Getting out the good biscuits: how to build trust and engagement to implement culture change

Whether it’s your users, partners or team you want to help bond, there are a few tricks – and some massive rewards – to bringing barriers down says Irene Carson

What’s your biscuit strategy for your next group meeting? Do you even have one?! Here’s why I think you should…

Culture change is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes years to see new shared values embed and become the norm, but there are touch points on that journey where we can expedite the bonding and trust that helps people relax and be open to new ideas. At our LGA masterclass on culture change,[ab1]  a participant asked me how, when my team was huddling busy people from the public and third sector around an ambitious tech challenge, we made workshops fun. After all, a shared goal (in our case helping older people in Essex become the most tech-savvy in the world) isn’t always enough to break the ice and get everyone contributing.

Instead, I defer to the ‘hierarchy of needs’ proposed in the 1940s by psychologist Abraham Maslow, and all the blocks that underpin that ultimate triangle of contentment – ‘self-actualisation’ – where we start to unlock our full potential.

Thinking ahead to your next meeting around your care tech or digital strategy how can you facilitate the people in the room to reach that top tier of engagement? To get it right we have to go right to the bottom of the pyramid…

1. Physiological needs

When Maslow laid food, water, warmth and rest at the base of his hierarchy he was covering our most basic needs. Having drinks on hand (even if you have to bring them along yourself), a room that’s a welcoming temperature and enough chairs will mean the fundamentals are covered. Sounds obvious, but how many times have you tipped up to a meeting space and its not…in an optimum state? Arrive early – recce if necessary – and be ready to welcome people when they arrive.

2. Safety needs

Security and safety are important for humans to thrive, but they’re just as important for open and productive communication to blossom. Trust is a crucial part of the process. As we’ve found with our LGA care technology sessions, setting ground rules for engagement – inclusion, confidentiality, zero judgement – helps participants feel they’re in a safe space where they can speak freely and be open to input from others. Being vulnerable in meetings – sharing your learning points (what others might call ‘failures’) allows others to feel safe.

3. Belongingness

To help a roomful of people quickly develop a group bond it’s important to democratise the space and foster belonging. You will likely to be conducting your meetings in public sector offices, and in fact your participants may well be used to having meetings in this particular space. How can you make it feel different? What can you bring with you that will add to the environment and experience? Changing the seating and moving the tables away is a good start. Tables can create physical barriers so consider removing them altogether; it’s amazing how that can change the vibe. What activities can you weave into workshops that allows people to quickly find connections with each other?

4. Esteem needs

Maslow recognised that people flourish when treated with respect and given recognition for their input. When you’re running group sessions show people how much you appreciate their participation. Tell them how much you value them as individuals, as well as the organisational hat they are wearing. I once asked a psychologist running groups for soldiers with PTSD how she helped them quickly relax and feel comfortable to participate in a group setting. “Nice food,” was her tip for anyone trying to help groups communicate more effectively and productively. “Give them the good biscuits. Go to Waitrose or M&S.” It shows you value people and their time.

5. Self-actualisation

At the top of the pyramid Maslow placed self-actualisation: a creative mindset where we can achieve our full potential. Empowered with the chance to implement real change, groups can undergo a transformation in outlook and motivation. Abby Vella is the canny former advisor from the LGA’s Care and Health Improvement Programme who commissioned our first LGA Care Tech Support Programme. When she designed the original brief for this work it was one of the most creative and open we’d seen from a public sector commission, really bringing to life how making space for creativity can take us to some of the most impactful places. Engagement with this work was been staggering. It felt like a zeitgeist moment for councils and taking care technology to a new level – one that professionals and services users truly deserve.

You can learn more about Digital Boomers, the project in Essex that was brought to life by some transformational workshops, here.

Irene Carson is Rethink Partners’ MD. She helps organisations explore and discover why people behave as they do and the causes and effects of those behaviours, decisions and policies.

This blog is one of a series for our Digital Care Technology Support Programme commissioned by the LGA.