Person-centred troubleshooting: Part 2

19 August 2017 | By Amanda George

This is the second in a series of blog posts from our associate Rob Michael-Phillips, sharing his experiences in working with a team in need of culture change at work.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – Working with a team in trouble

As a new manager in a troubled team there is a tricky balance to strike. It’s vital to appear confident and knowledgeable as this inspires confidence from those you are working with. It’s important to show that you want to listen to people, acknowledge their experience and that you are prepared to consult openly and honestly when making decisions. You need to get things done and to make changes, but you also need to understand that people are stressed and may not be able to function at full capacity. It’s not an easy balancing act – take too directive an approach and you will confirm all the team’s worst fears about you representing ‘more of the same’. If you are too passive then you run the risk of never helping the team to move on.

Having a range of reliable and efficient tools you can draw on as a manager to facilitate discussions really helps to achieve the right balance. You can listen confidently, inclusively and respond to what people say in a transparent and clear way. You can help staff feel secure enough to contribute honestly to discussions and make sure that everyone’s views are heard. More and more, I found myself relying on person-centred thinking tools and facilitation techniques to have productive discussions and to radically change team culture.

A great example of this is an old favourite, the Working/Not Working tool. This tool, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a simple method of sorting what is working and not working about a particular situation. It can be done from a single perspective, or from multiple perspectives depending on what’s required. Although facilitation (done well) is never quite as easy as it appears, on a practical level this tool is easy to use – stick a big sheet of paper on the wall, draw a couple of lines, give everyone a pen and you’re off. Once ideas are written down they can be voted on, establishing what are the biggest priorities for the team to work on.


So what advantage does using a tool like Working/Not Working have over an open-ended discussion and what does it do for the manager and staff? Here are just a few points:

  • Firstly, you appear more confident. You might be still finding your feet and nervous about having a difficult discussion, but using a tool you know well means that you at least look like you know what you are doing!
  • Staff will feel more secure with someone guiding a discussion. The upshot of this is that everyone will be that bit more relaxed and willing to hear other views.
  • It speeds things up. Working/Not Working gets everyone’s views at once, in their own words. These might seem like relatively minor issues, but speed and clarity are important. If all a meeting achieves is to give a few people a chance to say what’s wrong, then we won’t get on to problem solving and participants will leave feeling negative.
  • It gives you time to think. Using a tool like this removes the need to answer points immediately as they are raised, reducing the chances of getting muddled or saying the wrong thing.
  • It makes people feel better. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have described writing down how they feel as cathartic – often it’s the first time they’ve been asked how they feel in a very long time.
  • A little positivity goes a long way. Focussing on what is working, as well as not working, requires at least some positivity, even in the most difficult circumstances.
  • It’s democratic. Once ideas are written down, they can all be considered equally, regardless of the varying levels of volume generated by the people putting them forward. The team will focus on the ideas, which are agreed as the most important. This is something everyone understands and can accept, even if their ideas or issues are not the ones selected.


I have used the Working/Not Working tool in team meetings, management meetings and in team reviews, in individual supervisions and in appraisals. I did a working/not working supervision with all the staff I was managing within the first 10 days of starting. This gave me an invaluable insight into where people were, what they thought was important and how they wanted to move forward. Each meeting took about an hour, the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and it gave me a really solid foundation to work with the team.

So, what does all this have to do with wellbeing and changing culture at work?

The foundations of a culture which promotes wellbeing has to be based on listening to colleagues, hearing what they say and acting on agreed priorities. Simple, consistent and reliable methods of facilitating discussions can play a huge part in making sure people are heard, are able to contribute and understand when and why their ideas are not being taken forward. These techniques, used consistently build trust in management, trust in each other as colleagues and help us to make better decisions than would be possible otherwise.

Put simply, I believe that consistently being able to contribute constructively to our work is the single biggest factor influencing workplace wellbeing. Mastery of a few simple tools can help managers to create and nurture a wellbeing culture from the ground up.

I’ll be posting more blogs in this series throughout the week to share my journey. In the meantime if you have any comments, we’d love to hear from you. Comment below or on our Facebook page.

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