Pods – what’s in a name?

Next month it will be two years since the introduction of the Team Around the Relationship in Brighton & Hove Children’s Services and the move to Social Work “Pods”. The new structure was a crucial part of whole system change to support relationship-based practice, providing containment and collaboration for social workers to enable confident practice with families. Principal Social Worker, Tom Stibbs, reflects upon the service transformation since the introduction of the pods:


People often ask me why ‘pods’?  As part of thinking about the anniversary, I came across this e-mail I wrote two years ago last week which, while it may not answer that question, reflects on it.

“Lunchtime rambling number 1 – what’s in a name?

It has come up a number of times recently, including at yesterday’s Senior Leadership Team, that maybe we shouldn’t call the pods, ‘pods’.  That got me thinking about my own view and why I think it might be important and so I thought I would try to explain.

Firstly, I should say that it wasn’t my idea to call the pods, ‘pods’, and so I can’t claim this and it took me a bit to get used to it but it has definitely grown on me.  The main reason I think it is important we keep the word ‘pods’ is that we are trying to implement cultural transformation and as part of this we need people to embrace change.  This was one of the reasons that we were clear that we needed new roles and job titles such as Pod Managers not Team Managers or Practice Managers.  I think that people have begun to embrace this change and one of the important ways that they have done this is by their use of language and specifically the word ‘pod’.  No-one talks about when we implement our service redesign, people talk about ‘when we move to the pods’ or ‘when we are in the pods’.  ‘The pods’ is how people talk about and see the new way of working we have encouraged them to help us to develop.  If ‘pod managers’ are ‘team managers’ didn’t we have them before, aren’t they part of the way we used to do things?

Secondly, the reason we chose pod, I think, is because of its link to the Munro review and the Hackney Model and the work that Morning Lane Associates continue to do – and while our model has differences to the Hackney Model it does show the heritage of our model and its link to the thinking behind ‘Reclaiming Social Work’.  Originally Munro talked about social work units or pods, and I think that in comparison to unit, pod sounds less clinical or military.

Thirdly people have raised concerns that it sounds like something to do with dolphins or something to do with iPods and I think that this is actually one of the strengths of the name as it does reflect the current use across organisations, and especially social enterprises, of language which suggests a new way of thinking about organisational structures and organisational management which is much less hierarchical and is more organic, complex and creative. Pods are about something which is independent but also part of a wider, complex system and so this recognises that our new structure is not a simple, hierarchical system. 

Another suggestion has been ‘groups’ but again, for me, this seems a bit clinical and military and not reflective of the Team Around the Relationship model.

I know that it is the new way of working that is important and not what we call it and so I am happy to be persuaded that there are better names but now I am going to eat my sandwich, which does genuinely include peas ….!”

All of this was expressed, much more articulately, by Professor Gillian Ruch in her presentation to our Relationships in Practice conference in May 2016, Pods, people and professional practice: developing containing organisations, which really did answer the question – why ‘pods’?

If you want to reflect in more detail on how we are doing and the impact of the pods don’t forget to read, and respond to, ‘Empathy, tenacity and compassion’: an evaluation of relationship-based practice in Brighton & Hove.


If you have any comments on Tom’s blog, please contact him at tom.stibbs@brighton-hove.gcsx.gov.uk or follow him on twitter @TStibbs