There’s no ‘I’ in Team: Lessons in creating your own dream team

Carolyn Campbell-McLean

A self-directed approach enables me to recruit and choose my own team of staff who assist me to live in my own home.

After 25 years of independent living and using a wide range of services, staff and models of support, I believe the success of my care is based on the quality of the relationships I have with my staff and the work I do to make this work for me.

Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way.

Right person, right fit

The choice of people who are involved in our lives (paid or unpaid) has a huge impact on our quality of life.  These people will be in our life, in our homes, they will meet our family, and in some instances become part of the family. Trust and high level rapport is essential. They need to respect our privacy and sensitively communicate. Both parties need to get along or, in my experience, it just doesn’t work. Most importantly they need to be reliable in committing to, and responsible when working with us.

I believe this is one of the most important elements of why I have secured a successful team.  I have chosen people who are well matched to me in many different ways. It’s a critical factor.

Careful choices about who you bring into your team can result in better chance of successful partnerships and have so many knock-on effects. Lower turnover is more likely when a good match is made – both parties invest in the relationship.  You need some stability and people who can show the newer team members the ropes, both in practical terms but also with attitude, process and behaviour.

Think outside the square to attract the right person

When I first started recruiting my team I looked for people with experience in manual handling, personal care and disability. More often than not this didn’t work out.

People who were ‘care professionals’ often came packaged with an inflexible and sometimes downright patronising attitudes. They could not seem to understand I knew what needed to be done and that I had choices about what happened in my home, when and how things should be done.

I began thinking outside the square.

I started by looking at the qualities of the person rather than their qualifications or experience. After all I could train people in the role and how it was done. Shaping attitude is much more difficult. Now, half of my team has no prior experience in care work or disability. I have a hairdresser, a former waitress who is a horse champion, a nursing student and a mum of four. I also have a team member who used to work in disability but is now a youth worker and another person who has cared for other people but also done warehousing and stay at home mum duties!

I find that diversity creates unity!

The right type of person might change over time. They have to suit you and your lifestyle. For example, when I was younger I liked to have young university students. Now I am older I find Mums are good option as they tend to be after part time and can work odd hours. They also are highly likely to have good common sense and not be afraid of bodily substances! It’s ok to trial different approaches to see what works/doesn’t work for you.

Consider your own values and what values are or are not relevant to the role.  State these in the advertisement. Use values and behavioural based questions when interviewing. Give them a scenario and ask them ‘what would you do if……’. I always want to know how mature and emotionally intelligent they are.

Good relationships

I have to like the person – and they have to like me. They see me at my best and my worst. So I firmly believe that any prohibition on ‘being friends’ is inappropriate and patronising. Many work colleagues socialise together at times.

Where to look

Thinking about qualities and the type of person also helps you answer the question – where might I find a person like that?

For example, if want to find young people try social media or TAFE/uni student unions. You can target to particular courses – allied health are usually great!

There was a time my entire team were OT students. However, that was a bit of a problem at practicum time, as they all wanted time off at the same time.  Lesson learnt – diversify your team!

Options include word of mouth, newspaper, Facebook, promoting through email to networks, job agencies, collaborating with other individuals, asking organisations to promote through their networks.

The latest option is the online platforms – HireUp, Mable, Home Care Heros to name a few. These are useful if you want to onboard staff quickly as their checks and paperwork are already done. It’s a good way of testing out staff to see if you click with them. If you’re not happy its much easier to ‘not book’ them again rather than go through a dismissal process if you’d employed them directly.

With the right team you can work with people who understand a ‘give and take’
approach, are flexible and have the will to help you solve problems.

The issues I have with finding support workers through platforms is that they may already be working with 1 or more other people, and you can end up competing for their availability

Another way is to ask others what has worked for them – sharing experiences with others in the same boat can be really powerful. Often other people have ideas that you haven’t canvassed or ways to make things work that you have never even thought of.

I advertise through local paper, university career boards/web pages, word of mouth and sometimes I circulate an email through my wide networks.

One of my most recent successes has been in employing the daughter of one of my most reliable and senior staff – good values tend to be genetic!

