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City Challenge

Case Study for Oasis Academy - Bristol

Academy's City Challenge awarded top marks

When teachers at Oasis Academy Bristol wanted to give their Year 11 students the chance to learn outside the classroom for a day, it was important to find an activity which would capture the teenagers' imagination but not prove too difficult to manage.

The event needed to be well structured and organised, be enjoyable and fun for the 70+ 15 and 16-year-olds and, of course, meet all the necessary health and safety and risk assessments.

Rising to the challenge – in more ways than one – was City Challenge, a team development organisation based in Oxford run by Jane Read, which specialises in tailored events to help bring groups of up to 150 closer together by focusing on communication and teamwork skills.

It arranged a special programme for the Academy called the Bath Challenge, an urban orienteering style event around the historic city, giving students the chance to discover its unique heritage and wonderful buildings, while at the same time having a fun day out.

For the Academy's assistant principal, Hannah Enticott, the event far exceeded expectations and she was full of praise for the way it was organised.

"Our Year 11 pupils are on their way to GCSEs, one of the most important times in their lives, and as part of their curriculum development, we felt it would be good to do some teambuilding with them outside the school environment," she said.

"Our objective was to give them some new experiences, to open their horizons and to have the chance to see beyond their immediate groups of friends.

"It was a fantastic day and a great opportunity for our students and teachers to do something together. I've done quite a few activities before, but this is the only one I have ever experienced where pupils actively want to do it again and I'd recommend it to other schools to embrace it as part of their curriculum too."

Given the number of pupils, Ms Enticott admitted there were "reservations" about taking the group to a largely unfamiliar city, but said City Challenge's professional and well structured approach, both in the run-up up to the event and on the day, meant she and her colleagues felt confident about its success.

Energy and enthusiasm

"As teachers, we had spoken to the pupils about issues such as health and safety, but the fact that before we set off, the City Challenge team talked to everyone about it too, really made a difference.

"They were able to explain what to do if the students found themselves in a certain situation, and the way they pitched it, the tone they set and their enthusiasm was exactly right, which meant there was a strong element of success from the beginning," she said.

"They showed photographs of some of the buildings the students would visit and the clues they would have to find, which really helped to energise and enthuse everyone and, by talking about how the strongest and most successful teams would be the ones that worked together, it meant by the time we got on the coach, everyone was determined to be first back with their answers."

Once they arrived in Bath, the pupils and their teachers were split into seven teams of 10 before being given their challenges and sent off around the city. The way the day was structured meant regular meeting places gave them the chance to swop experiences and check on each others' progress.

City Challenge's experiential learning techniques work well for teenagers because they combine education with learning through experience and observation. In tracking down the answers to their clues the pupils, many of whom hadn't been to the city before, were able to visit places such as the city's historic Royal Crescent, go inside Bath Cathedral – where the first King of England was crowned – and see some of the real-life places such as Great Pulteney Street, where Reese Witherspoon filmed the movie Vanity Fair.

And, although those teams which completed the clues most quickly were able to gain some free time, many used it to double check they were on the right track.

"The teams were so competitive they wanted to make sure they were doing the Challenge properly, which spoke volumes to me about the level of engagement they had put into the task," added Ms Enticott.

"At the end of the day, all the students who took part, irrelevant of their ability, were able to achieve because it was about teamwork, not about the individual, which was a very important message for us to get across."

"I was really touched to see that all of our students went out there and gave it their best shot, which I hadn't experienced before in this type of event," she added. "Usually, there are some who don't want to take part but this was different and due in no small part to how City Challenge handled it."

While some students stepped up to a leadership role – which included assessing teacher input – others took on different responsibilities, such as map reading, planning and time management.

At the end of the day, Jane Read and her team hosted a feedback session back at the Academy, where students were asked to draw impressions of the event and present their highs and learning points, which helped with personal confidence issues.

With music playing to keep the energy, pupils were also able to look at photographs from the day and prizes were awarded to the most successful teams and to individuals for their special contributions.

In-house or external supplier?

So could the Academy have hosted a similar event in-house? If so, Ms Enticott doesn't believe it would have been so successful.

"Although there's no evidence to say it wouldn't have worked if we had done it ourselves, the crucial factor was that everyone was very slick, full of confidence and professional from the word ‘go'," she said.

"It was a combination of the City Challenge personalities, the respect they engendered and their delivery which made this work so well.

