Relational Leadership in the Real World

Personal Transitions Service (PTS) Manager, Katie-Lee Moroney, reflects on what it takes to be a good manager, the role and the importance of relationships over power imbalances.

When I first got the call saying I had got the job with Mayday Trust in 2013, I remember saying to a colleague ‘I can’t believe I am going to be a Manager!’ I was so pleased that Mayday had taken the time to recognise my skills and could hopefully see that I had the potential to be a good leader. I also remember spending a significant amount of time thinking about what sort of ‘Manager’ I would be. Wondering how people would know to trust me? Questioning if I had enough knowledge to share? Worrying how people might feel about me being a bit younger?

I looked back on the different management techniques I had experienced, such as the ‘the micro-manager’, ‘the Manager who doesn’t really know you at all’ and not forgetting ‘the Manager who uses power to control’. It occurred to me that I saw these as times as being ‘managed’, rather than being led or inspired to do well in my role – this is similar to John Maxwell’s* idea of leadership through position, which doesn’t really get you anywhere! The positive experiences of leadership prior to Mayday were unfortunately in the minority, but when they did occur they stood out and positively contributed to me forming my own leadership style rather than focusing on being a ‘Manager’.

Now six years into to my role at Mayday I am very much still learning and developing but have come to realise the fundamental importance of relational leadership. My role has changed rapidly in this time and alongside this my values and beliefs in what makes a good leader have also grown. Since starting as a PTS Manager I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing leaders and they have all contributed to how I work today and how I work with my team. My style has become more representative of building strong relationships and also leading based on results and buy in.

Here are some of the things I have learned (it’s not always been the easy way!):

Know what you know and be comfortable with what you don’t – I came to Mayday Trust with transferable skills from the education sector, but I had no first-hand experience working with people experiencing homelessness. Mayday’s Personal Transitions Service prioritises working without labels and treating people as people, and luckily for me these were the same values I had bought into in previous roles. I also work with a brilliant team who have a wealth of experience working with people and help me each day to understand what this is like.

I look forward to 1-2-1’s each month as the Coaches stories, successes and challenges bring the PTS to life for me. I am comfortable with not having first-hand experience as it has made me a better listener. What I do know is that my strengths lie in project management and bringing a team together. I am a good details person and a brilliant planner, which means I am able to balance the different contracts we hold to allow the Coaches to do what they do best and that’s putting the people they work with first.

Be transparent, but also know when to act as a buffer – As a leader in an ever changing organisation I can be privy to lots of information, it’s important I know what to share and what not to share. Transparency is important, but knowing what’s best for team morale is equally as important. The PTS focuses on Coaches building trusting relationships with the people they work with and similarly in my role I need to build these relationships with the Coaches in my team. The Coaches need to trust that I will share what they need to know at the right time; allowing their entire focus to be on the person and not external pressures.

Recognition – Recognise all the extra effort your team invests in ensuring that the people they work with have a positive experience with the PTS. Recognise that flexible working shouldn’t mean working more hours than usual and having your phone on 24/7. In the difficult financial landscape we are in it is difficult to provide progression, however by recognising someone’s assets and talents and utilising them when opportunities present themselves can be a way to help a Coach feel further valued.

Nobody likes a last minute panicker! – The PTS is always changing and evolving, it hardly ever stays still at Mayday! This requires an extraordinary amount of organisation to ensure that planning, monitoring, projects, development and team sessions all take place when they should.  It’s essential I have my eye on the ball (more like balls at the moment!), the future and the unknown!

Sharing the learning – When working across a large geographical area I have discovered that it is really important that both success and challenges are recognised and shared to allow other teams, who potentially don’t directly deliver the PTS, to experience and understand things from the Coaches point of view. This could be through good news stories, shared team meetings, reflective practice and other more informal channels. It is also just as important that it goes the other way as well. Growing the PTS, working with other organisations and overcoming barriers beyond delivery are all areas that can help a Coach see the bigger picture, recognise the important part they are playing in creating that paradigm shift in the systems available to people going through tough times. Unlike many of the roles I have been in previously, the PTS is one big team – #OneTeam if we’re talking Twitter!

Strong relationships run throughout everything I have mentioned. Without trusting relationships and a like-minded team with you, it is very difficult to be a good leader. Alongside these relationships it’s crucial that I know when to let the talents of a team shine and when to refocus my attention. Due to the changeable nature of the Mayday I have no doubt that the role I have today will probably look very different in 12 months or even next week. Whatever happens I will continue to learn, develop and evolve. I have so much more to learn and I hope my experiences will continue to shape me and my leadership style. Just like the people we work with, I have the potential to do and become whatever I want!

* Maxwell, J.C., 2011, The Five Levels of Leadership – Proven steps to Maximize your Potential, New York: Centre Street

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The Importance of a Community

After attending the Better Way Roundtable, Amy Middleton, PTS Manager and Coach at Mayday Trust, reflects on the importance of community and real relationships when supporting people going through tough times.

