Resources and Insights

Would you like some Space to Think?

Are you craving space to think?

Have you had a busy year? I have and here’s why: Over Christmas a friend sent me the tender document for a big piece of work at Sheffield City Council. Now, I can’t bear formal tender processes, but I really loved the idea of working with this group of people who have big jobs and were really due some investment. So the last thing I did before logging off for Christmas was write a proposal, amidst the wrapping up and nativity plays. And then in January, after a panel interview where I really struggled to work out how to present slides using Teams, we won the chance to deliver this work.

I say we because projects of this scale can be delivered with so much more depth, and are loads more fun, if you deliver them with colleagues. I brought in a crack team of Alison Kane PCC – resilience guru and the calmest facilitator you’ll ever work with, Bryony Shannon – Sheffield City Council alumni – check out her blog ‘words that make me go hmmm’ (and book her for your next away day – it’ll be worth it) and I can’t operate this kind of project without my tech expert and right hand woman – Joanna Chapman – ensuring everyone has what they need.

Our brief was to create something that touched upon leading through change, and emotional intelligence as leaders. What we devised was something that ended up doing quite a bit more. We named the programme Space to Think because that’s what it is: we start with exploring our energy, capacity and resilience as leaders, as without that, there’s no point to the rest of it. Then we have conversations around emotional intelligence and our leadership preferences and when they serve us well and when we might need to switch it up. Finally – some neuroscience – all in service of helping us navigate change – where the stress comes from and what we can do it about it – for ourselves and our teams.

The way Alison and I like to facilitate leadership development is through creating the space for sharing experience and building a close cohort of peers. One the ways we do this is by introducing coaching as a tool for our participants’ toolbox that they practice inside, and out of, the sessions. No fancy or complicated coaching models – simply the skills and mindset of coaching. This works on so many levels – immediately they are practising listening and being present with each other – this deepens connections as well as providing leaders with an approach they can use with their teams.

And use it they have:

‘I am taking more of a coaching role when staff have issues. Allowing them to problem solve rather than me giving the answers. This has taken a bit of getting used to and some staff are more receptive to finding their own solutions than others but it is a very effective way of supporting staff to grow themselves.’

And our Space to Think leaders are feeling different too:

‘I’m not feeling so responsible for making everything being perfect all the time, letting things go, realising what I can and cant change’.

‘I have felt energised and more positive about my new role and the change we have been through. I felt able to share this with people I manage in terms of my attitude at work, and my support to them through reflective supervision. I feel I have more energy in my day to day interactions, and make myself as present as possible through regular office attendance.’

Our brief from the council included tools for leaders, and tools we have aplenty.

Attention spans have decreased in recent years – thanks social media – so learning needs to be chunked up so it’s digestible. Enter stage right my From Frazzled Boss to Inspiring Leader bite size modules – all in 5 minute video chunks. Participants are signposted to different areas ahead of each session, which means they can watch me do some real life coaching, do some reflection around their leadership style, or hear a bit of theory, before we even get in the room. That way, there’s even more space for listening, conversation and connection when we meet up.

We started working with four groups through this programme, and as I type, we have just met groups 10, 11 and 12. It’s a real opportunity to create a positive impact through a whole department.

One of the very real side benefits to this kind of programme is the relationships which are created through taking part. In today’s hybrid world there are fewer opportunities day to day to build those trusting relationships, and so even more impetus to create the space for them to flourish.

We – both Alison and I and the Sheffield City Council team – have learnt so much along the way. For example, front line managers don’t want another channel to communicate on, they don’t want more pings, or more things on their to do list, what they want is quality time to connect in person with their colleagues and build relationships. They want tools they can put into practice straightaway to create space in their days. They want genuine permission to step away from their emails (which means, permission from the top and without lots of competing demands getting in the way.)

Bravo to Sheffield City Council for giving this space to their leaders, and bravo to the leaders who have attended, embraced the learning and used it as a springboard to invest in themselves, experiment with approaching conversations, situations and challenges differently, and for prioritising connection and conversation with colleagues.

It’s a genuine pleasure working with folk who have so much experience, so much insight, so much empathy and who, like most leaders and managers, have worked through so much change and uncertainty in the last few years. Thank you Space to Think participants 2023.

And I think the feeling is mutual, our evaluation threw up a few encouraging words:

Your facilitation was impeccable – I felt supported and encouraged and that my contributions were valid.’

‘It was informal, fun, quirky, comfortable – lovely group size, and the face to face was brill.’

You’re really talented and made things interesting. I liked the atmosphere created and felt like I could be myself. I appreciate how you included me and it’s above and beyond what I’ve had in training before.’

Would your colleagues benefit from this kind of support?

Here’s a 1 page at a glance about Space to Think to get you, well, thinking!

If your managers could use the tools, insight and skills to keep their own tanks fuelled, and those of their teams, to get the most from their people in spite of all the uncertainty in the world, get in touch.


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