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Thank you for your interest in Fresh Thinking Labs, which combines state of the art Online  interaction and knowledge sharing with In Person  opportunities for learning from leading practitioners and thinkers about the creation of high performing workplaces and high quality working lives.

We’re passionate about building workplaces where people at every level can use and develop their full range of skills, knowledge, and creativity in their day-to-day work. We call this workplace innovation. But how can you achieve it?

Fresh Thinking Labs is for everyone looking for ideas and practical support. Much more than a database it builds one-to-one and group relationships. It facilitates dialogue and knowledge sharing between members with common interests and challenges.

Each year Fresh Thinking Labs members can enjoy:

  • Personal introductions to other members by our experienced international facilitators.
  • Online  search and matching based on your interests and expertise.
  • Open or closed Online  Communities created by members (in any language).
  • A Europe-wide programme of Open Events  and webinars on member-identified themes.
  • In Person Labs, closed groups meeting to explore a specific issue or opportunity together.
  • Sharing and developing good practices through facilitated member workplace visits.
  • The Essential  Fifth Element Diagnostic online.
  • A unique Online  portfolio including research evidence, case studies and practical tools.

You can learn more about Fresh Thinking Labs by watching our short animation to discover how it can work for you.

The Fresh Thinking Labs Programme

Fresh Thinking Lab members enjoy access to a unique range of opportunities for sharing knowledge and experience, building professional relationships with like-minded people and collaborating with them on issues of common interest.

Open Events  are free to all Fresh Thinking Lab members.

In-Person  Labs are closed groups of circa 15 companies focused on a specific theme or geographical location. They meet 3 or 4 times a year, in members’ workplaces, enabling the host to showcase good practices and gain support from the other participants as ‘critical friends’.

Workshops are open to Members and Non-Members, offering a Fresh Thinking Labs ‘taster’ as well as expert-led insights into workplace innovation.

We welcome suggestions from Members who may be interested in hosting events.

2016-2017-2018 Open
5th – 6th October 2016 Saint Gobain, FabLab, Bristol UK

22nd – 23rd February 2017 Diversity and Innovation at E.ON, Nottingham UK

8th and 9th March 2017 Ideation Platforms and Cultures of Innovation, Copenhagen DK
Hosts Danish Technological Institute and Novozymes

DTI workshops
12th and 13th July 2017 Transforming Culture at GE Mining HQ, London UK

26th and 27th September 2017 Organisational Design in a Bossless IT Company, hosted by Proekspert, Tallinn, Estonia.
Designing Organisations for Empowerment
6th October 2017 Symposium and Fresh Thinking Labs Ireland Launch Event, Dublin

1st November 2017
Workplace Innovation Scotland Lab, Host D S Smith Lockerbie;
14/12/17 Argenta Dundee;
21/3/17 Endura, Livingston.

22nd/23rd November 2017
Employee Driven Innovation Lab Launch, Copenhagen DK
5th/6th December 2017
Good Work and Mental Wellbeing Lab, launch meeting, Nottingham UK
Spring 2018 Employee Driven Innovation, HELIX, Sweden
July 2018 dates tbc FTL Summer School, Brighton UK
A choice of 5 days of events

Open Events

Open Events for Fresh Thinking Lab members vary considerably in format and content. Most are hosted by member companies eager to explore a particular topic in depth, as well as showcasing their own progress in the field. Our launch Open Event  hosted by advanced manufacturing company Saint-Gobain in Bristol provides an illustration:

Saint-Gobain was founded in 1665 and employs 200,000 people worldwide. The Bristol ‘Performance Plastics’ plant, which manufactures bearings for the automotive industry and other sectors, has created a particularly powerful approach to employee-driven innovation and self-managed teams – with many striking achievements and challenges to share.

