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A Group Of Managers Of Children’s Homes Are Meeting, Seated In A Circle…

A group of managers of children’s homes are meeting, seated in a circle…

One of them is talking, the others are listening attentively. No-one has their phone to hand. There is a quality of the room of this being the only place in the world that matters.

The group is meeting to think things through. Here are active minds thinking actively together. Recently a Harvard research project found that psychological safety is a culture that admits errors and asks questions. The most promising leaders facilitate their colleagues in their task.

It is clear from the content and manner of the way people are relating to each and talking with each that this is not supervision, or training. This is a meeting of equals. It is important that everyone faces everyone else.

They appear to come from various providers. They have travelled to be here. They have come to know meeting virtually is not the same as being in the room.

There seems no pressure to achieve a product or throughput. There is no agenda. It progresses in a spontaneous way, often taking unpredictable turns.

By the attendance it is seen that it is a valued time together, observing over several meetings it is seen that few people miss the meeting.

The group have been able to set aside the requirements outside of the group, in the outside world. They have been able to stop running and start thinking[1]

“The format is simple enough… any number from a handful to over 20 people, sit in a circle of chairs for at least an hour to discuss cases. They listen to a presentation, a brief vignette or detailed narrative, and then join in with questions, hypotheses, and any other impressions arising from the material.” At times it is serious, at times if is fun.

Something is being learned here. Each present is taking responsibility for his or her own learning, at the same time taking a respectful peer supervisory role towards the presenter. There is no leader as the organisation is passed from one to another for each subsequent meeting.

It is more than an academic seminar. Discussion ranges wide and deep, personal and professional

Enquiry seems the best word to describe what is happening. Each individual and the group are involved with curiosity, scepticism, fellow-feeling, debate, differences. There are differences in perspectives, handled with sensitivity. Some have more experience or knowledge that is shared quietly, generously and expansively without expectation that it be returned. Sometimes the group is in explanatory mode, sometimes it does not know and seeks the reason, sometimes  something unexpected happens, like the time that a member found a connection unrelated to the professional frame they all thought they had brought with them and were operating within. Sometimes the is learning outside of any one member of the group’s knowledge and experience. Sometimes it is brought into the group by one member. Sometimes the group is surprised when it realises that it has just thought about something in a way no one in then group had done before, or perhaps had ever done so before, gathering together pieces of knowledge and experience in a contained reflective group has enabled a coherence or insight that had not existed before. There is then the discussion about the responsibility for communicating it wider than the group and how it can be done.

Gradually the unknown, maybe the reason they came and maybe also to be affirmed in the way they go about their job, becomes “less unwelcome and new thoughts, questions, and perceptions find fertile ground”. No-one is criticised. Sometimes a person thanks another for helping them see that there were things they had overlooked.

The members have come to an appreciation that there is “not one “right” way to do whatever is being studied; instead there are some facts that can be viewed in many different ways, yielding new lines of enquiry”[2].

Some remain silent, though their face shows they are connected they may also be listening to their own thoughts as much as to those spoken by others.

There are shared values, courage rather than correctness, honesty rather than knowledge, “even inarticulate and awkward contributions have something of significance to add”.

It is understood that each person brings a partial perception of the matter, better understood when all the bits are put together, that the whole is something else than the sum of its parts.

[1] It will be apparent to readers that this piece was inspired by S Kraemer, ‘Narrative Matters: Stop Running and Start Thinking’, p381, Child and Adolescent Mental Health 23, No. 4, 2018. Where direct extracts have been made these have quotation marks

[2] Rustin, M. (2009). Some historical and theoretical observations. In M. Rustin & J. Bradley (Eds.), Work discussion: Learning from reflective practice in work with children and families (pp. 3–21). London: Karnac