I recently attended a Better Way Roundtable which discussed the topic organisations without ‘walls’ – these are organisations which focus on communities, rather than structures, and solutions not services.

I’ve always known that communities are an integral part of our society, but before working for Mayday Trust I don’t think I gave the topic a deeper level of thought. Reflecting on this now I think about why this may be, and what it comes down to is this question – What do people turn to communities for?

My time is split between going to work, spending time with my partner, and seeing friends and family. Relationships on all different levels are what I believe keep me going and what they provide me with is all encompassing. They make me feel valued and loved, give me a sense of belonging and a purpose, provide me with emotional and even financial support when times are tough, they are ultimately what give my life meaning and direction.

For many of the people that we work with, they don’t have these relationships and informal support networks around them and no amount of formal support services offered are going to provide them with what they truly need to be able lead a fulfilling life. So many people who have experienced homelessness when asked will say that they don’t have anybody to list as a next of kin, so will put a worker’s contact details down instead. I think many of us would find it almost impossible to imagine what it must feel like for the only people in your life to be those that are paid to be there, or those that you have no choice but to socialise with simply because you have a shared circumstance of being homeless.

Of course services exist with good intentions, we want to help and we want to do good, but surely there comes a point when we realise there is a limit to what we can do and we definitely can’t act as a replacement for real connections. These connections are formed organically through shared interests or values that will continue on beyond the life of paid services. Are services actually doing the opposite of what they set out to do, creating dependency with a complete power imbalance whereby we as the service are there to fix people’s perceived problems?

The answer to this has always been obvious, we should be supporting people to create peer support networks and find things they enjoy doing to get involved in. Although with good intentions, efforts have gone array, we have created an endless list of services specifically for people who are homeless, such as homeless GP, football teams and haircuts. In doing this we have segregated people who already feel marginalised even further from mainstream society, which makes that psychological leap out of homelessness even greater.

People will often speak of feeling part of a homeless community and of course it’s understandable that you would turn to others who are going through a similar difficult situation for support, but the issue appears when people start to carry the label of being a homeless person and can’t see beyond that. When people feel that they no longer fit into their existing local community because all they have available to them are services and groups with other ‘homeless people’. As a sector we need to take a step back and ask an awkward question; have we created and perpetuated this problem?

There is also the matter of achieving sustainable change, with sustainable being the operative word. I think it’s fair to say that all organisations within the homelessness sector have the objective to help people move into their own long term independent accommodation, but with everybody trying to meet different KPI’s and outcomes to produce good ‘move on’ data to meet contract requirements, do we not run the risk of pushing people to take a big leap into an unknown and scary world that they are unprepared to cope in?

It happens all too often that people are moved on, into their own accommodation after many years of homelessness, sometimes in a completely new area. We are then surprised when months down the line the tenancy breaks down and we see the same people back in homelessness services to start the whole cycle all over again. We can provide all the practical support to help with managing a tenancy, but if people are socially isolated and feel they don’t have a purpose or a sense of belonging, then of course they are going to return back to what is familiar to them, with people they know, even if that does mean returning to the streets.

One of the key interventions of the Personal Transitions Service is building positive networks and the value of this can’t be overlooked. Our Coaches work alongside people to help them connect with others and organisations in the local community. This is done by exploring interests and hobbies, as well as brokering personalised opportunities. People can then naturally develop new friendships and positive networks outside of services. By encouraging and empowering people to build their own support network they should be able to cope when they come across tough times and start to see an identity beyond homelessness.

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. Coaches build up trusting relationships with people to be able to explore what truly matters to them. By identifying people’s strengths, interests and aspirations and then linking them in to personalised opportunities within the community a person can start to rebuild their identity, ultimately helping them to feel good about themselves and ignite their internal motivation to take control of their future.

Shifting the focus away from weakness, fixing, and segregation, as well as overcoming the systemic barriers is at the heart of everything we do with the Personal Transitions Service, so for me it seems obvious that a total paradigm shift in the current system is essential if we are to really make a positive difference. Organisations without ‘walls’ allows us to take a step back, rebalance the power dynamics and put people in the driving seat of their own lives. By building positive support networks and remaining in local communities, people are more likely to make a sustained change in their lives and not only move on from their tough time, but also be prepared for the next bump in the road.

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Strange Times

David Hurst, Director of Operations at Mayday Trust, explores the power and importance of relationships as he embarks on his own transition away from Mayday and onto his next adventure.

Strange times indeed, after four and half years I am now just about to enter my own transition, it’s time for me to move on and start a new journey. I’ve been thinking hard about my time working alongside the amazing Mayday Trust team and how I could acknowledge their unbelievable commitment. I could write about their talent, passion, determination and humanity but I genuinely believe the team would not appreciate being so highly praised in public. The Mayday crew are a very humble lot who will always put others before themselves; so what do I say, how do I reflect my feelings as I step away and leave behind a team of guys whom I hold in the highest possible regard.