Participants from a diverse group of 12 Basque, Belgian and UK organisations (Bristan, Convestro, CSV Diversiteit, Clarco, Ederfil Becker, E.ON, GE Mining, Lindum, Nottingham City Council, Trinity Laban, Rittal CSM) were welcomed to the plant’s FabLab. After an ‘icebreaker’ lunch, Saint-Gobain’s Business Manager Tom Francis provided participants with ‘the big picture’ including a whistle-stop tour of the past five years from the management team’s perspective. Much of the journey, including experiments with dedicated teams for innovation, customer journeying, “value stream mapping”, cross-functional working, and agile methodologies were about moving from a pyramidal hierarchy to a more circular organisation where decision making power is given to those with the most amount of knowledge in that field. The FabLab exemplifies the team’s attempts to answer the question “how can we create spaces to enable collaborative working?” As Tom put it later in the day, the FabLab is not only about innovation, but about promoting the mentality needed to innovate. In short, the Bristol plant is trying to move away from the hierarchical psychology of obeying and seeking permission, to using initiative, creativity and passion, and being empowered to make decisions.

Setting the wider context, Fresh Thinking Labs’ Peter Totterdill explored working practices that enable employees at every level to use and develop their full range of knowledge, experience and creativity in day-to-day work, while Professor John Bessant (University of Exeter) described how the ‘flat, networked’ style of 21st century innovation’ is not only becoming increasingly important but also increasingly possible thanks to the internet and online platforms like Fresh Thinking Labs.

In three groups, the visitors joined three internal teams in reflecting on current achievements and challenges at Saint-Gobain – or, as Gabriella Eberhardt of GE Mining put it, things to ‘continue or consider’. After exploring challenges from the Saint-Gobain perspective, the three groups pooled their generic ‘big questions’ for exploration during Open Forums on the following day.

By lunchtime on Day 2 participants had examined ways of overcoming internal power struggles, engaging the whole workforce in innovation and improvement, and managing career progression in a flatter structure, each taking away actionable insights both from Saint-Gobain and from the other visiting companies. A full report of outcomes is available to participants.

Participant feedback from the Saint-Gobain Open Event

What we’ve seen today is that the Fresh Thinking Labs concept has helped us get a pretty good picture of what we’re actually trying to do. Sometimes we try to tackle stuff without knowing exactly what the problem is. So what I’ve found today is that the questioning from all the different organisations has given some clarity to our thinking. They ask ‘what exactly is your problem? We don’t understand it so what makes you think you understand it.’

This makes us really think about what we are doing, what we are trying to achieve and what our problem is.
Tom Francis, Saint Gobain

Today has been absolutely brilliant. Fresh Thinking Labs is about interaction and the whole concept of bringing businesses together to share their experiences in this way is ground-breaking and invaluable.
Herman Kok, Lindum Group

I think the Fresh Thinking Labs concept is incredibly important because if you only rely on your own company and the people in your own organisation, then you’re very limited as to how you are going to develop innovation and engagement.

Coming together with other companies helps you recognise that we have similar problems and challenges. In some case other companies have actually tackled a problem you’ve got, and come up with a solution that may have taken you months or even years to resolve. Getting together and sharing ideas has real value, real benefits.
Malcolm Bond, Rittal CSM

The power of events of this nature is that you are exposed to things you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. It reminds you that if you only act on what you already know, you’ll never change. The concept of Fresh Thinking Labs exposes you to new ways of applying different thinking to the organisation and that’s the real power of it. I have learned a lot today – much more than I anticipated when I first arrived.
Jeremy Ling, Bristan Group

Fresh Thinking Labs provides an amazing opportunity for individuals to get together, share what they’re doing and have the chance to think outside of work. Taking that step back, reflecting and being able to bounce ideas off others is invaluable. There’s lots of things I’ve already taken away after just one session.

It’s easy to think that you’re the only one going through these challenges when actually a lot of us have similar things going on, similar ideas and we all want to progress. The opportunity to compare different perspectives and bounce ideas around is invaluable.
Mary Lester, Nottingham City Council

In Person  Labs

Closed groups of circa 15 companies focus on a specific theme or geographical location of common interest to members. They meet three or four times a year, typically in members’ workplaces, enabling the host to showcase good practices and gain support from the other participants as ‘critical friends’. A key strength of In Person  Labs lies in the way they build close and enduring relationships between participants, enabling problems and challenges to be discussed openly and in complete confidence.

