Moving a mental health team from sinking to soaring

Moving a mental health team from sinking to soaring

When Tim DeWeese took over as director of a large county mental health department, he inherited an organization in shambles.

“Broken,” he said. “That’s the one word I’d use to describe us.”

The department was operating without a common mission, which, no surprise, lead to a disengaged workforce. What’s more, the department’s balance sheet was bleeding so badly the county had to bail them out.

To turn the department around, DeWeese knew he would have to align teams around a common vision – a clear and purposeful direction. He’d have to do it quickly. He’d need everyone to have buy-in. And he’d have to be practical about changes.

“I didn’t want some big strategic plan weighted down with theory,” he said. “I wanted a plan that was actionable. And I wanted someone to help me see it through through to the end. It was such a mess, I knew I needed someone to hold us accountable.”

A colleague recommended TeamTech because of the group’s bias for action, its practical approach to strategy – and its relentless emphasis on accountability.

Now, after two years of working with TeamTech, the department is hardly recognizable. For the first time in a decade, its revenue stream is in the black – and there’s a growing reserve. They’re recording the highest levels of productivity they’ve ever had. And, according to the recent county-wide employee engagement survey, their employees are among the most passionate and happy with their work.

“I couldn’t have done it without TeamTech,” he says. “None of us could have.”

The key? Empower everyone

Kathleen Harnish McKune, CEO of TeamTech, knew that to move the mental health department forward, buy-in would need to be widespread. The solution: TeamTech’s “Everyone A Leader” workshops. The workshops pivot on the idea that leadership is a decision not a title. The hands-on sessions are driven by the idea that if an organization isn’t empowering everyone to lead from where they sit, they’re not using their resources wisely.

For DeWeese, the real turnaround came after adopting the Everyone A Leader mindset. From the front lines to the board room, employees felt empowered to lead from their positions.

“We had engaged staff and so we then had engaged clients,” he said. “In fact, our client ‘no show’ rate dropped from 35 percent to 12 percent. That’s unheard of.”

The department now works with a unified clinical philosophy and approach. The entire organization knows the strategic direction they’re headed. And everyone comes to work ready to lead.

“I figured it would take us five or six years to turn the place around,” DeWeese said. “But we’re in an incredible place in half that time.

“The most important part of this though is that we’re better serving our clients. And that’s the reason we’re all in this field in the first place.”

A different approach to winning

DeWeese had worked with consultants in the past. Government agencies are no stranger to seeking guidance from outside sources. But, honestly, he’d never had much luck.

“We’d build a plan—a good plan—and it would sit on a shelf. It was never built to be acted on,” he says.

Out of the gate, DeWeese saw differences between TeamTech and previous consultants he’d hired. For one, TeamTech outlined expectations up front. They wouldn’t just build a strategic plan. They’d build it and launch it. Second, they helped the group identify – and remove – the barriers preventing them from succeeding.

“It was a huge difference,” he says. “It forced us to think strategically about how we remove, mitigate or work around barriers.”

The most impactful by-product of that approach, says DeWeese, is that it forced them to identify their strengths. Most outside consultants start with “What’s wrong?” and assume goals haven’t been met because of a deficiency – or two or three. Instead, TeamTech helped them focus on their strong points – and then harness that energy to break down barriers.

“It was very ‘meta’ for us,” says DeWeese. “We’re in the business of helping people with mental illnesses remove barriers. That’s what we do.”