By Beth Gallagher
Eight years ago this month, a book was written about our experience with creating support teams around people using services. Intentional Teaming: Shifting Organizational Culture seemed at the time, somewhat of a dramatic departure from the norm as far as typical service provision was concerned. Our management style suggested that successful supports were built on true relationships, the giftedness of all stakeholders, collaboration across many domains and a never-ending insatiable curiosity.
Sustainability was a key factor when designing the infrastructure of Life Works from day one. We learned from collective previous experiences that “Making a commitment to create sustainable teams offers relief in situations that could otherwise be catastrophic.” This line from the first chapter of the book refers to the investment upfront that ends up providing the resources later on. One way to offer true service is to create a system that is resistant to disruptions when an unforeseen obstacle arises. Barriers to sustainability present themselves almost daily in direct support work. They could arise in any number of issues including:
- perpetual lack of funding
- work force turnover
- insufficient training
- agency growth concerns
- communication challenges
- functions of collaboration
- personnel grievances
- outside restrictions
and now novel issues arise like a world wide pandemic. You are never able to rock back on your heals in this work. Our efforts have consistently addressed each of these potential struggles proactively. Working with the end goal in mind was always the best game plan.
We have tried to be mindful about every aspect of a team, from the inception to the daily functioning. We have examined what works as well as, and perhaps even more deliberately, what doesn’t work and we don’t identify a conclusion of a team because, in this work, a team is never done. A team is ever-changing and developing.
Our time, for the past 17 years, has been laser focused on creating relationships between and amongst people. We stood up to the myth that “professional distance” is a dangerous misconception that places an enormous chasm between provider and recipient. Nothing good can come from distancing yourself from the heart of another. Our belief is that support only gets better and deeper the closer that two individuals become. Trustworthy, reliable, dependable, loyal, empathetic, non-judgmental, supportive and a good listener. All essential traits of a good friend. Why wouldn’t these be the same traits that make up an excellent Direct Support Professional?
Discovery and curiosity has helped us to uncover the giftedness of not only each person we serve but also each team member one by one. Encouraging those talents to unfurl in the workplace consistently illuminated the vibrant landscape of each individual team. The hiring process was customized to engage unique people specifically for the needs of each person’s team.
example 1: No couch potatoes need apply to work on Team Joaquin, his team members need to be able to be on the move all day long. He is likely able to go for 5-6 mile walks every day.
example 2: Only organic vegans apply for roommate position with Courtney. She really loves learning to cook together and wants to be able to share food with her roommate. She eats an organic diet.
We have never looked at person centered planning as something that was an annual event or something that was done to accomplish a systemic need. It is an extraordinary gift that is woven into our culture. Into how we hire. Into our team meetings. Into our evaluations. Into our collaborations. It is quintessentially what we try to do.
Now, exactly 8 years later, COVID-19 has catapulted us into one of the most intense, provocative, and traumatic times that a service provider has ever found themselves in.
The last 3+ months have certainly been unprecedented times.
“Making a commitment to create sustainable teams offers relief in situations that could otherwise be catastrophic.” It turns out that this one line could not have been more of a clear foreshadowing of the future.
Our collaborations continue and our curiosity has been heightened. Kirk Hinkleman and I are partnering with Whitney Kays from Mattingly Edge, in Louisville, Kentucky to invite others that provide direct support, or are curious about it, to a conversation about what has happened during this pandemic.
- How have your teams held up?
- What have we learned since COVID-19 began?
- What does sustainability mean?
- What can we share together as leaders and supporters?
- What have we all learned about Direct Support work through this crisis?
- What have you experienced during this confounding time?