In-Person  Labs are free of charge for Company Premier Members; other Members pay an additional fee for each Lab joined.

Planning is at an advanced stage for the following Labs, to be launched in 2017 - 2018:

Employee-Driven Innovation How to create times and spaces where employees at every level reflect on what has gone well and what can be improved, generate fresh ideas and ‘think out of the box?
More details here.
Good Work and Mental Well-Being Employers increasingly recognise the need to identify and support people with mental health problems, but how to establish those workplace practices which actively build mental well-being and engagement?
More details here.
Employee Representation and Direct Participation Representative partnership structures on their own have little impact on performance or quality of working life. But how can they shape empowering work practices that lead to high productivity and performance?
More details here.
And . . . Fresh Thinking Lab Members can create In Person  Labs on any issue!

Feedback from previous In Person Lab participants

“It’s good to see that other businesses have exactly the same challenges and to be able to collectively solve the problems that we’re facing. There’s a wealth of knowledge around that we can access and help each other out.”

Tom Francis, Business Manager, Saint-Gobain.

“It’s really nice to have a group of organisations coming together to share things that have happened in our workplaces. Even if they’re different, there are commonalities that we can learn from.”

Natalie Wilkie, Innovation Team, The Met Office.

“We’ve built a good community of people who share what they’ve got and know that they’re not alone in facing the challenges they have in their own companies.”

Mark Wightman, Head of Development, Red Gate Software.

“While taking part in the lastest and most challenging Fresh Thinking Lab with GE Mining, I was asked what I got out of participating in the event, which was a great question and one that caused me to reflect on the whole event. For me it is all about Personal Development. By applying my Experience, Knowledge and Beliefs to a different organisation I must analyse and examine the issues from the point of first principle. In doing so we inevitably reflect on the application and effectiveness of those aspects within our own organisation. Testing what we believe we know to be true refines our understanding leading to continual improvement; every day is a learning day”.

Warren Glover Head of Employee Wellbeing and Development, Lindum Group Ltd.

Peter and Rosemary lead the Creative Workplace Lab hosted by the UK Met Office.

Fresh Thinking LabsOnline

An accessible and targeted platform for everyone looking for ideas and practical support for workplace innovation. It builds one-to-one and group relationships, facilitating dialogue and knowledge sharing between members with common interests and challenges. Fresh Thinking Labs Online  includes:

  • Personal introductions to other members with similar interests or challenges by our experienced international facilitators.
  • Online search and matching based on personal interests and expertise.
  • Live knowledge-sharing forums and webinars on Member-identified themes.
  • Open or closed Communities of Members with similar interests in any language.
  • A unique Online  portfolio including diagnostic tools, business case evidence, case studies and practical resources.

About Us

Fresh Thinking Labs draws on 25+ years’ experience of supporting people-centred change in a diverse range of companies and public sector organisations, large and small. We are part of Workplace Innovation, building partnerships with enterprises, employers’ organisations, policymakers, trade unions, universities and other stakeholders to share good practice and explore the future of work and organisations. We co-lead EUWIN, the Europe-wide workplace innovation network established by the European Commission, providing us with in-depth knowledge of international trends and developments.

Our core team is supported by national and international networks of experts with a wide range of expertise and knowledge of innovative workplace practice. We are accredited by ILM for the delivery of management and leadership courses.

With a solid basis in evidence-based practice as well as in thought leadership, Workplace Innovation has built a unique portfolio of expertise, experience and resources. Our approach is always practical and we deliver high quality, cost effective management development and organisational change.

What people say about Workplace Innovation

“We wanted a WOW factor and you’ve certainly delivered that!”

Tony Williams, Executive Director of People, Orbit Group

“From a personal point of view I found Peter and Rosemary very easy to work with and their knowledge of the workplace is exceptional. They were always there to help, guide and point us in the right direction.”