So maybe I am going to confuse you for a few minutes but please stay with me. For 17 years I worked in prisons and managed to find my way into a comfortable leadership position, a steady role with a decent enough pension. I had a good team who were settled, systems worked well and the people we worked with generally took a positive view to their imprisonment. So what took me away from this relatively cushy position?

I was on the wing one evening as I would often stay back because it allowed me to observe how the staff worked and sometimes I would just chat to the men in our care, without the barriers of the daytime routine. On this particular evening I was making a cup of tea when the alarm sounded. I emerged to find two men fighting.

One of the men involved had been a heavy weight trainer for 10 years, he was very intimidating and very angry. Staff jumped in to separate the men and a female officer took a blow to her face. More support arrived, a shank was found on the floor and the other prisoners were becoming agitated. The situation was escalating rapidly. One of the men was removed leaving the angrier individual, who was now highly distressed and quickly becoming threatening. Staff surrounded him in preparation to restrain him. Tension was now so high I could almost taste it. He was screaming “..C’mon then, you lot want it, c’mon do your thing, c’mon let’s have it….”

At that very moment whilst assessing the situation, I noticed Alfie, a prison officer of some 25 plus years. He walked quietly up to this man and said very gently “Paul you need to come with me, this is not good and I’m not going to allow you to embarrass yourself further. Now c’mon let’s walk to your cell, we can sort this out”. He was tender yet quietly assertive, but in a very respectful way. It was like this officer just knew what was going on in this man’s head, he knew Paul and how Paul would respond. It was clear he understood that Paul was scared and his heightened anxiety was causing his anger towards staff.

The staff surrounding Paul were stunned to see this 6ft 20 stone mass of muscle meekly walk away with his head down alongside the officer. No more words were exchanged, but I noticed that Alfie walked alongside Paul, they were in step together, it was like the he was sharing the fiery intense space that Paul was in and sharing the anxiety and stress Paul was experiencing.

So what am I saying, why does this event from several years back still resonate. What does this episode got to do with my decision to join the Mayday team?

Well it’s all about the relationships. The situation described here would not have ended the way it did had Alfie and Paul not had a trusting and respectful relationship, with clear boundaries based on a shared unwritten agreement. Because of the power of their relationship, the officer knew what was going on for Paul. He was confident he could support Paul in a way that was non-judgemental or hostile. Paul was able to respond positively because he knew Alfie genuinely cared, there was a mutual respect.

Back in 2015 someone I really appreciated showed me a job advertised in the Guardian, Assistant Director of Operations Mayday Trust. I was encouraged to apply but to be honest I was only curious and when I submitted my application, I didn’t even expect a reply. So you can imagine my surprise when a week later I received a formal letter inviting me to an assessment day. An assessment day, what was all that about?

It was my first experience of Mayday’s unique approach. A day where I was challenged to look at myself, share who I was as a person not just as a potential employee. I remember being asked my favourite song, easy question you might think, but when you’re in that interview mind-set and tasked with explaining why Hotel California is your all-time favourite it’s quite a task! It was definitely not a conventional interview and the method, although now slightly more developed, is still used by Mayday today.

What was clear from that day was the Mayday team, like Alfie, walked alongside the people they worked with. It was an organisation that strived to create an environment where Coaches could form trusting and honest relationships with people, not tarnished by power imbalances or the traditional constraints of the job. It was something I could whole heartedly get on board with, something that resonated with everything I’d experienced in my time with the Prison Service.

Spoiler alert.. I got the job!

I suppose what I’m trying to say is for me the most impressive element of Mayday and what I’ve enjoyed being part of the most is the relationships the team have with each other and the people Coaches work with. It’s about being able to positively influence without disrespecting, disempowering or dehumanising an individual. Take my memory of Paul and Alfie. Paul initially felt he couldn’t walk away from that situation because he would lose face in front of other prisoners, his position or status on the wing would become vulnerable and his anxiety was building. However, his relationship with Alfie gave him the reassurance to see things rationally, to understand the situation and allow himself to walk away with Alfie by his side.

The Personal Transitions Service (PTS) creates an environment where relationships come first. Where someone going through a tough time is treated with humanity and respect. Coaches look beyond the crisis, the barriers and the labels. Power dynamics are balanced and focus is put on a person’s strengths and passions. People are not segregated into service led activities, instead encouraged to build positive relationships within their local communities, relationships that last beyond their tough time, relationships that can support them through the next bump in the road.

Even when faced with a system that goes against everything that the PTS stands for, the relationships between the team, the people we work with, our PTS Innovation partners, commissioners and funders are the driving force for change – a change that will see systems actually work for those going through tough times.

Everything I have described here explains why I will absolutely struggle to move on. I am now entering my own transition and I feel vulnerable, a little anxious, unsure of the future all the emotions that are normal and understandable. The difference is I will not be sucked into a system of support that will set me up to fail. I will not find myself being fixed by others who are paid to support me. I will have networks of people around me who can help and protect me. I am resilient and determined that things will be ok.
The power of relationships cannot be underestimated.

