Thinking differently…about networking

Dr Lou Mycroft and Joss Kang reflect on learning from the online network events they have recently led on behalf of the Education and Training Foundation.

We – that’s Dr Lou Mycroft and Joss Kang have just run a series of online networks for the Education and Foundation for middle leaders and finance managers and leaders. They went down really well, with participants valuing opportunities to network, share and collaborate. What was different about our approach was its structure – input about the latest research around business development, followed by specific expertise from the field, and finally an invitation to participants to drive their own networking, rather than waiting for someone else to provide an opportunity. Anyone who knows our work would not be surprised to learn that mini-Thinking Environments were enabled, to process ‘freshest thinking’ along the way!

“It was a great opportunity to receive some quality content and then be able to collaborate with colleagues.”
“Having the opportunity to learn from others via their freshest thinking.”
“Hearing different perspectives from others, exploring research and thinking!”

We deliberately curated current leadership research from Further Education and skills and – crucially – perspectives from the wider business world, national and international. Participants received follow-up links via a Padlet.

Both sessions began with Erika James and Lynn Perry Wooten’s influential work around ‘The Prepared Leader’ (2022). These two influential education leaders argue it’s not enough to have a triple bottom line – people, profit and planet – in our uncertain world. Leaders need to add a fourth bottom line, that of the prepared leader to equip them to lead through the next crisis. Remember the last one?

We recommend their brilliant two-part podcast with researcher Brené Brown.

“We do not ordinarily plan for the atypical, the anomalous, the irregular, or the exceptional on a day-to-day basis. We are hardwired to neglect the possibility of a crisis.”

Middle leaders and managers

The Middle Leaders and Managers Network also welcomed the practice-based wisdom of AI specialist (and AmplifyFE community builder) Dr Lynne Taylorson. Lightbulb moments were happening all over the place!

Other theoretical frameworks, common to both networks, which resonated with middle leaders and managers, included systems thinking, changemaking and ETF’s framing of ‘head, heart and hands’ leadership as well as thinking differently about power. The long-forgotten concept of a different kind of power – potentia – resonated with leaders seeking new ways to motivate long-term thinking: from good intentions to sustainable change. Read more about potentia (and how it can awaken Golden Unicorns) on Lou’s blog.

Two Kinds of Power slide - potestas and potentia

Finance leaders and managers

At the finance leaders and manager network we focused on four topics via the lens of high-performing teams. All four are drawn from the ETF’s newly launched online course ‘Finance Leaders and Managers Programme’ designed by touchconsulting earlier this year:

  1. trust
  2. commercial insight to build empathy
  3. getting to need quickly
  4. harnessing different perspectives.

Access the course free from the ETF’s online learning platform. Once you’ve set up an account, search for ‘finance leaders and managers’ and add it to your dashboard. It’s then much easier to dip in and out of the two modules.

Module 1: Driving team performance

  1. high performing team
  2. aligning your team through clear vision, cohesion and strong communication
  3. providing feedback to individuals
  4. running meetings to facilitate high performance

Module 2: Influencing the broader business

  1. commercial insights, analysis and opinion
  2. greater impact in your communication
  3. influencing team members
  4. building shared understanding of finances with non-finance colleagues

We have designed the eight sessions with care, so each contains:

  • current research
  • voice from the sector
  • learning task
  • further resources.

In each ‘voice from the Sector’ we spotlight one industry expert’s take on the topic, foregrounding their lived experience and valuable know-how through short videos (ranging in length from 29 seconds to 3.5 minutes). Brew a cuppa and watch.

  • • Hear Yiannis Koursis OBE (CEO of The Bedford College Group) discussing how essential it is to build a clear and cohesive vision into the DNA of an organisation (module 1, section 2).
  • • Or watch Henry Taylor-Toone (Chief Finance Officer of The Trafford College Group) discussing how finance teams can amplify their voice within the organisation (module 2, section 1).

If you want a sneak preview of the eight industry experts check out their videos on the ETF’s course playlist. The videos feed the learning tasks which, again, have been carefully designed to help you apply theory to practice. Finance managers and leaders can use the tasks in one-to-ones and team meetings to extend thinking and develop team members influencing skills.

Feedback and conversation around the networks have confirmed that FE is ready for new approaches to professional development. FE is taking back its own potentia and thinking for itself. That’s why it’s essential to dial up opportunities for thinking together and maybe dial-down on generic ‘CPD’ that doesn’t allow time to process how it’s going to be useful. Our recent collaborative experiences show that given effective stimuli (up-to-date research plus voices from the sector), time to think (through short those ‘freshest thinking’ breaks) and some guidance around using professional social media to keep the conversations going, FE’s leaders will be able to shift from good intentions to long-term sustainable change.