"Given the amount of energy and time involved on top of a normal school day, I believe it was so much better to bring in a professional team like this and use their expertise and experience."

The Bath Challenge event was the first in a series of Enrichment Days which the Academy plans to hold five times a year, giving students the chance to learn outside the classroom and away from the normal school timetable.

The Academy, which opened in September 2008, is sponsored by Oasis Community Learning. As well as serving students, the aim is for it to become a centre for the whole community, with adult learning opportunities; a learning resource centre; sports facilities and out-of-hours youth activities.

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Bunge logo

City Challenge

Case study for Bunge Limited

Talking team tactics is a hit with global communications team

Bunge is a global agribusiness and food company with more than 25,000 employees around the world. Bunge’s operating model is based on decentralized and integrated operations and a strong culture built on shared values and a common purpose.

Recently its Global Communication Council met for two days in Brussels. The meeting was convened so that colleagues working in communications on different continents could share ideas and best practices and continue to strengthen collaborative relationships.

A key component of this second objective was a special Brussels Challenge Interactive, an event developed and run by Oxfordshire-based team development expert City Challenge, which gave the group the opportunity to work and bond closer together in a challenging way.

By custom designing a special Team Banner at the end of the event, the Bunge team highlighted the actions they could take to improve collaboration and effectiveness and increase the value they bring to the business.

This was especially important given the fact that communications team members came from as far afield as North America, Argentina, Brazil and Europe.

Jonathan Hotz, Bunge’s New York-based manager of corporate communications, said the idea had been to give people a constructive experience that would form the basis for increasing collaboration going forward.

"We had several ideas in mind for a day-two activity for our meeting, but we wanted to do something out of the ordinary," he said. "In the past, all of our team-building activities took place in the confines of a conference room. City Challenge offered the opportunity for colleagues to form stronger bonds through a friendly competition and the shared experience of exploring new surroundings together.

"Through the Brussels Challenge Interactive, communicators from different regions worked together on problem-solving under tight time constraints in an unfamiliar environment amidst a healthy spirit of competition. Planning, leadership, delegation, prioritisation, time management, diplomacy, listening skills, and the Bunge values of Openness and Trust, Teamwork and Entrepreneurship were all brought into play. We think the event was a success. People were engaged in the Challenge and felt it was a meaningful and effective experience overall."

He added: "We learned some things about ourselves as individuals and as a team, and we had fun doing it. Those were our main objectives. Having another shared experience will help us strengthen our global network. It's another part of building the ‘connective tissue’ that forms a more cohesive team."

The Brussels Challenge saw the group divided into two teams, each of which had to tackle a series of questions based on the history and geography of the city, while working against the clock.

Good planning, the use of negotiating skills, leadership and delegation skills, plus the ability to communicate and share ideas and plans is essential and City Challenge facilitators, who are all trained learning and development specialists, were on hand to assess progress and award points for certain tasks.

These included the team’s ability to understand the needs of the Challenge tasks, to plan effectively, to make best use of the skills within the group to create workable solutions, to listen to each other’s points of view and support each other, to deal with any conflict and implement the plans they had made.

Recommendations were then made to help the group transfer the lessons learned back into the workplace and, at the end, almost three quarters of the group said the event had been excellent in terms of effectiveness as a team development exercise.

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, who led the event, said: "Team development events such as this are designed to drill down and discover what makes a group of high-powered individuals really tick.

"It’s about seeing people in action in a real-time environment, seeing how they interact with their colleagues, how they bring newer members of a group into the discussions, how they choose to run with some ideas and discard others.

"Facilitation and feedback is essential because it frames the ideas the teams can take back into the workplace and, in this case, helped shape the actions the group needed for its Team Banner."

Bunge is one of world’s leading agribusiness and food companies. The company helps farmers grow more crops, transports and processes agricultural commodities efficiently and safely, and creates food products used by people worldwide.

Comments from participants included:
  • Very enjoyable, good way to build camaraderie, get to know your colleagues and see the city.
  • Do it. Fun and Informative. A good balance, not too intense
  • A great way to see and learn about a new city
  • A very interesting experience. Good exercise to work with your team
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E.On logo

City Challenge

Case study for E.On

Teamwork powers ahead at E.On

Finding a teambuilding event which is both fun for participants, but also delivers long term benefits in the workplace, can be like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack.

At energy company E.On however, managers have been working with one training company which knows how to successfully achieve both elusive elements.