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Ciara Killeen, Executive Assistant and Quality Assurance Manager, looks at the importance of being okay with being uncomfortable when prototyping.

I have worked at Mayday Trust for five and a half years and during this time my colleagues have come to understand two things about the way I work:

  1. I will always try everything at least once as I see the value in saying yes. I get stuck in with prototyping something, seeing the result and trying again. You learn through the experience of doing; sometimes what you learn is that something doesn’t work – but at least you know that now!
  2. When I say, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ in response to a request, no matter how cheerily I say, it means that things are definitely not ok or great. It can mean I feel uncomfortable with the concept. It can mean this is going to be a lot of work on top of the lot of work I already had. But I say yes anyway.

I do not say yes to be a people pleaser. My role as Quality Assurance Manager and working with Innovation Partners to develop the framework of the Personal Transitions Service, is often anything but people pleasing. When I think I have done a fabulous job of developing a policy or template which really captures frontline feedback, and then everyone hates it, I am definitely not pleasing anyone. Or when I make teams go back and re-review a process or trial a form again, for the 5th time, in order to probably create version 6, no one is particularly fond of me. But my colleagues and partners also say yes.

So, the question is, why do we all say yes? Why do we agree to work together to prototype something new when it would easier to say no? When maintaining the status quo would save us all time, effort and, honestly, save face sometimes. Sticking your head above the parapet to offer something new means your work will be subject to scrutiny and when prototyping things can and will go wrong. We all work together as a partnership to prototype because it is the right thing to do for people experiencing tough times, who should have access to personalised, transitional and strength-based approaches. These approaches should be led by the real-world feedback from those we work with and the experience of frontline teams who see the systemic barriers that need to be removed. Prototyping starts from this feedback, not from a preconceived idea of what we should do. And what’s more, we know from experience that prototyping works, even if it’s a lot more ‘yeah’ and not so much ‘great’ to begin with.

The Personal Transitions Service (and Innovation Partnership) started, grew and developed from prototyping. Wisdom from the Street told us the two main problems people experienced when they entered services;

  1. Current systems and processes are dehumanising, humiliating and can end up institutionalising people.
  2. This way of working is not effective. The outcomes are not good enough. Too few people move out of the system and sustain positive life changes.

Once we heard this and saw the systemic barriers trapping people we had no choice. We had to start prototyping. It began with accepting that we were not separate from these issues but part of the system creating them. That definitely was an, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ moment for all of us. No one likes to believe they are causing the people they want to help harm. But the numbers of forms we asked people to fill in, with the level of personal sensitive information we requested, just so they could access support was doing just that. Tweaking parts of the broken system was never going to make change happen; we needed to prototype and develop something completely different.

So the first question I was asked was could we reduce the number of forms? Then could I incorporate the feedback from frontline teams who had used the new forms? Then could I attend a meeting to hear more feedback….reduce the number of forms again….think of a new layout….change the language….remove this section….get rid of these questions….look at this form again….now the policy that goes with it……

In the beginning it was relentless. Every week I was asked to consider something new, listen to more feedback, review our language and update the form or policy or process again. The updated version was tried, feedback sought, updates made and we continued on the merry-go-round. It took 18 months to complete the first DRAFT (not the final version, like painting the great bridge, it’s never truly finished if it is led by the grassroots) of the Personal Transitions Service Framework and people got very used to me saying, ‘Ok…yeah…great’. My colleague printed the words onto a poster and hung it by my desk.

But slowly there was a move from being just ‘ok’ to ‘yeah…I am starting to see where we are going with this’. Then one day I reached the Holy Grail. I received an email from an Asset Manager saying the new document is great. It works for people (it has since been updated, of course, but that’s prototyping!).

Prototyping is, let’s face it, a lot of continuous, sometimes hard, work. It can be frustrating. It can mean you are left for spells when there is no framework at all to guide you because you haven’t developed it yet. That is a sink or swim moment and you get used to muddling through as you listen to feedback, you learn, you adapt and you eventually do what you are there to do; provide something that actually works for people.

And prototyping can be exciting, refreshing and engaging too – bringing everyone together as one team in the quest to turn feedback loops and frontline influence into a meaningful framework. Nothing builds team spirit more than a good old debate lasting 30 minutes about whether we need someone’s contact number AND email address on the referral form (just in case you’re wondering, we just added a blank contact details box and people can decide what information to share. Feedback tells us it’s working really well).

So the next time you hear me say, ‘Ok…yeah…great’ then be assured that I actually believe it will be great in the end and that I am in it for the long prototyping haul with you.

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Inspired to Inspire Others

What inspires you to do what you do? Andrew Durman, PTS Coach at Mayday, revisits a moment in his career that has led to years of contemplation and still remains relevant today in his work with the Personal Transitions Service.

When I reflect on the years I have been working alongside people going through tough times and the turning points which have influenced and inspired me, one moment in particular stands out. It occurred 7 years ago when I was sent on a two day training course to learn about the Solutions Focused Brief Therapy Approach.

