Changing and challenging times

We live in a challenging world. In the realm of a globalised economy, society is now at the evolutionary stage where a mentally, emotionally and physically healthy workforce is the base strata upon which organisations and systems, whose goal it is to survive, succeed, and flourish, must redesign and build the architecture of their future.

Chambers can no longer afford to see themselves merely as groups of individuals whose operation has no particular impact on the outside world. The wider consequences of the ‘me’ mindset – deep social and economic division, pollution, climate chaos, extremism, and terrorism – make it clear that to skillfully move forward we need to expand our way of thinking. Gone are the days when organisations could function from a belief that there was no relationship between their activities and impact on the rest of the world. As we move through an age of disruption where organisations with outmoded ways of being recede into the past, it is now a critical time to tap into a deeper level of our humanity and ask – who are we really, and what do we want to be? In doing so the potential is created to strengthen ourselves as individuals and strengthen the organisations to which we belong.

Making the wellbeing link

In the past there was little or no understanding that the wellbeing of an organisation was inextricably linked to the wellbeing of its members and communities. However, during the 1960s, inspired by the work of the esteemed psychotherapist Virginia Satir, there came new understandings about the correlation between the wellbeing of the individual and the wellbeing of the organisation. This had its roots in the relationship each member of the organisation had to their own family. Every individual brings their family issues to work with them. This has an impact on the organisation, which then creates a feedback loop to the members of the organisation. In short, for an organisation to be healthy it needs its members to have healthy relationships within themselves and with their own family members. Much like the human body, if the heart is sick and failing, the mind will suffer too. Similarly, we can no longer think of the success and wellbeing of any organisation as distinct or separate from the wellbeing of the individuals who make up that organisation.

Organisations taking the lead

This shift in thinking, understanding and mindset, saw a new approach to leadership which recognised the role and value that good leaders played in this new dynamic. Now, not only are leaders within organisations integral to their ongoing growth and development; the organisations themselves need to actively engage in leading the way to change, setting new precedents that will trickle down to other organisations and individuals who can follow their lead.

To pioneer new principles of practice and wellbeing is a vital undertaking for any organisation. It is within this process that it becomes possible to not only preserve identity, but also to incorporate new useful insights, mental patterns and behaviours, which better support the organisation’s ongoing growth and survival.

What to do in chambers

Wellbeing can be defined as ‘a continuous process toward thriving across all life dimensions’. In the light of this definition, the relationship between system and individual requires that we suspend our judgments of how things should be, and put aside our traditional view of how we believe individuals and organisations should function. As we let go of attachments to limiting beliefs and ideas drawn from the model of reason and rationale inherited from the past, we create space for a deeper intelligence and wisdom to emerge. From this place comes purpose defined by clarity of intention.

The intention of humans is always guided by a need to survive and thrive, to maintain our wellbeing. This intention has always been there, but now we have reached a better understanding of how best to support it. We are no longer driven to create outcomes that nobody wants. The wisdom of purpose asks how we can best achieve wellbeing now.

Here, the question is, How can chambers support itself and the greater good of all by supporting the wellbeing of its members? There are two matters that can form a helpful starting point.

The six key elements

First, it can be useful to recognise six key elements to supporting wellbeing:

Emotional – recognising the importance of emotions and developing flexibility in how and when emotions are expressed.
Occupational – cultivating personal satisfaction, growth and enrichment in your work.
Intellectual – engaging in continuous learning and challenging activities that promote on-going development.
Spiritual – developing meaning and purpose in life.
Physical – striving for regular physical activity, good nutrition, sufficient sleep and recovery.
Social – fostering a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support network.

The greater the number of individuals who experience wellbeing in all these areas, the greater the positive impact on the system as a whole. Conversely, when one individual suffers, the whole system suffers. This may not transpire in ways that we can directly comprehend, but it will be there. Reason and rationale aside, we are not impervious to the experience of the other. We all have the ability to sense an atmosphere of tension or joy, and those interactions linger, often for longer than we realise, influencing our choices and reactions to the next contact. Similarly, we are all familiar with the experience of coming into contact with an organisation that functions well, employees and staff are content, and the whole system positively hums with the well being of the individual parts.

Secondly, it can be beneficial to outline some strategies that chambers can follow and implement to build wellbeing around these six key elements, which in turn will allow the unique qualities of each set to be revealed.

Strategies for chambers

To build wellbeing around these dimensions, here are some useful strategies that chambers can implement and follow:

Acknowledge the problems and take responsibility

No profession can solve a problem that it is unwilling to acknowledge. Problems will never just go away, they will continue to present in whichever way is necessary for them to be acknowledged and addressed. This is the law of problems.

Leaders can demonstrate a personal commitment to wellbeing

Any type of broad-spectrum change requires engagement, contact and role modelling from those in positions of leadership and influence. This is the new baseline for sound leadership in a modern world. Leaders should be encouraged to talk about their own wellbeing issues and discuss ways they can demonstrate well-being in their own lives.

Facilitate, destigmatise and encourage help-seeking behaviours

This is vital. There is no such thing as a superhuman, least of all one that has yet to develop the emotional intelligence to ask for help. Barristers so often regard themselves as super human, and so chambers need to destigmatise and facilitate help-seeking behaviours if they are to provide a culture conducive to supporting the wellbeing of their members.

Provide support and resources

The road to enhancing wellbeing is as varied as it is wide. Some chambers have engaged with mindfulness, yoga and massage; some with life-coaching and therapy. The resources that will be most effective will vary from set to set and from individual to individual.

Start a dialogue and discourse

From an organisational coaching perspective, it can be useful to start a discourse that opens doors to finding solutions that create good outcomes to benefit all. Non-judgment and respect for all are essential elements for a successful and constructive dialogue on wellbeing issues. Three basic but challenging questions are as follows:

i. What does wellbeing mean to your set?
ii. Where does the set see itself in the future on the matter of wellbeing?
iii. What is the plan to get there?

Simple as these questions might seem, when answered from the perspective of the whole system they ask for a wider view to be considered.

Examples of good practice

Some sets are already leading the way in terms of good practice. Charter Chambers, which recently received a Certificate of Recognition for Wellbeing from the Bar Council, clearly states on its website what its core values are in relation to its clients and members. They include:

  • Accountability – Responsibility of our actions that influence the lives of our clients and colleagues.
  • Respect – Giving due respect to self and others and maintain the environment of team work and growth.

Similarly, Doughty Street, under the auspices of Henrietta Hill QC, has introduced practical strategies for embedding wellbeing and mindfulness into daily practice. Not only has Doughty Street engaged a strategic approach to creating a shift in culture that embraces wellbeing, it has also taken specific action to provide particular resources, much of which has proven to be very popular amongst its members. For example, access to mindfulness, yoga and life-coaching is offered by the set. It has also had the courage and strength of leadership initiative to address issues that affect many at the Bar, such as vicarious trauma, nutrition and the need to access counselling.

What was the most significant thing that Doughty Street learnt from the process? ‘That we need to keep it up’, says Ms Hill QC. Much like anything that has the potential to create deep and meaningful change for the better, it only works if you keep working at it.

It’s never too late to start

The Bar Council is now providing support for chambers through its voluntary certification process. Taking an interest in wellbeing is the most affirmative action that a set can take to support the wellbeing of its members. It displays a healthy and stable level of self worth, confidence and self-esteem, for the organisation as a whole, and for the barristers, staff and clients that make up every chamber’s unique identity. Supporting wellbeing is the right thing to do. After all, foresight is far better at preventing tragedy than hindsight.