Together for Children (TfC) provides a range of services to improve the lives of children, young people and families in Sunderland. Our vision is to keep children safe from harm and ensure they have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
In 2017, Sunderland MBC’s children’s services received an ‘inadequate’ rating and a new organisation, TfC, was established in response. Our remit was to transform the quality of service provision.
As part of our continued improvement journey, our senior leadership team recognised the need to bring in organisational coaching experts to enable a culture shift and help improve relationships between individuals and departments. We achieved this through an ambitious organisational-wide programme which involved one to one coaching and team coaching, as well as other forms of training.
Aside from the cost, the other barrier to delivering the programme was ensuring engagement across the organisation. There was a strain on our management capacity as we are a medium-sized company with considerable investment in the change and improvement agenda. There was also an initial stigma and hesitation about introducing coaching into TfC, partly because some might feel that it would be admitting you cannot do the job, but we quickly discovered the opposite is true.
Fortunately, we engaged The OCM, a professional coaching and mentoring firm, who agreed to run the project at cost. The OCM team really took time to get to know us, to understand our business and shape the programme to meet our needs.
They were incredibly professional in their approach and their tools were highly engaging. This meant that, following the initial briefings, managers were keen to engage and undertake the programme as they could see the benefits.
As one manager put it: ‘Coaching has not been a quick fix, it has taken considerable time, effort, and investment from everybody across the company. But the feeling of being invested in, being challenged, and pushed to think differently about how we can achieve success has changed our way of thinking.
‘It is always a benefit to have someone else in your corner, someone who can look at things objectively and provide you with some ideas and suggestions and help you with your own thinking process. That is what working with a coach brings.’
Our ongoing coaching partnership with The OCM has transformed the performance management conversations between colleagues. It has also led to the creation of a brand new performance management programme for the company called Thrive@TfC, which has shifted the previous focus on task-based conversations to conversations focusing on wellbeing, impact, behaviours, and development.
With our new skills we have setup a coaching pool at TfC that anyone can access and so, 18 staff are engaged with accredited coaches, enabling solution-focused development. We have built a behavioural framework with coaching at the core, and we see the trickle-down impact most days, not just in our overall culture, but also in our engagement with children, young people and families.
We currently have the lowest recorded number of grievances and disciplinary cases since the company’s inception. This is in part due to our positive coaching culture, as well as the development of a coaching pool, and the creation of a mediation programme.
The interventions mean there are greater opportunities to use informal methods of resolution. In the 2022 staff engagement survey, colleagues identified TfC as supportive, inclusive, and kind and this is great testament to how our adoption of coaching has impacted the organisation.
Our journey with The OCM continues, which is testament to the value they have brought to our business. We are continuing to ensure all new managers are trained in coaching fundamentals so that staff continue to benefit from the positive principles it brings.
We have found coaching transforms interactions between colleagues, and the programme has given us new techniques that can be used effectively with our children and their families. I would honestly say I use coaching principles most days.
I see the positive impact it has brought, with staff employing active listening and using the right questions to enable colleagues to seek their own solutions. We have built Thrive@TfC because of this – which again we did in partnership with The OCM, who helped to deliver our training programme.
Coaching is incredibly powerful and has changed the way we operate as a company, and in doing so it has directly impacted our ability to provide transformative services to children, young people and their families across Sunderland.
Angela Bremner is strategic lead, people services, Together for Children
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