The trainer began with a story..

There was a professional in America (apologies for not knowing what his job role was), let’s call him Ted for this rendition, who received a letter from a man asking for advice about his sister, let’s call her Lucy. He was concerned she wasn’t happy, that she was very quiet, reserved, depressed and lonely. He was stuck, desperate and did not know what else to do or who to turn to. Ted responded saying he couldn’t promise anything but would meet with Lucy for a couple of hours to see if he could help.

The meeting went ahead and they spent an hour talking about Lucy’s life, what she got up to and pretty much everything you would ask and chat about in that situation. It came to the end of the meeting and as Ted was leaving he happened to see an open door which led through to a conservatory filled with flowers of a specific type (I cannot remember the name, but let’s call them Orchids for the purpose of this story). The rest of the house was fairly clean and tidy, with nothing really standing out, however this conservatory was full of colour, life and beauty.

He asked Lucy about the flowers and said it was obvious she put a lot of time an effort into looking after them.

During their long conversation Lucy had mentioned that she attended her local church and regularly gets invited to birthdays, open days, funerals etc. She tends to go, but keeps herself to herself. Lucy explained that although she spends time with the community, she did not have many friends or much social contact beyond that.

As Ted left he advised Lucy on one thing. When she goes to church or an event she might want to take an Orchid as a present to give or donate, something like that.

20 years went by without Ted hearing anything more, and then one day he opened a letter. It was a note from Lucy’s brother, it didn’t say much, just a thank you and included a newspaper cutting from the local paper. The article read “Well loved and admired local flower lady passes away, with 2000 people attending her funeral”.

This story was one of the main things that stood out from the entire course. Reflecting on it a number of things struck me:

  • The most useful and impactful moment for that individual happened in the last couple of minutes of the entire conversation
  • How easy it would have been for Ted to miss the most important part of Lucy’s life. If he was not looking or that door had been closed his conversation would have had no use what so ever. The obvious (label) is never the answer
  • We have to be looking beyond the surface, open to asking the right questions in order for a person to give us the clues to what really matters to them, the change they may or may not be looking to make it their life – if we’re not looking, we will not see it
  • There is no way that without seeing through to that conservatory that he could have known what was going on and what could make a difference to Lucy. It was completely individual to her. One size does not fit all and that size will not work/fit if we force it onto a person
  • It is rare that a person will share what they are passionate about with outsiders like Coaches, Key Workers and Support Workers etc. This takes time and requires a trusting relationship, usually sharing crucial details like this will only occur at a time that is right for that individual. Once shared we cannot take it for granted, we must coach, act or broker opportunities. Build on that momentum, develop that internal motivation and evidence for success. Support that person in realising that aspiration, love, passion, interest, skill, talent

What happened in that story was one person suggesting and empowering another person to share, use what they loved and were good at to provide further purpose within their life and build relationships in the community. The impact was clear to see from the amount of people that attended her funeral and obviously valued her. That is the true measure of the impact. In sharing her passion for flowers Lucy was contributing, helping and connecting with other people, whereas before it was a very personal love and interest, one which sometimes left her isolated.

How do we as professionals find a person’s love or passion and then spring board it into creating happiness, purpose and someone thriving within their life? For me this is the key and since hearing that story I have been coaching people going through tough times to search for their own conservatory full of Orchids. For it is that talent, interest and strength that will provide and lead to longevity away from the system and help them avoid being caught up within it and institutionalised.

I am not saying that this is the answer to everything, however if it can support us in looking at things differently, in a more advantaged and strength-based way. Having a long lasting positive impact on people we work with, far greater than focusing on a label, stereotype, need or risk.

We need to be able to see the freshly packed, tidy and clean rugby kit in a sports bag within a flat full of mess, dirt and fleas. Being shown the perfectly preserved photograph of someones daughter, the only possession to survive a period of homelessness. The smile brought on by telling a story about the only memory of being happy when growing up, being taken fishing by one of the many foster homes someone had been in. The ability to do a Rubik’s cube behind your back in under a minute. The knowledge brought on by the love of watching animal documentaries on TV. Inventing scotch eggs only made with mash potatoes, deep fried with a filling (that’s a winner, all you need is a converted street food van/horse box and you’re away!). Knowing so much about Elvis Presley and Shakin Stevens that he would have the ability to be able to go on Mastermind and smash his specialist subject if he ever had the opportunity.

My last thought on this; How often do we hear or see the impact that we have had on someone’s life years later, how can we realistically measure something that is so individual and could take affect long after the event? Had Ted not received that letter he would have had no idea how his conversation supported Lucy to change her life, which inevitably led to happiness. This is not necessarily so important, however it does highlight that when we are invited into someone’s life as a Coach, it is our responsibility to do our best and for that experience to have a positive impact and effect on someone. This could come years down the line and we may never know.