Irene Emery, Customer Services Director, Pendragon Contracts

“Our collaboration with Professor Totterdill and his colleagues proved to be inspired. Professor Totterdill filled the role of Masterclass facilitator with what seemed like effortless ease, thanks to a thorough grasp of the subject matter, a warm and engaging style of interacting with the audience, and a thoroughly professional approach to planning and preparation.”

Lucy Fallon-Byrne, Director, National Centre for Partnership and Performance, Ireland

“I highly recommend Peter and his team to anyone wanting to inspire and educate people about how to manage change well in organisations.”

Sharon Darwent, Head of Employee Engagement, BT.

Keep in Touch

Fresh Thinking Labs is your platform for learning, development and change across the whole organisation. Its programme is driven by you, and its aim is to help you build an international community of practice to help and support you in driving change forward in your organisation.

We hope you will join us, and welcome further discussion to ensure that Fresh Thinking Labs meets your requirements in every way. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Professor Peter Totterdill
Workplace Innovation
20 Fletcher Gate
Nottingham NG1 2FZ

Telephone +44 (0)115 933 8321
Web and

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Fresh thinking Labs offers access to a unique online resource portfolio including research evidence, case studies and practical tools including the Essential  Fifth Element Diagnostic - Online. Below you can find a few free resources to browse:

Try our Essential  Fifth Element Diagnostic - Online.

Fresh Thinking Labs the international open source movement for workplace innovation. Your pathway to the best workplace practices and latest thinking from across Europe and beyond.

Success in the new industrial revolution naturally requires that our industries use the best available technologies. But technologies alone are not the answer. Watch our 'Guide to Workplace Innovation' animation.

Watch our film about Workplace Innovation.

Workplace Innovation - Creating value

Interested to learn more? Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform for company networking and workplace innovation, On Line  and In Person:

Please contact us for further information!

Fresh Thinking Labs has launched in Ireland! On Friday 6th October Peter Totterdill and Rosemary Exton together with Brendan McGinty, MD of Stratis Consulting our Irish partner, welcomed companies to our Symposium and Launch Event on Workplace Innovation for Irish Companies.

Interested to learn more? Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform for company networking and workplace innovation, On Line  and In Person:

Please contact us for further information!

A Europe-wide platform for facilitating workplace innovation and knowledge sharing between businesses and organisations is set to launch in Dublin next month with a symposium to be held at IAA Conference Centre.

Fresh Thinking Labs (FTL) is the international open source movement for workplace innovation. It is part of Workplace Innovation Europe Limited and its membership includes both large and small businesses including Aviva, E.ON, GE Transportation, Novozymes, and Saint-Gobain.

Its extensive network provides a pathway for businesses to discover the best workplace practices and latest thinking from across Europe. It is currently facilitating workplace visits and networking events with SAAB Aerospace in Sweden, Leo Pharma in Copenhagen and MBDA Systems in the UK.

The launch follows the appointment of Dublin based Stratis Consulting as the exclusive Irish partner of FTL. Stratis comprises the most experienced and innovative team of practitioners in their field in Ireland working at leadership team, chief executive and board levels to support organisations to lead improvements in critical areas of employee relations, people strategy and workplace innovation.

Brendan McGinty Managing Partner at Stratis Consulting, said: “This launch event will give organisations an early opportunity to understand more about how FTL network could benefit them by combining an online community designed to support shared learning and innovation in the workplace with face-to-face dialogue and relationship building through inter-company visits and workshops at regional, national and international levels.

“Workplace Innovation Europe Limited’s Director, Peter Totterdill, will be speaking at the symposium. He and his team at FTL have an international reputation for bridging the gap between academic theory and practical application. They are inspiring businesses of all types to seek better ways of organising their workplaces, improving productivity and performance and enhancing employee well-being.”

The Symposium and Launch of the FTL Ireland Workplace Innovation Network will take place on Friday October 6th 2017 at the IAA Conference Centre, D’Olier Street, Dublin 2. (8.30am-12.30 pm). Further information and registration are available by contacting Robert O’Neill on 01-2166302/ 085-776 8833 or by e-mail to


Mental health problems are a huge issue affecting people and business. Statistics tell us that 1 in 4 people will be affected by a mental health problem at some time in their life with the result that 72 million working days are lost each year, at a cost of around £3.4.9bn to UK employers alone.

