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Connection is Everything by Paula Whylie

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Do-Well has been working with GM Moving over the last two years as the lead delivery partner, working alongside a range of other organisations, to respond to Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s commitment to have 75% of people living in the region active or fairly active by 2025 by doing systems leadership in a non-traditional way. Do-Well’s Paula Whylie who leads on this work, reflects on the experiences so far and the power of connection and collaboration.

A line manager once said to me “Paula, things don’t always need to connect, you make too many connections, stop looking”.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a strange thing to say, not only to someone who worked in people development but just in general.

You see, I am a firm believer that it’s relationships that make the world go round and this is why I absolutely love the work we are doing with GM Moving in Greater Manchester.

Their mission is clear, to have 75% of the GM population active or fairly active by 2025. We have been supporting leaders across all ten boroughs of GM as part of the local delivery pilot, to explore and navigate the system to bring about sustainable change.

I can clearly remember sitting in a room in Manchester city centre a couple of years ago with Do-Well band members Sheena McDonnell and Rodger Cairns listening to Hayley Lever, Richard Davis Boreham, Nick Lowden and others from the GM Moving network sharing their journey so far and their ambition to go further still by embarking on a system’s leadership programme.

Systems leadership

The reason it’s still so clear in my mind is because of how refreshing it felt when they admitted that they didn’t know what it was they wanted but that they did know that it needed to be focused on connecting people, place and passions. The network demonstrated humble leadership from the off and true systems leadership behaviours…saying yes to uncertainty and acknowledgement that no one person, organisation or sector had the key to unlock the future they wanted to see - it would take a collaboration of the hearts and minds of many. This was, and still is, powerful stuff - there is no room for ego when you are truly acting on behalf of others.

We formed a collaborative partnership with Manchester Community Central and Aqua to design and deliver a leadership development programme across the GM footprint, it was never going to look and feel like a traditional programme, we were looking to help participants work in and on the gaps in the system.

We encouraged people to embrace the idea of being comfortable with the unknown and so when COVID-19 forced workplaces and the world into lockdown the idea of stopping the programme was never on the table. We saw this as an opportunity to be different and to do things differently.

We saw this as an opportunity to help people pause and slow down during a time of immense challenge and change. We brought diverse groups together to explore their passions and purpose through an online public narrative course during which we heard stories about inequalities in provision, aspirations to encourage more people to get involved in volunteering in sports activities and exclusion of people living with complex learning needs and disabilities.

I will always remember a phrase Stephen Pearson from the Seashell Trust shared in his narrative. He said: “tokenistic provision is not enough, it’s like inviting someone to the disco but not allowing them onto the dance floor”.

Biweekly, we ran online reflections exploring topics such as imposter syndrome, emotional bank balance, trust, colleague coaching and personal resilience. The main takeaway from some of these sessions were the connections and allyships formed through open and honest reflections and conversations. It paved the way for anyone being able to show up and seek support when faced with personal or organisational challenges.

Building a legacy

In a couple of weeks, we will be staring the second coaching skills course which concludes with a legacy of an ICC (inner circle coaching) group, where the attendees form a self-managed coaching circle using the skills they have developed on the programme to support and challenge each other’s thinking, meeting up every six weeks. This type of legacy has many benefits, including keeping people connected, learning about system challenges one story at a time and collaborative problem solving which transcends boundaries of inhouse support and powered by people who have connected with an intent to make a difference at a system level.

We continue to work with individuals and groups in all parts of the system. Recently I was energised by a coaching call I had with someone working on the local delivery pilot in Tameside who has no intention of quieting their noise around public health issues and were willing to stand up and face challenges on behalf of others whose voices have yet to be heard. Soon I will also be working with a locality group to explore how they can use public narrative to wake and shake the passion and purpose of a project that has lost its way.

During lock down I connected with amazing people from Salford, Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Tameside, Wigan, Stockport, Rochdale, Trafford and Manchester working in transport, housing, leisure, public health, NHS, councils, the charity sector, education and more.

People powered change

GM Moving has no boundaries with its ambition for making a difference. Their approach to bringing people together has meant traditional organisational and sector boundaries are being lowered or removed as a result of focussing on a higher purpose. Their ambition around increasing activity by 2025 has provided an opportunity for people living and working in GM to connect on a human level and is bringing about people powered change.

I continue to learn a lot from the passionate people I connect with as part of this work and I could tell you thousands of stories about the impact they are having but I’d much rather you connect with the storyteller and hear it straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak.

If you want to be connected to any of this work then please give me a shout, my virtual black book has grown, is well used and belongs to everyone who wants to make a difference.

Relationships make good stuff happen, connection is everything!

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