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A learning curve and introduction to the world of PTS Coaches

Martha Bishop, Head of Partnerships at Mayday looks at the vital role of PTS Coaches and why they stand out in a system driven by deficits and power imbalance.

Firstly I would like to say loud and clear that I think PTS Coaches are awesome!

I joined Mayday in January 2018 and specifically remember being so humbled and inspired as I learned more about the Personal Transitions Service and how PTS Coaches work and what they do. It was very clear to me, first and foremost they work on building positive, and respectful relationships with people. Our Wisdoms for the Street told us that this relationship is vital when working with people going through tough times and it makes perfect sense to me. There’s a wealth of research telling us it’s the quality of the relationship that makes a difference when working 1-2-1 with people – it’s so obvious and I hope it becomes valued and recognised throughout the system. I love it when I meet policy makers, tender writers, commissioners, funders, managers and others who really get this!

When we listened to people they told us that often the ‘helping and support’ system dehumanises, degrades and humiliates them, having to relay all the negative information about themselves.  Sometimes this is a requirement to access a service, ‘go there if you are suffering with your emotional wellbeing’, or ‘If you drink or take drugs you can go over there’. Imagine needing to relay this sort of information about yourself in order to get something you need to live. I feel pretty ashamed that I’ve been part of this system, part of the problem.

Anyway, back to the important reason for writing this blog. PTS Coaches try to redress the imbalance of power people going through tough times are likely to have experienced. Just take a moment to think about the power you have in your life, the choices you can make. Now imagine feeling really powerless, like you don’t have any choices, or your choices are one dreadful situation or another slightly less dreadful situation!

PTS Coaches treat people like people – what a breath of fresh air! Not judging someone on a 12 page ‘risk assessment’, followed by a list of negatives and past experiences that really don’t make you feel good about yourself. Oh and don’t get me started on ‘risk assessments’! They should be re-named ‘how to cover the backs of the people in power’ assessments – but I digress again, that’s for another day.

PTS Coaches get to know people, not by asking what have you done, but what has happened to you? They help people to recognise their strengths, talents and abilities and they encourage them to focus on their assets. Coaching is about encouragingly, supportively asking questions to help people learn and understand more about themselves and how life has led them to where they are. Not blaming, but listening, really listening to people. Getting to know them and NOT their deficits. Coaches encourage people to find their own personal motivation, not tick a box and they certainly don’t try and get them to do things that someone else thinks they ‘should’ be doing.

Coaches really listen and offer space for people to find their own hope for their future. I think one of the crucial elements of a PTS Coach’s role is to help people see they are worthy, important, have a right to choose and deserve to make their own decisions about what’s important to them. To be able to decide what they really want to do with their life. Coaches don’t tell people what to do or advise, but walk alongside people whilst they take responsibility for making their own decisions, choosing to do things they want to. All this without putting people in boxes, without signposting or referring to segregated services.

I love how coaches encourage and enable people to build relationships outside the homelessness sector by removing barriers and brokering personalised opportunities. When I reflected on this I was saddened that in previous roles I have often set up ‘special’ aka segregated group , thinking I was ‘helping’ people, it really smacked me right between the eyes how dis-abling this was – what message would this have given to people? ‘Oh yes you can do that, but only with your ‘own kind’. I am sincerely sorry to anyone reading this who I ever encouraged to set up or attend a segregated group.

PTS Coaches are so important, they focus on removing system barriers for people, as they arise for the person they are working with, helping to make the current system better for people.

I hope if I ever do go through such tough times, a PTS Coach is there for me, as my ally; as my supportive, encouraging, non-judgemental sounding board. Providing a safe space whilst I realise what is really important to me and patiently work with me to explore what options I have. Ultimately helping me to remove the barriers in my way to help me get to where I want to be.

Go you awesome PTS Coaches!

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What is power?

Alistair Shand, PTS Coach at Mayday Trust, looks at the importance of a question that isn’t often asked. What is power and what role should it take when working with people going through tough times?

“What is power?”

The question took me by surprise. Sitting there as someone pretty familiar with job interviews, with my guard firmly up, having rehearsed every competency-based question under the sun in preparation – this question definitely caught me unawares.

From previous job interviews I had learned that there was a fairly predictable formula to practice in order to perform well. And I’d prepared in a similar way for my interview for the position of PTS Coach with Mayday Trust. The work was very different to what I had been employed to do before, but I assumed the interview approach would be much the same as any other organisation. One size fits all. They probably just wanted to know if I could do the job, not what I was like as a person.

“What is power?”

That’s what they were asking me. In a job interview? Seems a bit deep, I thought to myself. In reality though, I found the question much less scary to answer than perhaps 10 run-of-the-mill, competency-based questions. Not because I knew lots about power and could give a really clever answer, but because it was a question which was seeking to learn about my own values. It was an open question with no right answer. It was designed to get past my polished interview technique and to understand a bit more of what makes me tick as an individual.

As I grow more into the role of an PTS Coach I often find myself reflecting on the influence of power dynamics when working with people going through tough times.