In recent years, policy makers and businesses alike have been increasingly engaged in the area of mental health and well-being in the workplace. However, the approach towards dealing with it is not necessarily the same as that for promoting mental health and wellbeing. For far too long the focus has been on treatment of mental disorders, and not on prevention, promotion and well-being. Well-being at work is defined as individuals’ ability to work productively and creatively, to engage in strong and positive relationships, fulfilment of personal and social goals, contribution to community, and a sense of purpose. To promote well-being at work means creating work environments that allow individuals to thrive.

Emerging risks to health and wellbeing include work intensification (high workload and information overload, high speed, increased mechanisation, automation, computerisation, more complexity), emotional demands (linked to more service-based jobs, bullying, harassment and stigmatisation), and job insecurity. These challenges have been found to be linked with work-related stress, mental ill health, sickness absence, productivity loss and early exit from the workforce.

Good work supports mental well-being for everyone. Employers are increasingly recognising the need to identify and support people with mental health problems but the wider task is to identify and address those workplace practices which build or undermine mental well-being such as workload, work schedules, role clarity, communication, rewards, teamwork, problem-solving, and relationships at work.

While many employees are now recognising that good mental health among their employees is both an asset and a source of competitive advantage and are investing in mental health awareness training for managers, there is evidence that much more could be done to address core workplace practices and cultures which have the power to either fundamentally undermine or promote mental wellbeing for all employees.

So, in pursuit of creating healthy and sustainable work environments, what can employers do to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem? To what extent are leaders and managers equipped to identify poor mental health, to provide necessary support for employees, and to take positive and focused action to build positive mental well-being at work?

Let’s talk

Even enlightened employers will be daunted by the mountain of guidelines that have been recently published following the increase in awareness of the impact of mental health at work. Guidelines are helpful and supportive but sometimes do not reflect the reality of the workplace.

To address this Fresh Thinking Labs, the membership-based international platform for workplace innovation, and the NHS-backed Mindful Employer, are facilitating the ‘Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab’, a closed network of organisations committed to exploring leading edge practice and identifying practical, evidence-based solutions. The Lab provides a platform for employers from public and private sectors to tackle the challenges posed by mental health issues in the workplace by sharing their experiences and insights as ‘critical friends’, and developing a community of best practice from which new and innovative solutions will emerge.

In summary, the Lab:

  • Enables the sharing of good practice and ideas between workplaces.
  • Builds active relationships with your peers in other organisations.
  • Creates a forum for collaborative innovation and problem solving.
  • Bridges the gap between research and practice.
  • Draws on experience from our network of leading companies from across Europe.
  • Develops practical tools and resources for workplace change.
  • Provides access to expert guidance.

It aims to:

Raise Awareness - How can we diagnose the current workplace climate and assess the factors that contribute to, or undermine, positive workplace health? How to build the business case and win support for change? And which policies should be put in place?

Build a Momentum for Change - Once the right policies are in place, how do we raise awareness of mental health and improve the standard of practice throughout the organisation?

Rethink Job Design and Work Organisation – Can we turn line managers from barrier reef or mental health ambassadors? Training managers in mental health awareness and fostering appropriate behaviours is often necessary but what does good practice look like – and is it sufficient? How can management roles, processes and behaviours be rethought to support positive mental health and high performance simultaneously?

Building mental well-being at work requires focused leadership commitment. Senior teams need a full understanding of how the workplace can contribute to positive mental health and, in turn, to business performance. They must align corporate values with evidence-based principles and the needs of individuals throughout the organisation, and ensure their implementation in practice.

There is more information here. Companies, NGOs and public sector organisations wishing to join the ‘Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab’ can contact Fresh Thinking Labs on 0115 9338321 or by email.

