Parks Pursue the BEST in People
Debbie Needle has been leading her team from Parks and Nature Conservation successfully through BEST since 2006. She tells Lynn Mulcare, BEST Programme Officer for Development, Environment and Culture directorates, about her team’s experience of making BEST work for them, and how things haven’t always been this good!
Who are the team, where do they work and what do they do?
I am BEST Leader for Woodgate Valley Country Park, Edgbaston Reservoir, Handsworth Park and the Nature Centre and Allotments. Currently there are 9 in my own team. We are the Parks and Nature Conservation division within the Environment and Culture Directorate and our strap line is “linking people and nature by land management, environmental education and a public events programme”.
How did you become BEST Leader?
I became a BEST Leader in December 2006. I was asked by my BEST Manager; I didn't volunteer, but was given the option not to take on the role if I didn’t want to. After watching the BEST DVD, although I didn’t enjoy the presentation, the reason behind the values swayed me to take up the role. I was still unconvinced about the process but I saw it as an opportunity to get things moving forward and, having already been involved in developing the Ranger Service, BEST appeared to be the next available option.
Which of the values do you think encouraged you most to become Leader and why?
Trust was most lacking within the team so I wanted to take on the challenge of doing all the things that would encourage people to trust again, even if that was trusting themselves first of all, then each other and slowly the council again.
What were your thoughts of BEST before becoming involved?
I was aware of BEST but did not have detailed information regarding the process. So it felt a bit false, gimmicky, convenient that the letters spelt ‘BEST’ and a bit contrived. Needless to say there was a bit of cynicism from the team - it was just another project on top of all the others.
What were other team members saying about BEST?
Most comments from the team were negative because of the time it was introduced. There was a lack of trust and belief and no-one wanted to think about success or excellence. The team felt low in motivation and confidence.
How did you feel before going into your first workshop?
I was incredibly nervous. A lot of thoughts were running through my mind such as; ‘would they say anything?’, ‘would they take their frustrations out on me?’ and just before I went in I felt embarrassed and guilty knowing how they felt but that I was still going to present the process to them.
Did you encounter any difficulties during the workshop?
I was well prepared with resources but did not use anything that I took into the room initially. Instead I empathized with this hard working team of people and explained how I got to the position I was in.
How did you overcome the team’s initial reluctance?
I suggested to the team; “if nothing else why not use the process to make your working day better?” This got their attention and they started to talk openly about the way they would like things to be and the service they would like to provide to the customer. Part of their reason for being fed up was not being able to do this.
What were some of the benefits of the workshop for you and your team?
It made me feel better knowing the team felt better, and seeing the team smiling and talking gave me a lift after feeling so worried about it. As a trained Forest Schools leader, I returned to the belief that each person was an individual so wanted to raise their expectations so that they could become a bit more positive. For me this was a success.
The BEST workshop made the team feel that somebody cared about what they were saying and how they felt, acknowledged it and were then able to get some results. Two staff members were encouraged to get further training as a result of BEST.
I understand that you have encouraged new leaders to get involved:
How did you persuade them?
They all know me really well. I always try to be honest and very open and I believe that they know that they can trust me. I actually believe that striving for excellence stops you from being bored and sometimes I get carried away with trying to improve the service as we want it to be the BEST.
What responses have you had from the new leaders so far? It has been good. They are willing to give it a go and will be going through training shortly. They have already started the process by getting the date set for their team meetings.
What would you say to others who are thinking about becoming BEST Leaders?
Try it! You might actually enjoy it because I feel it is thoroughly enjoyable. It might not be for everybody - but you don't know unless you try. The art is to be able to move things forward without taking on all the issues yourself. If someone doesn’t want to become a leader then may be it’s not the time for them to take it on, but they may become interested later.
What do you think are benefits of BEST to team/BCC/service users? What it does is help individuals build their belief in themselves. So if you can improve the day and the work of each individual then you've improved the work of the council and its service to customers.
Finally, what are your personal thoughts about the benefits of BEST for the organization?
BEST does help. It is a good process to use as long as people remember they can use the process as they need to, and not worry about using it in a set way, as long as you are moving away from the lower end of the scale. Having a process to work to does drive people to do what is best for the team and ultimately the organisation.
If other leaders wanted to network with you; how could they contact you?
I can be contacted on 454 1908 or via Lotus Notes and you are most welcome to come and relax in the parks – they are beautiful!