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Case Study - Devon County Council

Background and Objectives 

When the Highways and Infrastructure Service at Devon County Council had a specific incident of behaviour crossing the line, they managed it swiftly and in the appropriate way. But as is often the case, it also highlighted a number of other “lower level” examples of inappropriate behaviour, such as one team blaming another, unproductive meetings and banter crossing the line. The cumulative effect was that working relationships and productivity were affected.

The forward-looking team in the service led by the Chief Officer and Performance Manager wanted to equip everyone with a better understanding of how to create and maintain healthy working relationships with mutual trust and respect for each other – particularly respecting professional boundaries, so that it is a ‘safe’ space for everyone. 


We worked closely with the DCC team to design a programme over a 9-month period with a number of elements to help create sustained change. 

Over 370 people (including the senior leadership team) took part. 

Staff were spread across a variety of locations and in a broad range of roles from office based to engineers in the field.

DCC created some visual branding for the programme - Creating a Positive Working Environment - which was used from the start and incorporated into all follow up activities.

Messaging from the top - one of the reasons the programme was so successful was because the leadership team understood the importance of their role. Chief Officer Meg Booth, put out regular communication to her leadership team and the whole service at key stages in the programme - from explaining why it was happening to feedback from the survey and the sessions. She did this in a succinct way, often using very visual formats and linking to other initiatives (such as the Council’s “It’s Ok to say it’s not OK” initiative).

Survey - we helped create a set of survey questions which DCC rolled out to all staff to gauge the starting point in terms of how people felt about workplace behaviour (questions such as “Do you feel confident that you recognise when your own or colleagues’ behaviour crosses the line?” “Do you feel confident to speak up when behaviour crosses the line?”).

Senior Leaders - we worked with a group of senior leaders to help them understand their role in leading and supporting the programme. The session started with the feedback from the survey and helping them identify what would they would like to be different.

Facilitators - we suggested DCC identify a group of people draw from across the service who could be facilitators to help support the programme and run workshops to support the creation of team charters. This group included some HR and L and D team members but also included staff from other teams which gave them skills development beyond their usual roles. We ran workshops to upskill them in this role.

Roll out of group workshops to all staff - we mixed staff across teams, levels and functions. These were interactive face to face workshops and led to everyone contributing to the creation of Team Charters beyond the sessions.

Evaluation – we ran Round Tables (focus groups) with two representatives from each team to gather feedback and changes in behaviour. Amongst the feedback were the following comments:

  • people felt safer as there was more thinking before speaking
  • “workshops were great - different to anything we have done before - it feels the council are valuing and investing in me” 
  • “it has empowered people to challenge and know how to do so in right way”

Follow up Session for Group Leadership Team - we worked with the top tier leadership team to identify their role in keeping the momentum going and particularly helped them all look at their own behaviour in the context of the programme. We used a team 360 to gather some observations and feed back to them on how they were doing. This also helped them create an ongoing plan in leading the cultural changes.


HR and the SLT have been gathering examples of impact and they include:

  • people being more “civil” to each other in meetings – senior managers attended an internal 2-day event at the start of the year and noticed that people were not talking over others and were respecting others’ views more
  • an event was launched to discuss peer networks – many more people than anticipated came and people stayed to chat to others afterwards. A senior manager commented there would not have been the appetite for this before the programme 
  • an employee with 40 years’ service has commented he has never felt such a willingness from people to talk to each other and credits the workshops – there are a lot of changes happening and he comments that people are coping better with them all - whereas previously they would have been more stressed or gone off sick 
  • the union rep has recommended the programme is run in other depts
  • the dept have just had the highest response rate to their “How are you?” staff survey 
  • Meg Chief officer feels there is a better understanding of each other’s roles and valuing colleagues’ contributions better 
  • she also believes the programme has assisted the dept’s ability to collaborate and support each other during the pandemic. Meg is leading on the recovery plan for the whole council and is hoping to weave the outcomes from the programme into that plan - so it will have a lasting effect.