Build Positive Mental Health through Good Work

Tom Francis offers a personal account of the journey that he and his senior team colleagues are undertaking as they make their business ‘fit for the future and fit for people’. Tom is Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Bristol


The Philosophy

It’s hard to pinpoint a time when our transformation started and when we began to get clarity on what we wanted to achieve, but for the “aha” moment came when I heard the term “fit for future, fit for people”. I think the phrase has been plagiarised from Gary Hamel’s Fit for the Future, and for Human Beings? but for me it sums up what we are trying to do – yes, of course we want to focus on the business (profitability etc.) to ensure that we are here in 350 years (we just had our 350th birthday), but it also puts in equal balance that it has to be a place that is fit for people. By this I mean we want to provide an environment that the whole person can turn up to and contribute, and not just a portion of the person.

We also have our external brand promise which is “making small parts, making a big difference”. When we are talking about transformation we look at it on three different levels – I, We and It:

  1. How do I make a big difference (I)
  2. How do we make a big difference (We)
  3. How does the business make a big difference (It).

I – providing individuals with a safe place where they can understand themselves and their purpose, have balance and fun, and be supported to develop. It’s also about helping to put people in places that make them spark!

We - creating trust and accountability in teams plus open communication and collaboration. We want teams and individuals to have the power to make the right decisions.

It – putting us in the customer’s shoes, understanding what they need and creating innovative products around those needs. It’s also about creating a sustainable future based on the notion that the decisions we make today matter for our tomorrow.

Great in principle, but what about in practice?

Yes, in principle this makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, but what about in practice in the hard light of day? How do we translate this into the business and make changes? The way we use this in our day to day decisions when talking about transformation is more of a check and a guide, plus a way of explaining to people what activities we are doing. For instance, when we are looking at transforming something we can ask – “is this going to impact our business in the future?”, “is this going to positively impact our workplace in making it more fit for people” and “at what level are we looking to make the transformation: I, we or it”.

For instance, in our Bristol site, we recently changed the way we authorise holidays. Now, instead of requesting the day off from your manager, who then has to ask the team and approve, individuals can now book time off with no sign-off. The only stipulation is that they consult the team before doing it. When we look at this example, it has no impact on the business in terms of numbers but it does have a significant, positive impact on making the work place fit for people. It puts trust and accountability in people’s hands, encourages open communication between team members and reduces the bureaucracy associated with a simple request.

It starts with the top . . .

From our experience it is not possible, and unfair to the workforce, to ‘expect’ them to transform without change at the leadership level, so ironically we started our transformation in Bristol in a hierarchical way! I remember Clive Hutchinson from Cougar Automation telling me once (and I am paraphrasing here) – “don’t blame people (especially the dreaded ‘middle management’ group!) for behaving the way they do; blame yourself as a leadership team for creating the environment that creates those behaviours”. I think this is true, and as a leadership team we had to do a lot of development on ourselves before we were able to transform the business.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were following the idea of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team which suggests that building trust is the foundation for a high performing team. Without this you have fear of conflict (people don’t talk about things and you leave elephants in the room) which leads to lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and ultimately inattention to results. We worked on this for a number of months involving offsite management meetings that were about team development rather than daily business. These meetings gradually focused on how we can transform and help the business naturally as trust built up.

Some of the techniques we used during this phase included:

  • Personal journeys: each person sketches out their lives, taking in the highs and lows. You explain your life journey (or as much as you are comfortable with) in groups of three (“triads”) and discuss what you learned from each stage. The idea is that you give your team members a deep understanding of what you have been through in your life, and that gives them a perspective on why you may behave in certain ways in certain situations.

  • Feedback: a facilitated session giving feedback using sad/mad/glad or stop/start/continue so that people can see what the team appreciates about you and also what they would like to see change. The format we started with involved talking about your team as a whole (i.e. “what does the business want your team to stop/start/continue) and then, as the trust built up, we moved on to the individual managers. We would each have a stop/start/continue poster and we all rotated round the room every few minutes so that we each had a chance to write on everyone else’s poster. Eventually this feedback became more natural and unforced to the extent that now the management team appraisal is done as a group.

