Why is support important?
Organisations are more effective than isolated individuals at achieving tasks because people help each other and work together. The effectiveness of their co-operation decides much of the effectiveness of the organisation. “Support” is what people do when they are helping each other.
What is support?
Support includes listening with understanding, encouraging action, sharing information experience and ideas, helping practically, expressing appreciation (and confronting destructive behaviour sometimes). Supportive behaviour is positive, looking for what can be done to make things better or what has worked well already. It creates trust.
This behaviour is not easy for many of us because we do not have much experience of it. We usually have much more experience of being put down than of support. We often have to learn how to be supportive.
What are the benefits of support in organisations?
All aspects of an organisation’s functioning improved with support. Some that stand out for me are:
- Better communications therefore less waste and improved effectiveness
- Better problem solving because of easier involvement and more open sharing of ideas, experience and information
- Better team work leading to increased creativity and output
- Smoother running of the organisation as obstacles are more easily identified and removed
- Easier acceptance of change
- The managers’ job becomes much easier
Where to start?
There is no one best place to start. The choice depends on the needs and situation of the organisation.
Possible start points are:
- At the top, discussions and decisions on strategy go much better in a supportive climate.
- In department(s), planning how to smooth and streamline operations is enhanced by the trust and openness created by supportive behaviour.
- Between departments, long standing hassles can often be resolved by setting up a meeting where the parties listen to each other supportively.
- In an organisation with lots of departments or branches, supportive meetings can lead to the identification and transmission of good practice and the identification of common problems.
How to develop support in organisations?
People learn consulting skills and use them to empower each other. The listening, attention, support and safety enable people to think more clearly and act more powerfully in any area they choose. Consulting skills are valuable in all interactions with people. Simply taking turns listening is enormously liberating. People learn how to listen well quite quickly.
The support group
This is an easy way to both learn supportive skills and increases the amount of support in the organisation. In these groups, of three to six people, each person has equal time to have a ‘turn’. In this, the person (the ‘client’) talks to one other person (the ‘consultant’). The ‘consultant’ listens, encourages, asks questions and helps the client think about the issue and decide what to do about it. The other participants observe. After a brief period of discussion of the process the roles rotate. The process discussion helps everyone learn and leads to continuous improvement.
Some groups may prefer a less disciplined process where the client talks to the group and everbody asks questions and listens. This can be very enjoyable but risks exhausting the client.
This activity requires time, permission to do it and clear agreement on confidentiality to work. These groups are excellent and quick ways of spreading best practice within an organisation. They also help managers solve management problems.
The process works best when the person in the client role has a free choice to choose the issue to work on that is of most value to him/her. However, it can work well with a general topic like ‘How to improve communications? ‘. Each person chooses the aspect of most interest to him or her.
The support workshop or conference.
Here a substantial group (40 to 200) of people work together to support each other using the methods above. Elegant methods for managing such events exist.
What are the training implications?
The support group process can lead to a culture where people actively manage their own learning. This would make the whole organisation more developmental and effective.
Some people would need to learn facilitating and consulting skills. They could then continue the support group process after the demonstration phase.
How to start?
A brief introduction to the theory and practice of support skills takes a few hours. This will involve setting a supportive atmosphere, giving some basic theory, displaying the skills and having the participants take turns listening to each other.
These introductions are very rewarding, memorable and great fun. They help the culture of an organisation become more positive.