Think about what has worked in the past and why it was successful. Similarly, think of those times when you’ve had negative experiences. Don’t blacklist the source or never use that method again – just think about the lessons you’ve learnt and how to capitalise on the effective strategies.

First steps – I only accept applications via email as this proves they are able to communicate via email (important as the roster is sent out thi s way) and allows me to cull out people who are not suitable.

I then contact people who look suitable by phone or email and arrange interviews. I always interview with a current staff or family member.

Get the best from your team

It’s essential to be clear about your needs. Honesty is the best policy.  And be clear about what you expect from them. Ambiguity is not helpful and usually leads to miscommunication. In addition to being verbally clear, use a responsibility checklist, or more formal contract.

Model the behaviour you expect from them. If you tell them you will cover their shift then cover it.

It takes skills in negotiation and sometimes creative thinking if shifts need to be swapped or changed in emergencies. For instance, staff contact me directly if they are sick or have another problem getting to their shift. I can then assess the situation, and I generally know the commitments and schedules of each staff person. I may offer a bonus if it is very late notice. If I get stuck I have the numbers of a few agencies that are 24 hour contactable who could find staff.

I never rely on family to fill in. Unlike the bad old days when I was constantly getting stuck without support, busting for the toilet or missing out on meals.

With the right team you work with people who understand a ‘give and take’ approach, are flexible and have the will to help you to solve problems.

Keep the right people

Once you have created a great team it takes work to maintain it. Just like anything maintenance and servicing cannot be overlooked otherwise the whole car will start to shake.

8 actions to create and keep your dream team

  • Acknowledge

Ensure you are proactive in acknowledging the skills, achievements and news from each team member. Do things individually and on a group level.

  • Inform

Provide accurate and timely information that assists the team to function well, keep up to date, interested, focused and enthusiastic.

  • Offer

Regularly offer training opportunities and other incentives that will keep team members feeling like they are acknowledged and valued.

  • Troubleshoot

Resolve any problems quickly and with open communication. Use your intuition if you sense something might be a problem for someone, and try to be aware where people are at. Even if there is a hint of miscommunication, nip things in the bud and check-in with team members to ensure they don’t need any support, time off etc.

  • Positive feedback

Be deliberate in providing continual feedback, praise for good work and gratitude for anything that goes above and beyond. Compliment staff for their good qualities and work.

  • Constructive feedback

When providing less than desirable feedback use the feedback sandwich – “SLICE OF”

Strengths – start with something positive

Listen – use active listening skills

Identify – the actual issue or problem

Coach – suggest ways to resolve issue

Encourage – them with another positive

Obtain Follow up – check-in on them afterwards

  • Culture

Encourage the teamwork approach so that people more likely to ‘fill in’ for each other. Create a culture of supporting each other whilst keeping things fair and ‘everyone doing their share’.

  • Celebrate

Find ways to recognise and celebrate the achievements of individual team members and the team as a whole. Provide opportunities for socials and celebrate festive occasions such as end of year and leaving parties. Celebration increases morale, allow team members to bond and creates a positive atmosphere that people want to share in.

Carolyn (far right) and her team

Carolyn Campbell-McLean is from the Parramatta area of Sydney and has a professional background in social work. Carolyn has worked for 12 years in state government education and training roles, has taught disability studies at UWS and TAFE, and was a research associate with the UNSW on the first evaluation of individualised funding in NSW in 2008. Carolyn experienced the sudden death of her husband Danny who lived with Duchenne MD in 2005, and is a strong advocate in the NMC community having held various roles as member, staff and Board Director of MDNSW over many years. More recently Carolyn has been supporting people with disability and the sector to prepare for change in her roles as a Living Life My Way Champion, trainer for Physical Disability Council NSW and Senior Facilitator at My Choice Matters’ leadership program. Now a Project Officer at Muscular Dystrophy NSW engaging the NMC community to create The Peer Collective, Carolyn is known for her peer support work including establishing the SMArties group. A proud Aunty with a passion for papercrafts, Carolyn combines her lifelong lived experience of SMA with a strong knowledge of self-management and empowerment tools for people with disability.

Carolyn has established her own disability and training consultancy.