We are reviewing how we communicate across the schools within our Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) using design thinking to get an understanding of the problems and in order to potentially come up with effective and innovative solutions to improve the communication across our growing MAT.

The project has begun with a project team taken from the central MAT team, comprising members of the HR, finance, IT support and Education teams that work with all of the schools in the MAT. Catch up on my previous reflections here.

Interviews

As part of the immersion phase of our design thinking project we have undertaken a series of interviews with staff across the wider MAT to improve our understanding of the effective communication that takes place and areas where communication can improve. This phase is also referred to as the empathise phase, so an interview, listening to people’s view on communication will help us get a deeper understanding of the themes that can lead to good or bad communication.

Today we began to review some of the interviews that have already taken place. Summary post-its were placed around three themes.

  • Effective Communication
  • Communication Problems
  • Suggestions

These are the three themes that appeared in every interview and is now on the wall in the communal coffee and tea area so the wider central team can peruse as the kettle boils and their tea bag stews.

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I was made aware that this process can feel messy at first. To an extent it has but I have been fortunate to work with a great team who have shown enthusiasm, trust and commitment to the project. A fellow teacher who has carried out this process herself has been kind enough to share some advice. She encouraged me to use interviews in a recent message:

“Interviews will bring out insights about the communication issues. The immersion phase takes some time and feels a bit messy at first. Everything will start to come together when you make the connections from interviews.”

Wise Design Thinker, 2016

How true this has proved to be… While we are not at a stage where we feel we understand enough about communication across our MAT to move to the problem finding or “Define” phase, we have moved forward and themes are beginning to surface that need a little more attention. With the post-it-laden sheets on display next to the tea and coffee we are looking to engage everyone in the project and get them thinking about communication.

Growing the project

In a few weeks time the central team from out MAT meet, as we do each term, and we have a communication project slot on the agenda. The project team want to share our progress, but we have avoided simply standing and speaking about what we have done. True to our design thinking process we are keen to take this opportunity to enhance the immersion phase and go deeper by gathering the input of the wider team. Currently we see this as two activities:

How might we…

A recurring theme is that the role and vision of the MAT is not clearly understood or communicated to staff in the schools. Hence our first task is to ask groups of three to carry out what is often the initial generative task of a design thinking process. Beginning from a statement, in our case; “How might we communicate the role a vision of our MAT to staff?” the statement is reviewed and redefined.

Through interview and scribe the groups will gather their thoughts on this, leading to a review of the themes generated in the interview. This will lead them to redefine the statement of their own. How might we…

  • …induct new staff to MAT schools
  • …share key information with MAT staff
  • …engage all staff with MAT values

We shall see what comes and it should provide the next deeper level of immersion before we move to define and synthesise in order to find good problems to solve.

Team reflections

So far there has been positive feedback for the systematic approach of the IT support team who log calls and have a clear process for communicating problems and updating staff of the progress and solutions. Hence we want each team at our meeting to gather to reflect on their own communication under the following themes:

  • What do we communicate well to staff?
  • Where can we communicate better?
  • What can we change

Each team can then have some suggestions to add to the wall next to the kettle!

I have taken pictures and videos of our deisgn thinking process so far, here is a little video that I will be sharing with the team.

During the discussion about how to utilise our time with the whole central team some one suggested that these kind of tasks would be good to implement with headteachers, school business managers and the staff when we gather together annually at our MAT conference. This was a very encouraging sign as it said to me that the design thinking process can begin to spread throughout the organisation. From the beginning this was my hope, as I believe this way of thinking and problem identifying and solving can have a positive impact on the way we work together.

There are glimmers of ideas that I want to suppress until we have completed the immersion but I am excited that the process is moving forward.

Exciting times…

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