Building your support team
Managing your support team
The word ‘team’ is used in this article for a couple of reasons. Firstly, to actively and strongly encourage the use of more than one paid support person in the life of the person to be supported. More eyes, ears and minds are better and are a stronger safeguard against poor service delivery, poor treatment, abuse and/or neglect, all of which you want to avoid.
Secondly, it also encourages the idea of ‘teamwork’, team effort and team morale, which require oversight, input and management on some level. Therefore, regardless of the avenue through which the paid support comes, you will have a role in managing them.
Managing a team of support
Managing people is not easy, it can be time consuming and effort intensive. However, it can also be very rewarding when you have the right people on the team and they are all clear about their roles and how they are to work together for the collective good of the person at the heart of the team. A team can be two people! And you as their supervisor or manager, however you want to think of yourself, makes it three! Some people have much larger teams, which will require more of everything.
Fundamentally, working with a paid support team requires some give and take. You will be drawing on all your ‘people skills’, emotional intelligence and diplomacy skills, as well as needing to know a bit about industrial relations and how things work depending on how you are engaging your supports. It might be that you have all your paid supports in the one basket, via the Mable platform, or you may have a mix of supports through a number of avenues.
For NDIS participants, how the NDIS plan is being managed — Agency managed, Plan managed or Self-managed — will also impact how the supports are engaged. If the plan is Agency managed (managed by the National Disability Insurance Agency), all your support must be employed by a NDIS registered provider. If the plan is Plan or Self-managed, you have much more flexibility where you find your paid supports and how you engage them.
Who will manage the team?
Another thing to consider is how active you wish to be in your management of the team. Some people are very involved and want input and control over every aspect of the support team management process. Others are very happy to leave that to the service provider, if there is one, or they might refer issues to the Plan Management organisation, the Support Coordinator or whoever is their go-to person.
If you are the one managing the team, it is perfectly fine and reasonable for you to have standards you aspire to and expect paid supports to uphold, like the importance of being on time, dressing neatly and appropriately for the activity being undertaken, speaking to you or the person receiving support in a respectful manner at all times, for example.
It is also important to hold people to the job description that they have been engaged to perform. Paid people deciding for themselves what they will and won’t do once they are on the job is not okay, unless you have asked them to come up with some ideas and to use their initiative, which they have run by you first.
It is also okay for you to set some non-negotiables. For example, no smoking in your car or home; no drinking alcohol while at work; no personal calls to be taken(unless it’s an emergency); no personal shopping to be done while working; no catching up with friends while out and about (unless of course you are encouraging that), so that wider networks might be built. It is up to you to decide what’s okay and what’s not and as long as you are being fair and reasonable and are working within the law, you can have a lot of say in what happens within the paid hours.
Managing a team does take time and effort. Like most things, the more effort you put in, the more you will get out! A well-managed team will provide good support because they are sure about what is expected of them and they feel supported and backed by you or by whoever is their supervisor.
Can you nominate a team leader?
It might be useful to consider the concept of engaging someone to lead the team. There are a number of position titles that come to mind, like team leader, lead worker, key worker etc. Any of these titles or something else, can be used to describe the role that you could engage someone to perform. If bringing another person onto the team to lead and manage the team on your behalf sounds like a good idea and you have the budget for another position, you could consider it.
It may be that there is someone on the team already, whom you think would be terrific in the lead role. If so, talk to them about it, as you could elevate or ‘promote’ them into the role of lead worker rather than bringing a new person into the mix.
What might a lead worker do?
- Assist with some of the responsibilities currently undertaken by you and/or other informal family supports
- Assist with building a team of supports using the Mable platform or bringing their existing team to the Mable platform
- Take on some of the day-to-day tasks required when engaging supports i.e supervising and coordinating the team:
- Creating rosters of support
- Engaging in buddy shifts with new team members
- Coordinating orientation training
- Running staff meetings
- Filling in when others on leave or off sick
- Dealing with staff issues when they arise
The role of the lead worker can be crafted to suit the particular situation and can be negotiated at the time of engagement. It is a good idea for the lead worker to actually be an active member of the team, as it is important that they know the person being supported well, so that they guide and support the team.
Bear in mind though that not everyone is going to be right for a role that requires them to guide and supervise others (and as always, prepare a Position Description so that the role is clear). It can sometimes be tricky for a ‘colleague’ to step up into a supervisory role, as it could cause friction in a team.
Mable has a suite of training on the Mable Learning Hub, relevant to anyone who is interested in taking on lead worker responsibilities.