Team development specialist City Challenge has run three events for E.On and the response has been so good that some of the feedback is now being included into performance management procedures for individuals who have taken part in the training.

The two organisations have been working together for about eighteen months, with events held in both Edinburgh and Liverpool.

Chris Kingston, who heads up a new connections team of 20 working within the Energy Services division, took his group on the Edinburgh Challenge last November, and he describes the training as “very powerful”.

Kingston had wanted to see how his team, formed over the previous 18 months and located throughout the West Midlands from Stoke down as far as Gloucester, behaved outside its normal environment.

“I wanted to get to know people on a more personal basis and find out what made them tick, so we set specific objectives beforehand with City Challenge,” he said.

“The way the whole game was set up was all about driving individuals’ behaviour and looking at team dynamics. It put people under pressure, yet enabled them to move into their natural space as it brings out their talents in a way you wouldn’t normally see.

“The structure of the day was very, very good because it enabled us to achieve our objectives within the wider context of the rules, underpinned by the fact we had to gain the historical evidence to solve the clues around Edinburgh, which made it great fun.”

The challenge sees participants divided into teams and working against the clock to solve a series of clues and puzzles based on historical themes around a city. Planning, teamwork, negotiation and good communication are critical and the group which completes the challenge with the most points is the winner.

City Challenge facilitators, who are all trained learning and development specialists, are on hand to support and encourage the teams.

“As team leader in the work environment, I made it clear I didn’t want to lead the team on the challenge and the facilitator was able to help me with that process and encourage others to take up the leadership role,” said Kingston.

“It also meant where there were occasions when one or two people could have dominated the group, the facilitators were able to encourage them to step back and ensure others could contribute too, which was very, very useful.”

In addition, they also provide structured feedback and it was this, said Kingston, which was particularly valuable.

“Afterwards, we took the findings of the facilitators and incorporated them into the performance management and 360 degree feedback process we use to help enhance the professional development of our team members,” he explained.

“Not only that, but we have shared overall feedback with our managers and their respective staff and found it to be a very powerful and useful tool.”

Having the chance to see his team operating in different roles enabled Kingston to uncover hidden talents and, he said, allowed everyone to put a “personality” against a name.

“Everyone already had a face to a name, but this enabled us to add personalities too and has been very helpful in helping understand better why someone is acting in a certain way,” he said.

“For me, in some cases the day reaffirmed the view I had shaped of certain team members, but in other cases I was quite surprised. For example, there were those who didn’t appear competitive in the workplace, but became very competitive on the challenge and my own challenge since then, has been to work out how to harness those elements within the work environment.”

It’s a challenge which Kingston says has been well worth the effort and one he wouldn’t hesitate at tackling again.

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Kraft logo

City Challenge

Case study for Kraft

Kraft's senior managers taste team success in Prague

When a raft of senior managers from one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies want an event which combines team leadership and development training, it’s a tall order to find a solution which meets all their requirements.

It was the task facing Tony Laverton, manager EU Human Resources Customer Services and Logistics, at Kraft Foods. With participants from 23 different countries, including Poland and Portugal, Switzerland and Spain, as well as the UK, it was important to find an occasion which would overcome cultural and language differences while prove stimulating and rewarding at the same time.

“Our vice president wanted us to organise an event for the senior leadership team along the lines of an information conference, but it had to be something interactive, as opposed to torture by PowerPoint,” said Laverton.

The city of Prague had already been chosen as the destination for the event and, with previous experience of team development specialist City Challenge, Laverton called on managing director Jane Read and her team to put together a bespoke event as part of the conference agenda.

The answer was a one-day City Challenge, designed to ensure participants worked together in cross-cultural teams to tackle a variety of challenges against the clock, supported by experienced facilitators to help them get the most out of the event.

Teams have to combine urban orienteering with communication and negotiation skills, taking a planned approach and making best use of their resources, with those who solve the most clues being named winners at the end of the day.

The senior managers came from Customer Services and Logistics in different countries across the Kraft Foods Europe network and, although the wider team function has been together since early 2006, Laverton said it was the first time the business had invested in an event to focus on HR issues.

“Previously, the emphasis during our events has been on achieving operational and financial targets, so it was important that this time we focused on addressing the HR aspects of our team and tried to identify our relationship capabilities and development requirements,” he said.

In particular, he added, it was important to concentrate on team working and encourage managers to work across the “silos” which had developed as a result of the organisation’s well established matrix management structure.

