20 September 2017

Steve Swensen – Report on Leadership development events

By Marco Aurelio and Auzewell Chitewe 

The 2016 NHS Staff Survey showed us that we have made significant progress as an organisation in terms of staff engagement. We are committed to making further progress in the areas we have improved in, such as recognition and value of staff by managers and the organisation. Additionally, we want to address the areas that our staff identified as needing further improvement.

One of the actions taken was to invite Professor Steve Swensen to run workshops with leaders from all levels of the organisation to help us building on our culture of caring for our patients and each other. Steve Swensen has led much of the research and work internationally on understanding staff burnout, team engagement, joy in work and quality improvement. He previously led on leadership and organization development at the Mayo Clinic, a large healthcare system in America with many similarities to ELFT. He is currently Medical Director for Professionalism and Peer support at Intermountain Healthcare.

Steve ran several masterclass sessions with the executive team and leaders from around the Trust on 14th and 15th September 2017. Over the course of two days Steve helped us think through how we can support leaders to create an environment that prevents staff burnout, empowers everyone to be part of the solution by embedding a model he called “esprit de corps” – taking care of each other for the benefit of our patients.

Over 200 members of staff from a range of professional backgrounds attended a variety of workshops and events to learn about building “esprit de corps”. The model encourages leaders to address four basic elements –  trust, resilience, passion and camaraderie1, 2.

So, as leaders, how can you go about doing that? A big focus over the two days was understanding 6 actions of the organizational framework for improving “esprit de corps”3 and enjoyment at work:

  • Leadership – Exhibit behaviours that are open, encourage staff to try out new ideas and show them appreciation
  • Design – Design organisation systems that eliminate or mitigate structural and functional drivers of burnout
  • Commensality – Encourage staff to come together and socialise. Be it a simple coffee morning or having team lunches
  • Pebbles in shoes – Ask staff what matters to them, or what is getting on their nerves and try and fix it together
  • Don’t let staff be second victims – Having a bad patient outcome or sentinel event can cause serious psychological impact on staff. Don’t let them become a victim of that by having a culture of blame. Focus on changing systems
  • Develop resilience in staff – Encourage staff to take care of their own health and wellbeing.

Of course, that sort of change doesn’t happen overnight and Steve’s key take away point is to start an open and honest dialogue with staff by asking what matters to them, what gets in the way and work together to design solutions to problems.


1Baard, Deci, Ryan. Intrinsic Need Satisfaction. J Applied Social Psych, 2004. 34(10): 2045

2Swensen, S., A. Kabcenell, and T. Shanafelt, Physician-Organization Collaboration Reduces Physician Burnout and Promotes Engagement: The Mayo Clinic Experience. Journal of healthcare management / American College of Healthcare Executives, 2016. 61(2): p. 105-127.

3Swensen, Shanafelt. Organizational Framework to Reduce Professional Burnout. Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety June 2017 43(6) 308

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