Five key elements of culture identified in underperforming teams supporting people with learning disabilities


Talk to any manager who leads a team supporting people with learning disabilities and ask about what are the key features impacting on performance and the conversation will turn to team culture. However, clearly defining culture in way that is amenable to study in research has a number of difficulties and so whilst it recurs as a theme in looking at outcomes for people, there is little consensus on its impact or the associated mechanisms.

The researchers in this study set out to better conceptualise dimensions of culture in group homes for people with learning disabilities and to describe the culture in under-performing homes.

What they did was carry out a secondary analysis, using what they describe as an inductive interpretative approach, whereby the analysis of issues is done within their own context rather than from a predetermined theoretical basis and interpretations are made on that basis.

They did the analysis on a large qualitative data set from an ethnographic study which used action research methods to explore quality of life outcomes for residents with learning disabilities in 5 small group homes.

From their analysis, they developed five categories:

  • misalignment of power-holder values with organisation’s espoused values
  • otherness
  • doing for not with
  • staff centered
  • resistance.

They discuss the differences between this culture and institutional culture and set out some potential approaches that services could used to minimise the impact of these negative cultural aspects of team performance and ways to consider culture in high performing group homes. They also set out an approach to developing a quantitative measure of culture.

Uncovering Dimensions of Culture in Underperforming Group Homes for People with Severe Intellectual Disability, Bigby C et al., in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: December 2012, Vol. 50, No. 6, pp. 452-467.

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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