    A big part of this development is providing support for leaders to work on themselves in overcoming barriers to achieving our goal. A common barrier we came across was the inability to relinquish control. The reasons for this differ from person to person, but it usually stems from past experiences. Each individual is able to find help to overcome this (we’ve tried things like NLP and EMDR). We also noticed that we naturally started forming triads or little groups to help and support each other.

  • Competition: A lot of effort was put into removing the need for competition between management team members. Historically we were encouraged to be the loudest, strongest and the best as we competed for the next step up the ladder. Now we don’t compete, we collaborate and this is far more productive, less destructive and creates a much nicer working environment.

After the leadership team, where did we go?

For us it was organic. As managers became comfortable with the techniques that we were using, they started to cascade them down by having their own offsite monthly meetings to develop their teams. What we have done is very incremental and it’s sometimes hard to remember the sequence, so instead of telling the story I have picked some key things out that I think really helped us on the way:

What we did  What level we worked on  Details 
 Feedback WE: communication, accountability, empowerment One of our managers developed a process called Team Speak.  This facilitated process involves providing the team with space to brainstorm all the issues that prevent them from doing a good job.  The team then prioritise the items (using paired comparisons or similar) and agree the top two things to tackle in the next month (we encourage them to start with the small things first).  The items, when resolved, are moved to the ‘done’ section and the next on the list is selected.  No managers are involved unless they are needed for expenditure (even some managers now have agreed a spend limit within which teams can fix problems).
Focus on strengths I: self understanding We also now help people to find their strengths using tools such as i-styles, Belbin, strengths finder etc, and focus them on roles / jobs within their teams that play to their strengths.  
Put people in the right roles I, We: finding your spark, accountability, collaboration Linked to strengths – start moving people to roles that play more to their strengths.  This is a difficult one and takes time to do, but whenever there is the opportunity, do it!  We even have some people working in different departments to where they are costed now. Don’t worry about making it all ‘official’ providing the person is happy to move: in our experience this can complicate things (especially in the beginning).  Try doing trials and secondments to start with -and you will see the amazing results! 
Volunteer for  Projects I, We: working on strengths, trust, open communication Instead of picking teams, let people volunteer for what they are interested in.  You can start with low impact projects, or perhaps one or two volunteers together with selected people.  Eventually you can create completely volunteer based projects.  The last project (for our biggest strategic project at the site this year) we selected some of the leaders for the subprojects, gave an indication of what skills we needed, then let people volunteer to work on them (we had a day where people could come and talk to us to find out about the project, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to do this).  Why do this?  You can match skills (sometimes that you don’t know about) to projects you are working on, plus in general, people who volunteer to work on things are much more committed to it.
Provide clarity on priorities  It Explain to people what the priorities are each year.  We do this in a number of ways:  
1) We have the major projects priority discussion as an open forum (we are lucky enough to have an open space that allows people to sit round), with a few volunteer representatives from the business taking an active role.
2) We have a monthly company meeting to explain and update people about what is going on.  Part of this is an exhibition style session where representatives of the main projects provide stalls where people can find out about the projects that they are interested in.  In the future we would like the priorities to be gathered from the bottom up and not top down, but we are not there yet.
Train Facilitators   As teams began to become more autonomous we saw the need for good quality facilitation.  We started training a group of people (again volunteers) to help teams facilitate meetings (be it creative, team or other).  Good facilitation helps communication and reduces the likelihood of destructive conflict.


We’ve learned that whatever transformation your business is taking, it is a personal one (we even see differences between our sites). There is no one solution that fits all and it really is about finding your own way. Looking at other companies to get inspiration and encouragement through platforms such as Fresh Thinking Labs is a great way to get ideas and helps and to create a support networks, but ultimately it is down to your business and your culture HOW things are done. But I think the biggest bit of advice I can give is just to try stuff and to talk to each other. Experiment with little things, expand what works and kill what doesn’t. Set time aside specifically to talk about development and tackling issues with the whole company.

We know that we have just started the journey; we are still far away from a company that is fit for the future and fit for people, but each little step towards it is better than not doing anything.

