Awaydays pay dividends

Time out from the hectic pace of clinical work is key to personal and professional well-being but planning is vital says Karen Middleton

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Karen Middleton: awaydays pay dividends

I holidayed in Argentina last year and one hotel I stayed at was in the grounds of the Iguazu Falls within the National Park. When driving through the park, no vehicle is permitted to go faster than 30mph, despite the straight and traffic free roads, in order to protect the wildlife.

I found the first journey to the hotel pretty irritating; I thought about all I could be doing if I got to the hotel quicker and it felt like a real waste of time. The second time, I knew what to expect so I relaxed more and started noticing the flora and fauna. I also noticed how calm I was feeling.

These trips through the rain forest reminded me of the saying ‘you need to slow down to go faster’. I hope CSP members managed to get some sort of break over Christmas and the New Year to recharge the batteries and to slow down a bit. Holidays are a critical part of managing one’s health, well being, and performance, and they need to be planned for throughout the year.

I think, however, the concept of slowing down to go faster goes further than simply ensuring time away from work. It’s critical to do this within work and value it as part of driving up performance – your own, your team’s, and that of your service.

Of course this is easier said than done and if you are already back into the maelstrom of work, you could be reading this with a growing sense 
of irritation.

I intentionally wanted to communicate this message at the beginning of the year because time out, or time to slow down, needs planning and now is a good time to start planning the year ahead.

I have written before about the importance of leaders ensuring they take time to read, think and reflect and to see this as valuable work which will drive up performance.

Time to slow down is often described as an ‘away day’. If this simply means ‘off site’ then that is fine, but if it infers not doing work, it is not. Time off site, which allows the team to slow down in order to speed up will improve your outcomes, impact and KPIs if utilised well.

To make the best use of away days plan to be off site if possible or at least in a different building. This is key to being able to focus on the work of the day. It also sets the tone for doing something different. If you have a budget to spend on this work and a choice of venue, think about size, light, ICT requirements and access to good quality food and drink.

Of course, an emergency contact point within the team might well be needed but, if at all possible, phones should be switched off.

Having a facilitator is important. Again, if funding is an issue, look within the organisation for someone with expertise or perhaps in another organisation. This is a skill and the more skilled the facilitator, the ‘safer’ people will feel to be open enough to learn with each other.

Planning is paramount. This needs to be with the facilitator and inclusive of the team. Think about purpose and objectives of the day. What do you need to have achieved by the end of the day? Bear in mind that simply being together and having different conversations will have 
positive unintended consequences. Allow plenty of time for breaks.

And have a bit of fun. I am not thinking about a build a raft challenge or going on a treasure hunt. If there is an activity moves people out of their traditional roles they can engage with each other on a different level and think more creatively.

It’s easy to leave an away day feeling that objectives have been achieved and then nothing happens afterwards. It’s critical that any action is recorded with an accountable person to lead on that action, with a time frame. Time to agree and record all this needs to be built into the agenda and not left as an afterthought. 

Lastly, have an immediate evaluation in order to learn and improve – but nothing too onerous.

The beginning of a new year is full of good intent. Start planning your holiday breaks, schedule time for thinking and reflection, and plan for away days with your team to drive up everyone’s performance. 

Happy New Year.   

Author : Karen Middleton Chief Executive Officer CSP

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