing Teams

| Helen Sharp

We recently featured a video on the Ideas Hub about Wellbeing Teams. Wellbeing Teams offer a fresh, new approach to home care, that is different in two ways. Firstly, how people are supported and secondly, how the team works together.  Here we interview also Helen Sanderson one of the people responsible for bringing these teams together. Helen works in social care, healthcare and education, has advised governments and has written many books.

Tell me about what you’ve done:

I have helped to set up four different Wellbeing Teams in various sites across the UK. These have become our ‘test and learn’ sites because we have had to learn as we go; each site has been at a different stage and each has adapted according to local perspectives. It has been a really interesting time for us and the teams, and we’re now moving into the next iteration.

Who has been your greatest inspiration or influence?

Jos de Blok has of course been a great inspiration because the self-management model we are using for the teams comes directly from the work he has done with Buurtzhog in Holland. Reading the book ‘Being Mortal’ by Athul Gawande was one of those jaw-dropping moments for me in terms of the reality of what it is like for people as they age as it challenges the traditional approach to medicine and what matters in the end.

The best thing about what we’ve done is….

I’ve done something!! I have worked as a consultant for a number of years and this role has enabled me to shape things and influence and help people to think differently as well as supporting people as they test things out and run pilots. But as a consultant you never have complete control so I’ve decided to stop doing that and do it myself. Setting up the Wellbeing Teams has been a significant leap in bravery for me and led to unchartered waters such as being registered with CQC and working out what the funding looks like.

What has been the biggest or best mistake you have made?

Assumptions are the mother of all disasters – the biggest mistakes I have made have been around what I’ve assumed. My assumption was, that like the Buurtzhog model in Holland, all we would need is a self-managing team and a coach. However, in Holland there are already many established teams of nurses – Buurtzhog encouraged them to organise themselves differently.

There is a recruitment crisis in the UK in social care and especially in home care which means that we have had to recruit new people to the Wellbeing Teams. We intentionally recruit outside of the traditional parameters because we don’t believe you need a background in social care to be good at it. However, we soon realized that the new teams would need more than a care certificate and a wellbeing leader. We now have two coaches to support the teams. One to support how the team works together and another to skill and support the team to deliver the practice.

Did anything surprise you during the project?

There are a lot of assumptions about what CQC are OK with; so many myths and legends about the regulations and what they actually mean in reality. As we have developed the teams, we have come up against many barriers based on the perception of what is or isn’t acceptable. But once we have interrogated these further, we have found they are merely perceptions and not based on a real regulation. For example, according to CQC myth, you should have six weekly individual supervision with team members but that’s not what the regulations actually say and SCIE’s excellence around supervision does not suggest this either.

There’s another element to my experience that has surprised me and that’s the generosity from people on Twitter and LinkedIn. They have become my community of practice and it has been really helpful for me to come with naivety and questions because the wealth of support, knowledge and honesty out there is amazing

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar?

Don’t think creating self-management in the workforce is just about adopting a new set of processes; this is a personal leadership journey. One of the challenges we face is that we need to think differently about who we are as leaders and that is something I’m still working on!

What’s next?

We have set ourselves the intention of increasing from six Wellbeing Teams to 600 in three years and the question I’m holding is ‘how do we go about this?’ It’s not as fast as Buurtzhog’s trajectory, it’s more about the realisation that we need to find a way to scale the work.

Where can we find out more?

Have a look at our website and you can contact me directly at I also blog every two weeks about what I’m doing. At the moment I’m particularly interested in compassion in the workplace. So please do get in touch if this is something that resonates strongly with you.

Tell us your favourite quote…

“Be the change you want to see in the world” Gandhi

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