Newcastle University’s Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering (SAgE) has for many years had an excellent reputation across the world. Not wanting to remain static, though, its leadership team was looking to support its aspiring and emerging younger leaders.
As well as understanding more about how to be more effective as a leader in research, SAgE was looking for its talent to become fully integrated to the faculty, to the University, and to the global scientific community, all in order to realise the University’s desire to demonstrate ‘Excellence with a Purpose’.
Oakridge was appointed to prepare a highly engaging, experiential, challenging and action-based programme. The key criteria, set by the SAgE team, were:
• factoring in tangible outputs on which the faculty could continue to build;
• raising the bar – allowing the faculty to truly achieve excellence and to exceed targets;
• demonstrating what “leadership” means, both individually and collectively;
• fostering individual responsibility among leaders to strengthen change resilience; and
• creating a faculty-wide culture of fully engaged collaboration, in order to really demonstrate excellence with a purpose.
The programme, designed by Oakridge and facilitated by two of our senior consultants, created an environment where participants could have their voice heard. It brought together all schools across the faculty and, in total, 24 people participated.
The programme was grounded in these three key questions:
• What is research excellence? What are the appropriate measures?
• What does “with a purpose” truly mean? What is our purpose?
• Which Universities are truly outstanding in our field and why?
Prior to the two-day programme, SAgE used these three questions and ran a pre-course workshop, to discover aims the group had, and to provide an opportunity to begin preparations. This was an integral part of the approach, as it enabled SAgE to position the programme appropriately, among researchers and leaders from a wide range of fields.
The key areas of focus from this were:
• Collaboration – to break down barriers and spark scientific creativity;
• Research leadership – to inspire others;
• Peer-to-peer coaching – to support each other;
• Blue sky informal thinking – to create the space where the unthinkable happens;
• Influencing and negotiation – to ensure ideas spread and are recognised;
• External speakers – to benchmark, push boundaries, provide fresh perspectives;
• Personal action planning – to translate thinking into action.
It was also seen as vital to offer both one-to-one and group access to the Dean of School; this helped demonstrate the high visibility and buy-in of senior leadership.
The programme was very well received within SAgE and has proven to be extremely beneficial for participants, the faculty and the University. 90% (19/21) of participants would recommend the programme to colleagues.
Major areas of success, as identified by the participants, were:
• the opportunity to work and to collaborate with colleagues across the different schools in the faculty;
• the engagement and buy-in created by the pre-work;
• the coaching culture that has come out as a result of the programme – a system of buddies, mentors and coaches has since been developed;
• the external speaker’s insight into what happens outside of “the four walls”, so to speak – in other universities, and in the wider scientific community;
• the closer connection to the faculty, and stronger alignment to the University’s mission.
The faculty has since instated a faculty-wide Steering Group, and the Oakridge programme will become an annual event to aspire to.
Werner Hofer, Dean of Research and Innovation at SAgE, saw the rationale for the workshop as “improving the performance and coherence through leadership in an academic setting”. He wanted to create a faculty-wide cohort of future leaders, with ”common ambitions, common views on research quality and research performance and the ability to communicate across boundaries”.
On the programme itself, he commended the work of Oakridge: “The quality of the facilitation is witnessed by the very good feedback we received from participants. It is our intention to make this workshop a recurring event for all our early career researchers.”