This article by Tom Francis, Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.

Change is inevitable: do you adapt to it or do you lead it?

Organisations of every type need to adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. Reshaping organisations, building new levels of organisational competence, finding new ways to work and future-proofing organisations have become critical factors in determining future competitiveness and performance.

For example we have already witnessed the rapid change in culture, lifestyle and aspirations between the now retiring baby boomers and Generation Y. Gen Y-ers are now the ones starting up businesses and research in the US reveals that as many as 9 out of 10 of them believe that business success should be measured by more than profit.  That’s a change many didn’t see coming, so who’s to say that the businesses that will be built by the following generation won’t be different again with different products, different hierarchies and structures and different ways of working?

Change is inevitable but do you adapt to it or do you lead it?  Are you constrained by a short term focus or energised by a long term vision?  If you have a vision of the future of your organisation and the determination to achieve it, how are you to go about it and overcome the many obstacle and challenges along the way?

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that successfully adapting to change requires the development and full use of the talents and skills of everyone within an organisation.  Sustainable success depends on being able to change attitudes and practices at all levels of a business, completely transforming workplace cultures.

This is no easy task and requires fundamentally fresh thinking to overcome obstacles such as lack of vision at senior management level, middle management intransigence, employee reluctance to accept more responsibility, resistance to real ‘teamworking’ and a lack of will to make innovation and creativity part of the organisational culture.

However, we do know that the mutually-reinforcing impact of workplace partnership, shared learning, high-involvement innovation, enabling organisational structures and systems, self-organised teams and empowering job design can create a tangible effect in workplaces which is hard to quantify. This is embodied within The Fifth Element approach to workplace innovation, creating an enabling culture and levels of workforce engagement which can help an organisation cope with both externally enforced and planned change.

As Tom Francis argues in his article, shared learning between companies is a hugely useful resource in finding ways to change entrenched attitudes and work practices. It highlights tried and tested approaches and avoids reinventing the wheel, while at the same time stimulating new thinking and innovation. Knowledge-sharing forums offer a platform to understand how other businesses do things and how they have resolved dilemmas and challenges in the process of change. For example Fresh Thinking Labs delivers both face-to-face and online access to a Europe-wide pool of experience and knowledge, and providing ideas and practical support for businesses interested in future-proofing their organisations.

Such learning networks engage small, closed groups of companies in exploring a specific issue. They offer a structured approach to identifying good practice and provide participants with a unique portfolio of tools and case study material. 

Meetings may be hosted by an employer with great experiences to share. Other members visit as ‘critical friends’, identifying positive achievements while bringing their own knowledge and experience to bear on current challenges.

Learning networks work because they are practical and dynamic and are built on trust, enabling people to share problems openly and generate new perspectives by viewing problems and opportunities from different bodies of experience.  They also provide a safe environment to test or peer review ideas and concepts before sharing them with colleagues. They can provide opportunities for shared experimentation through action learning where participants each undertake comparable change projects in parallel. And they often lead to long-term collaborative relationships.

Face-to-face networks are powerful because they support trust, openness and long-term relationships but their potential for knowledge sharing and access to wider communities of interest is enhanced massively when linked to an online “network of networks”.

Inter-organisational networking and knowledge exchange will play a vital role in helping businesses build the ability to adapt to major economic, social and cultural change and to create workplaces of the future where innovation and creativity are embedded with high performance and employee well-being.

They may also lead to a more fundamental change in the way we do business, moving away from the a confrontational model based on competition to a collaborative model based on shared goals and what Professor John Bessant describes as ‘collective efficiency’.

Effective knowledge sharing may well assist in coping with whatever change is generated by the aspirational demands by Generation X.  In any event, shared learning clearly demonstrates that confronting change need not be either lonely or haphazard.  It shows that businesses that want to embrace change don’t have to have every creative thought themselves.  They just have to network effectively and recognise a good idea when they see one.

This article by Neil Devons first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.

Gabriella Eberhardt, HR Leader at GE Mining, shares her impressions after our London event 'Transforming Culture at GE Mining'.

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