Cut pain of change

January 5, 2007

Got a controversial institutional project? Alan Thomson reports on a way to test it before it is unleashed on staff

Imagine if university managers had the chance to test and rethink controversial projects before trying them out for real on staff.

Well, now is the time to encourage management teams in charge of such projects to sign up for the 2007 Change Academy, where they can do just that.

Teams must submit proposals - and they must be real projects that will effect substantial institutional change - to the academy by February 16.

A steering group will then choose the winning institutions - last year there were 17 - to go forward to the four-day Change Academy in September.

The academy is run by the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. It is designed to help institutions achieve often difficult and potentially painful strategic change, perhaps involving redundancies.

Over the four days, management teams, which tend to comprise five or six members of staff ranging from senior to relatively junior members and increasingly a student representative, will be encouraged to be as frank as possible about one another's projects.

Ewart Wooldridge, chief executive of the Leadership Foundation, said:

"People should be able to say 'you really need to rethink this' without it being damaging to a team or an individual.

"When they leave the academy, teams will be well into the processes of their project. And in a few cases, the teams will have rethought their projects."

All types of UK higher education institutions will be represented, from research and teaching giants to small specialist institutions.

Successful projects tend to be at a relatively early stage because the teams involved are likely to benefit most from the academy.

Mr Wooldridge said: "This is the stage where many teams fail."

Team-building is an important part of the academy's activities, but rather than members engaging in traditional team-building exercises, such as crossing a stretch of water using ropes and planks, they work on real projects.

Mr Wooldridge said: "These are not exercises, and to qualify for the academy institutions have to prove they are significant projects.

"But teams need quality time to work through projects in a proper strategic way, and the Change Academy gives them that quality time to focus on this."

Coaches are available to offer support to the teams, and follow-up is provided over the subsequent 12 months.

The steering group comprises team members from the previous year's Change Academy. Successful teams will be notified in March.

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