“What is power?” still seems like an extremely relevant question as I go to work 6 months into the job.

Empowerment is one of the key principles of the Personal Transitions Service. As coaches, we are there to champion the abilities and strengths of the people we work with. The way I work should at every opportunity seek to give power to the person, to encourage them make their own choices and to recognise their own unique gifts and talents. People should feel supported, but responsible for their own choices, whether they are homeless or not. If I hold all the power as a professional, then this can’t really happen.

When reflecting on my own journey to becoming an Asset Coach at Mayday, I realised that without feeling empowered to make a significant change to the kind of work I did, I probably wouldn’t have made any changes at all. I would have stayed in jobs that paid well enough but offered me little in the way of fulfillment or purpose. In other words, jobs that weren’t really right for me.

That feeling of empowerment for me took a number of forms. It was having a wife who was happy for me to explore what I really wanted to do, rather than to accept the status quo at a time when we had plenty of other things to worry about. It was also friends and even former colleagues who encouraged me to explore and take risks as I pondered next steps. It was a personal belief that work could be more than doing my hours and making a wage – it could help people in a real way.

I was supported to go and explore a new path and then make a choice which I would own and take responsibility for, whether it went well or not. So far, it has turned out much better than I could have foreseen.

Fostering this sense of empowerment is vital to coaching in the Personal Transitions Service. It is the encouragement of people we work with to utilise the strengths they possess (because everybody has strengths), to help them move forward and build a better future for themselves.

And so, as I meet with people going through really tough times day by day, I’m convinced that the surprising interview question: “What is power?” is in fact fundamental to the way the Personal Transitions Service works and my role as a Coach.

Whether it’s having a weekly meeting in the weights room of a gym rather than a coffee shop, because this is a place where someone I work with feels more comfortable; or being ready to admit that I know nothing about sound engineering, story-based video games, changing a car tyre or how to put a roof on a house; but that I’d be really interested to learn. Suddenly, by relinquishing some of my own control over a situation or a conversation, power is transferred to the other person and they can hopefully take the lead.

A potentially intimidating one to-one situation is transformed into something more real world and authentic. Of course it can take a while to build this, but it’s worth taking the time to try.

Power imbalances are very real. Especially when working alongside people going through tough and often traumatic situations. But I’m learning that by relinquishing some power myself, and giving people space and time to explore options and try new things, then a person can be empowered to step up and hopefully choose the path that they want to take forward.

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Inequality – what next?

May Read, Chief Operating Officer at Mayday Trust looks at an alternative approach to looking at equality and inequality. As a sector have we lost that human connection?

It has occurred to me since working for Mayday that we don’t talk about equality or inequality. Or do I have old school expectations of how to talk about inequality?

As a professional working in housing there was a time when monitoring equalities was a large part of our work; there were expectations to monitor and report on who accessed services and outcomes, whether access was fair and equal. There will be many who can correct me on specifics, but the prevalence of this work has reduced, perhaps for the better.

Monitoring access and proving that access to services is equal based upon the local population was what it seemed to boil down to wherever I have worked. But did it make any difference? Apart from a pile of dusty unread leaflets? We lost the human connection – how to talk to someone as a person, not a label. Spotting unequal access to services is one thing, how about making a change?

This is not say that gathering data and intelligence does not have value, it has huge value if we use it to challenge and change how we work with people. Our world is full of examples of how unequal things are and more equal societies work better for everyone. Organisations like the Equality Trust campaign to influence change and social action.

At Mayday the unequal world is the real one we work in with people – individually and collectively. Social action and influence is what we do. PTS Asset Coaches and housing teams work with people to overcome barriers they come across when approaching the system for help. Our approach to power dynamics recognises the power we have as a landlord, and seeks to share power. We strive to influence the system and how it treats people going through tough times, and the way services are commissioned and measured.

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Giving Wisely

May Read, Chief Operating Officer at Mayday Trust explores that reoccurring question asked by many, to give or not to give. Do we need change or do we actually need Systems Change?

Knowing where I work, people I speak with often show interest in why people are homeless, what can be done to help? Why do people sleep rough or beg? People often want to show kindness or make a difference, but wonder whether giving to people who beg, or to charities is the right thing to do.

Can giving to another person ever be the wrong thing to do? Can human kindness to another ever be wrong? It can make you feel better and help the person temporarily, but it won’t change their life. This can be an argument for encouraging people to give to causes that claim to use money more wisely to make a difference- ‘change not change’. This sounds noble, but who decides what a wise use of your money is? This assumes that someone with nothing cannot make wise decision, but also that they must use it wisely. Once you have gifted money to anyone, you lose the right to say what someone spends it on, whether it is a Christmas gift or a £1 to someone on the street.

This approach makes it look as though the person and the begging is the problem, rather than our system. When a person could get a more sustainable income from begging than using our welfare system; when a person feels more in control of their life begging than seeking help from our system – doesn’t this mean our system is broken, rather than the person?

