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Case study 1: Compassionate leadership training – TalkingSpace Plus, Oxfordshire


TalkingSpace Plus, the Oxfordshire IAPT service, has taken a proactive approach to growing a compassionate leadership approach within the service, which we continue to develop. In 2021 we delivered a short service-wide training programme in compassionate leadership. This provided a foundation for developing and embedding the essence of compassionate leadership in how we make decisions within the service, the changes we make to how the service runs, and how we relate to each other.

Staff wellbeing issue

We were keen to take a proactive approach to continuously improving our approach to leadership. Recent research has suggested there should be a willingness in the NHS to recognise that its own systems and processes may benefit from review in order to minimise them being a causal factor in poor staff wellbeing. With this in mind, Compassionate Leadership training was delivered for all staff in the service, funded by Health Education England.

We researched and sourced a facilitator for the training event. Our chosen facilitator was a recognised international expert in the approach and a specialist, clinically, in using a compassion-focused approach to clinical practice. This compassionate mind theoretical approach informs the model of leadership. This is through exploring self and team compassion, identifying inhibitors and facilitators to compassionate practice in the workplace to reduce threat-focused team functioning, and bringing about a more compassionate approach to workplace leadership and team cohesion.

The three-day training comprised two externally facilitated days and a local TalkingSpace Plus day facilitated by our Senior Locality Leads, to consider compassionate leadership in practice. The focus of the first two days was to explain, experience and reflect on the principles of compassionate leadership, first for Step 2 colleagues and then for Step 3. The final day was a whole service ‘virtual’ away day, consisting of a presentation on compassionate leadership, mindfulness practice, and a breathing exercise. It also incorporated break out rooms for discussion, a shared virtual lunch and quiz, and a presentation on happiness boosters from an external trainer. Prior to day 3, all staff had been given the opportunity to complete a self-compassion questionnaire for personal reflection purposes.


The training has led to a number of practical changes within the service, that have so far comprised:

  • staff wellbeing rooms in office locations providing a space away from the desk
  • mindfulness practice at the start of service locality meetings
  • line managers and supervisors regularly checking in on staff as to their stress levels and work/life balance
  • conducting service-wide staff surveys and sharing results transparently with staff
  • continuing to develop a wellbeing workstream incorporating projects to promote ways for staff to connect with each other, following the COVID-19 lockdowns
  • proactively using the language of ‘compassionate leadership’ with each other.

Next steps
The principle of compassionate leadership is that it becomes a dynamic and evolving approach in the workplace. With this ethos in mind, it then becomes part of daily practice and allows for reflection and development when issues or suggestions are highlighted by staff. A specific example of this arose from the results of our 2021 service-wide staff survey, where a more standardised but specific form of communication has been requested by the team when senior management are communicating a need for change. It is this ethos, that through ongoing invitation for feedback, should drive an ever-evolving culture of reflection and collaborative approaches to change.