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University College Birmingham: Designing the future of corporate services

Working with Invisible Grail we were able to take people to a space where we could explore their unique leadership approach, grow their confidence and apply this to imagining and creating the future of corporate services for the University.”

Professor Michael Harkin, Vice-Chancellor and Principal, University College Birmingham

Taking place over twelve months, Invisible Grail worked alongside University College Birmingham’s senior corporate services group to help them develop a stronger collective identity and strategic vision which could shape the future of corporate services for the University.

Working closely with Michael Harkin, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of University College Birmingham (and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the time of the programme), we explored how they could enhance their individual and team leadership capacity to enable the wider University to thrive.

How did we help?

Essential to the success of the programme was to blend individual and team development with a thematic inquiry challenge, so that delegates could develop their leadership voice and vision, and use this to create a stronger, more strategic, team culture with real lived impact. Challenges put to delegates were presented to high profile guests including the Chair of the University’s Board, the President of the Guild of Students, and a Vice-Chancellor and executive team members from neighbouring institutions.

We developed a programme that was split into four parts, with three blocks of clustered days delivered over the course of the programme and completed with a capstone day one year on from the start.

Individual development

12 individuals took part in the programme from across the whole spectrum of the corporate services area, spanning Estates, Student Services, Finance, Marketing, Registry, the Library and Examinations offices. To equip delegates with the tools to tackle group challenges and a thematic inquiry, we addressed key individual development needs, including; skills in influencing and political intelligence, managing change, and nurturing high performance within their teams. These areas were specifically chosen to take people towards the raw edge of their comfort zones and enable them to build their confidence when they’re faced with high profile and high stakes decision making.

Midway through the programme, each individual took part in a 360 diagnostic to better establish their areas of strength and where there were areas they could grow.

Team development

Nurturing a stronger team culture and capacity to work interdependently was central to the programme’s success. Our starting point was to embed an open, feedback-rich and trusting culture through group reflection, honest feedback and creating supportive challenge groups mixing peers from across corporate services. These groups would meet throughout the programme.

The centre piece of the programme was a thematic inquiry. This was a high-stakes activity designed to raise the bar for delegates and their leadership, and to amplify their voice to senior colleagues. Working in real time in the space of a single afternoon, the group’s task was to gather the information they needed to decide on priorities for investment in the institution’s significant real estate portfolio. Presenting a credible, prioritised solution to a panel including the Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors was no mean feat. It was also a challenge which the team’s collaborative leadership met with flying colours.

Woven in midway through the programme was the Margerison-McCann Team Management Profile tool to help the group see how they fit together and appreciate the strengths from across this diverse peer group.

The culmination of the programme took place on a capstone day where the group met with Board members and the President of the Guild of Students to host conversations on the University’s approach to the then recently-published Augur Review. This was a critical opportunity for delegates to apply their learning and let shine their leadership and collective narrative with senior University stakeholders.

Since the programme…

Delegates continue to shift toward more strategic mindsets and have gained confidence in their leadership and how they project this. Critically, this has encouraged greater motivation for the individuals to work increasingly outside their comfort zones.

In the last few months, a number of the group have also accepted new leadership roles with greater influence and strategic responsibility within the University.

Collectively, the programme has helped raise the profile, potential and aspirations of the corporate services group. Connections have been forged between colleagues, and each member has gained deeper understanding of their motivations and leadership style, and how they can contribute this as part of a shared responsibility for shaping the future narrative of the University’s corporate services.

Find out more

If you would like to explore how we can work with your team please contact our Academic Director, Paul Gentle.