Helping people get off the streets and end begging is a great end result, if we have worked alongside them to work on what they want and can achieve at that time. If the focus is on clearing the streets so we all feel safe and a little less awkward, it has not really made a difference. Those people may still be stuck, in hostels or more hidden places, still dealing with a system that does not work for them.

Mayday and its Personal Transitions Service (PTS) is proud to work within a wider civil system, we work with donors and volunteers who commit time, money and passion to support us and the way we work with people going through tough times. We are commissioned by public sector commissioners willing to procure innovative providers to work with people going through tough times, like experiencing homelessness.

At Mayday we believe that we will not truly be able to work with people going through tough times until there is a change in the way the current system is organised and funded.

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The Story of Dr. Quality and Ms. PTS

Mayday’s Executive Assistant Quality Assurance Manager, Ciara Killeen looks at how the personalised, transitional and strength based mentality has crept into every aspect of her role – even leading to those Jekyll and Hyde moments!

This is a modern day Jekyll and Hyde story.

After a 12 month period of focusing on the re-development of the Personal Transitions Service Operational Guide, I found myself seated in front of 4 colleagues from Mayday’s Housing Team. I was in the middle of an audit and it was the first such audit I had undertaken in some time.

In the lead up to the audit visit I had been pondering how I could combine the 2 strands of my work as a PTS systems changer and as the Quality Assurance Manager working with the Housing Team. They were asking me very good questions about how they could improve their practice by developing the housing policies and processes. However, since I had last carried out such an audit, the old Dr. Quality was no longer in control; Ms. PTS had taken over.

I started to wax lyrical about the benefits of reflective practice. I spoke about moving away from form filling and physical paperwork and only capturing meaningful data. I posed the question, ‘Did everyone living with Mayday need a risk assessment plan if they didn’t have any issues to discuss?’ I spoke about developing local feedback loops and offering people the choice about how they paid their rent. I asked whether weekly room checks promoted the principles of dignity and respect?

And then I sat back and revelled in my mischief making. The team had expected me to ask for examples of how they had stuck to policies or enforced processes. They expected me to hand out ticks or crosses. Instead, I asked how they could improve processes to make them more strength-based and personalised. You could feel the effect of what we sometimes describe as the ‘PTS Coach bomb’ ripple through the room; it was an example of internal systems change happening in real time.

At first, the Housing Team were almost stunned to silence. Then there was nervous laughter. I could hear Dr. Quality in my head starting to panic, ‘Push the escape button! Revert to traditional auditing!’ she cried. But Ms. PTS remained resolute.

One colleague said they felt the room checking process was a ‘blunt instrument’.  Another said they had printed some new feedback cards to handout to people if they wanted to share their thoughts. The 3rd colleague described how the housing risk assessment was no longer fit for purpose and they went on to suggest some really good amendments. The real eureka moment came when the team described what happened after they had offered people the option to pay rent charges via standing order.

The team had initially been sceptical, ‘We thought rent arrears would increase….we thought people would take the money out of their accounts before the payment was due….we didn’t have much hope that standing orders would make a difference.’ And then one person agreed to set-up a standing order and their rent was paid on time every month. But, far more importantly, from this small offer of choice, this tiny aspect of personalisation, this person realised they had a choice. They had lots of choices actually. They chose to start speaking with the Housing Team about future housing options for when they were ready to move to independent living. They chose to start making plans.

And then the penny dropped as the Team went into collective shock. Until that moment, they had not realised the impact of such a small change, such a small offer of choice and personalisation. A secondary outcome was rent payments made on time but the primary outcome was the rebalancing of power which enabled someone to plan for their transition out of Mayday accommodation.

I called this a modern Jekyll and Hyde story which brings to mind the idea of dual identities; the Quality Assurance Manager carrying out a housing audit and the PTS systems changer, a member of the Innovation Partnership, developing person-led, strength-based transitions approaches. But what’s modern is that both parts of my role can co-exist. I was still carrying out an audit – an independent examination of team performance to highlight best practice and develop an action plan. But it was strength-based as I asked the team to review the processes as well as their actions. It promoted best practice through questioning together what we can do better.

And this idea of duality can be applied to the different teams who form our organisations too. Yes, the PTS and housing models are different. And yes, the Coach Team and Housing Team do work autonomously to each other. But that doesn’t mean we cannot promote best practice between colleagues, developing a one team approach which will enable internal systems change to flourish. The 2 strands of Mayday’s work can co-exist harmoniously so long as we continue to be led by the same principle, which is the foundation of what we do; the toughest of times should be a transition in a person’s life, during which they are treated with dignity and respect.

I always finish the audit process by asking teams to reflect on Mayday’s Quality Statement – a set of principles we all share, believe in and promote, no matter which team we work in. I asked my housing colleagues what quality meant to them; ‘Respect….dignity….empowerment….transitional and not permanent…’

Different team, different model but the same shared principles for how people should be treated. Whether the team think I am a ‘Ms. Hyde’ auditing monster, on the other hand…

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