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Unleashing creativity through self-managed teams

by Lisa Carr

Brendan Martin, Managing Director, Buurtzorg Britain & Ireland

Since my mum died 11 years ago I have devoted most of my time and energy to trying to improve the care system on which she had become increasingly reliant.

She had honoured me with power of attorney, so I knew that, with her care package costing about £6,000 a month, she was running out of money. Yet her care workers were low paid  and badly supported.

One day I shared with one of her carers, a wonderful young woman called Yasmin, my frustration about trying to get through to her agency’s office. Was there another number I could try?

Yasmin laughing out loud, said: “No, they never pick up for us either!”

When I asked her what she did when there’s a problem, Yasmin picked up her mobile phone and said, “We call each other.”

That’s leadership,  and it was a lightbulb moment for me.

For many years I’d earned my living by supporting public service organisations to improve their performance by trusting and enabling their ‘frontline’ professionals to work with greater freedom and responsibility.

This had taken me all over the world, meeting some wonderful people, and supporting change in their organisations. People like the road repair worker in Indianapolis who told me: “I no longer have to park my brain at the door when I come to work in the morning.”

But, like many people, I hadn’t thought much about home care until I was experiencing it for myself. Yasmin got me thinking.  What if my mum’s care was provided by a small neighbourhood team who had the authority to flex around the changing needs of their clients?

Rather than standardise care visits by ‘time and task’, why not support care workers to organise it themselves, so they could do what’s needed when it’s needed, using ipads and phones for recording and communicating?

Of course, there would have to be to clear standards of care and resource use, but a few guidelines and a transparent information system could do that. The compassion, commitment and cooperation of the care workers would do the rest.

But it’s one thing to imagine this, and another to actually do it. So I did some research and discovered that an amazing social enterprise called Buurtzorg – it’s Dutch for ‘neighbourhood care’ – had made a great success of working that way.

Founded in 2007, Buurtzorg had grown to be the biggest provider of home care in the Netherlands, with 15,000 staff in self-managed neighbourhood teams supported by a small team of coaches and a highly agile back office and IT system.

The company has scored top marks from inspectors and won Dutch Employer of the Year five times. Yet it has also cut costs so much that just last month it awarded all of its staff a pay rise well above the national rate.

I was so impressed by what I read about Buurtzorg that I went to visit them. Finding we were very much on the same page, with the support of its founder Jos de Blok I founded Buurtzorg Britain & Ireland to help care providers learn from his success.

That’s not a question of copying everything Buutzorg does but of consistently applying its underlying philosophy: to support people to live with as much meaning, autonomy and warm social interaction as possible, and support care professsionals to do what’s needed to help them.

I’ll be 70 this year. By the time I need care at home I want people like Yasmin to be paid and supported as well as their commitment and skill deserves. If you want that too, let’s talk!

brendan@buurtzorg.org.uk

@BrendanFMartin

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