There will be difficult conversations. Things can and do go pear shaped no matter what you do, or how well prepared you are. You will occasionally have to engage in difficult conversations about things that haven’t gone well. You may even have to terminate services, either via performance management, if it’s a performance issue, or on the spot if they are in breach of the law or have put the person they support at risk, or for a myriad of other reasons.
Never, ever allow dangerous or reckless or irresponsible behaviour go unchallenged and be prepared to report any abuse, neglect or illegal behaviour immediately to the appropriate authorities. You can also cancel your Mable agreement with the person and lodge a complaint with Mable.
On the other hand, it is also important for natural justice to be served and to be fair and even-handed in all your dealings with paid support. No one deserves to be unfairly treated.
If you have concerns about anything, be open and honest, sit down with the person, explaining your concerns and open up the conversation to hear their point of view. Keep to the facts and avoid any overly emotional or unsubstantiated claims. Keep it professional, not personal.
Examples of circumstances where you might consider ending an agreement with a paid support person:
- Chronic lateness that doesn’t get better following feedback
- Disengagement with the person being supported, i.e. talking to everyone else around the person but not to the person themselves. An inability to engage with the person in any meaningful way
- Too much time spent on their phone talking, texting or viewing social media
- Dishonesty: not being truthful about hours worked or not admitting to mistakes being made or covering up mistakes or blaming someone else
- Stealing: stealing anything is not okay, even if it’s simple things like food stuffs or groceries or stationary. Stealing is stealing
- Putting the person being supported at risk. Leaving someone unattended who requires one-on-one support at all times.
Some of these examples are of a more serious nature than others, but they demonstrate the types of things that require a response. It may be that the support person is not aware of their behaviour and responds well to constructive feedback and that may be enough. Or, if the conduct is really serious, the working relationship should be terminated and the person reported to the relevant authorities.
Maintaining your team
There are numerous ways through which you can build cohesion within a team. Developing a common understanding of each person’s role is paramount. Each time a new person is introduced into an existing team, it’s a good opportunity to review and revisit what each person’s individual role is and what the overall purpose of the team is, as a whole.
There should also be a shared understanding of the person’s goals that are being worked towards. The goals may be specific, such as supporting the learning of a new skill, or broader, like supporting someone to live independently in their home.
Team members of a cohesive team will know each other and know their part. This isn’t always easy, as some paid supports work in isolation from each other. Not everyone requires more than one person to be with them at any given time, so it is possible that team members never actually work together. If this is the case, it is important to consider other ways to bring them together so that they do get to know each other. This will assist with general communication between team members as well.
Strangers are less likely to be comfortable communicating with each other about things that may need to be shared. So, think about ways of bringing the team together regularly like face to face team meetings, or Zoom catch ups or something similar.
Sharing good experiences as well as the struggles can engender a sense of cohesion. People are working together to overcome struggles that may arise and the sharing of ideas and strategies and what has worked, as well as what hasn’t, is great.
Ensure that team conversations aren’t just about challenges, but also wins. Conversations about difficulties can be framed in a way that encourages creative problem solving and focuses on the issue that requires a solution and not that the person is the problem to be fixed.
Communication between team members, between you and the team or the lead worker, between the paid support and the person being supported, can take many forms. For example:
- A discreet communication book in the person’s home for all to make notes in and share important information with each other
- If team members give permission, they may be happy to share their mobile phone number and email addresses with each other
- There are numerous mobile apps that can be used to facilitate communication between people.
It really just comes down to what works best for your particular team and the person being supported.
Use Mable’s Team Chat feature
Using Mable’s online messaging feature (or sometimes referred to as ‘Team Chat’) is a great way for you to connect with your team of support workers. Only clients can create a Team Chat with support workers with whom they have an active agreement. Team chat is a really useful way to communicate with each other in real time, building transparency. Find out more about this feature.
Support the team
Each team will be unique and require different types and levels of support depending on how long they have been working as a team, the makeup of the team, who supervises the team, the size of the team, etc. But people work best when they feel supported and encouraged to do a good job.
Make sure each team member knows they are not alone in their work and that they can call on someone if they have any questions or difficulties. This is also an important safeguard. It is important that each team member knows that someone is aware of what they are doing and when, and that the best interests of the person being supported are always paramount and upheld.
Keep an eye out for any training opportunities to offer the members of the support team, especially training that is relevant to their work. Encourage them to seek professional development and allow time for them to attend relevant training.