We’re developing a programme of empathy training across HMRC digital (see links to previous blogs below). Here, product manager Barbara Price talks about facilitating the first trial of the new Me We part of the empathy programme.
Why empathy and Me We?
The overall Empathy Experiments programme aims to promote inclusive behaviours and a 'speak up' culture, as well as empower people and put both staff and citizens first. As the programme has developed, we’re now focusing on a trial to promote a Me We mindset.
When people are stressed, they tend to only think about themselves, i.e. 'me'. We want to help people in those situations to move into a Me We mindset, where they feel more connected with others and people take better care of each other.
This can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Yet, by doing this, we learn and can deal with things that we don’t want to hear, increasing inclusive and collaborative behaviours. If we put people first and ‘think’ and ‘do’ together, we create a safe space for people to speak up. This leads to better decisions, a happier workplace and, ultimately, increased productivity.
The first Me We trial
We asked the trial team to carry out Me We empathy activities in their day-to-day practices over a ten-week period, meeting up every two weeks to reflect on and share what they’d learned.
In each session we introduced two short activities to help the team focus on how to hear, see, think, feel and act towards themselves and each other. The team then built each activity into everyday working practices, which they continued to use over the next two weeks.
Feedback from the team
Before taking part in the Me We trial, the team thought they were already empathic and probably didn’t actually need to do the training: they questioned why they were doing it. But, as the weeks progressed, they realised this wasn’t true, and that there were many areas they could improve and work on.
At the end of the ten-week programme, we asked the participants what, if anything, had changed for their team. This is what they had to say:
Listening and hearing
"I try to listen better and actively listen to others."
"We no longer talk over each other."
"We take time to make sure everyone’s voice is heard."
Curiosity and understanding each other
"I’ve learnt more about the other people in the team."
"I appreciate other people's perspective."
"We see people as real people."
"I’m more self-aware."
"I’m more aware of my thoughts and actions."
"I’m more aware of my own body language and that of others."
Safe to challenge
"People that were quiet are now speaking up."
"People are more confident."
"There’s more laughter and openness."
"We’re more aware of our impact on other teams."
"We’re listening more to everyone’s views, which impacts our ways of working within the team at all our meetings, including how we plan the work."
Feedback from the coach
For me, as the coach, I have seen the change and the benefits this has brought to the team and the products they develop. People are no longer working over each other; they are much more aware of each other’s biases. The team are happier and more collaborative, feeling heard and are more aware of people’s needs outside the team.
Finishing this first programme has given me a lot more to think about too:
How might we invite people to have the same journey, and share this across the whole of HMRC?
How important it is for the coach to bring the programme to life by being enthusiastic and engaged and able to explain the benefits to the participants and the wider organisation?
Spreading the word
It’s clear the programme led to increased self-awareness and contributed to a more inclusive culture. We now want to work with the feedback to improve the programme and share stories to get others involved.
As we start to widen the trial across HMRC digital and other areas of HMRC, we are learning how the programme is contributing to building an inclusive environment where all voices are heard and valued. This learning is something that we will keep on sharing through the empathy community and this blog. So watch this space.
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