Team-building at Imperial College

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Summary

Imperial College London is a world leading HE institution, with over 8000 staff, and the only university in the UK to focus exclusively on science, medicine, engineering and business.

Over the previous 18 months one leadership team at the college had been through an extended period of uncertainty and ambiguity, with a rapidly changing team and very different approaches to leadership. All this took place against the wider backdrop of a large scale Transformation Project and the need to generate widespread savings across the Division over the course of the next financial year and many members of the team were pulling in different directions.

Our Approach

Explore

It was clear that the team needed to pull together and galvanise for the future, which is where we came in.

As they told us:

“the function has been in a state of flux, with uncertainty over leadership and direction, and with different teams experiencing different realities. We recognise that we need to work together to break down silos, to build on what we already do well and to build stronger relationships within the team, which will help us to make an even greater impact on the wider college community.”

Engage

In order to create safety for people to open up and embark on more human-human conversations, we needed to build trust with the individual team-members and explore the ‘different realities’ that people were experiencing.

To achieve that, we first created a comms plan that would ensure people felt included and a valued and recognised member of the team, and an integral part of the programme of work we were developing. As part of that plan we worked with leaders and senior sponsors on positioning and a viable roll-out timescale.   

We then held individual one-to-ones with each member of the team, in order to provide each team member with the opportunity to be heard, to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously in a safe space. Additionally, we encouraged them to look to the future and explore new ideas for more effective ways of working that might help the team achieve greater success. This current reality/future possibility framing kept things positive and provided a sense of forward momentum.

This provided us with some emergent themes that we could then reflect on and create a highly bespoke offsite framework to enable the team to address their challenges together.

Equip

As part of phase one of the offsite, we focused on improving how people communicated with each other,  inviting them to build trust through a series of activities, including Nancy Kline’s thinking pairs and Gestalt awareness. This culminated in several rounds of courageous conversations where people paired up and provided each other with some feedforward on each other’s performance, using the “One thing I love…/even better if…” format.

We then worked with the team to create the narrative for change - where have we been, where are we currently and where are we heading.

An open space activity then enabled them to surface any challenges that may prevent them from achieving their goals along with an agreed set of approaches to tackle any hurdles they might encounter.

This provided them with a solid framework to agree a team strategy and a shared set of behavioural parameters to ensure they can achieve their objectives.

As the team said,

“By clarifying and agreeing our team strategy we have been able to increase our influence and better manage conflicting objectives. Regular opportunities to come together have helped us to keep up the momentum by reflecting on what we do, and how we do it.”

Embed

In this case, the Embed element was baked into the framework that was established over the course of the work we did together. The team agreed parameters around: How often do we come together? What format should that take? How do we ensure we all have a voice? What are the agreed set of behaviours that we sign up to? How do we hold each other accountable to these behaviours?

We have touched base with the team regularly since the Strategic Team Alignment workshop and progress has been great.

They have told us:

“We have all committed to the shared vision. We are ready to embrace change, through increased personal responsibility, openness and team spirit. We recognise that we all contribute to the collective. We all take responsibility for managing ourselves - for balancing emotions and behaviours, tasks and relationships.”


For more information on this case study or any other aspect of our work, please contact hello@aoc.agency, or call us on +44 (0)20 3105 0904.