“The Prague City Challenge was perfect because it achieved our dual purpose of being an interactive exercise while at the same time helping us to improve areas such as teamwork and leadership skills, which we wanted to concentrate on,” said Laverton.

On day two of the conference, participants stayed in their same City Challenge teams to work on specific business issues on the agenda and Laverton said the team ethos from the event proved a big plus.

“We found people were much more engaged and prepared to share their ideas as a result and it gave everyone a wider appreciation of other peoples’ points of view, both functional and cultural,” he continued.

“There was a much better openness to future dialogue and collaboration which we will be able to build on for the future, and the feedback from the facilitators has been very important, because it has enabled us to identify and focus on the team and its leadership development needs.

“The cross-cultural element of the teams also worked very well, but the real value will be the need to capitalise on the long term development opportunities which City Challenge has helped us identify.”

What the participants had to say:
  • Great opportunity to learn from more experienced colleagues
  • An excellent opportunity to address team behaviours for people working in different places. It’s an enjoyable way of combining pleasure with business
  • Great experience combining team building with culture and the experience of a new city
  • Great experience, lots of fun got to know colleagues better
  • I was afraid that I would not enjoy/could not get engaged in the exercise, but to my biggest surprise this was excellent, best team work I have ever had, thanks!

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Unipart logo

City Challenge

Case study for Unipart

Unipart graduates take the City Challenge

The ability to work in a team, to support colleagues and be aware of the impact of your behaviour on fellow workers are three of the key components Ruth Filor, Graduate Programme/HR Consultant for Unipart Aftermarket Logistics, is looking for when she’s working with new recruits to the team.

Each year, a small and select group of graduates joins the Unipart Group Graduate Programme, a formal two-year programme which sets them on the road to becoming “lean practitioners”.

At the heart of the organisation, which has forged a reputation as a specialist supply chain management business, is The Unipart Way, a philosophy of working which brings together lean tools and techniques to deliver improved efficiencies for clients including household names such as Vodafone, Jaguar and Homebase.

For graduates who join however, it can be a steep learning curve and a comprehensive two-week induction programme is designed to help immerse them in both the Unipart culture and history, and get to know its home city of Oxford.

Part of the induction includes teambuilding and self awareness sessions and it is here that Filor relies on the expertise of team development organisation City Challenge.

The two companies worked together for the first time in 2007 and Filor says the impact of a City Challenge activity on the graduates was plain to see.

“In the past we have taken our graduates for outdoor pursuit type events at a country house which, while good fun didn’t actually result in them learning anything, they didn’t have to think about issues such as team dynamics and there wasn’t any feedback,” she said.

“For 2007, we wanted to improve on that and found City Challenge met all the criteria we were looking for.”

Not only did taking part in the Oxford Challenge help introduce the graduates – many of whom were from different parts of the country – to the university city, but it helped give them an insight into the planning and business development skills which will be so critical in their future careers.

Working with their colleagues against the clock, participants had to use their communication and negotiation skills to tackle a series of challenges which took them around some of Oxford’s most famous landmarks. Successful planning and pooling their resources was key and those who solved the most clues at the end of the day were the winners.

Filor was particularly impressed by how the event encouraged teamwork: “When the graduates did the City Challenge most of them had only met two days earlier, so they were still in competitive mode with each other. The exception was three who had already been working together and formed their own small group, and we were aware we needed to break those barriers down so they would interact with the others.”

Having left the graduates at lunchtime under the expertise of City Challenge managing director Jane Read and her facilitators, Filor returned for the evening dinner to find a very different group waiting for her.

“The change was quite unbelievable, in those few hours they had become such a cohesive team,” she said. “It was fantastic to see that they were so much more aware of the importance of planning and having a structured approach to what they were doing, something that fits very well with our own business methodology of The Unipart Way.

“They were able to think about which of them was good at particular tasks and be really supportive of each other, for example, by pairing up to share skills and really work together rather than arguing as to who should take the lead, which we have seen happen in previous years.”

Filor describes the event as a good exercise in self awareness, giving graduates an insight into the way their behaviour impacts on their colleagues, something which she thinks is often overlooked.

“By the time they join us as graduates, university will have given them a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses, but if they haven’t worked in a business environment before then their awareness of other people and the effects of their behavioural preferences won’t have been developed,” she added.

“Taking part in the City Challenge helped them understand more about how they can best work together and we found the effects carried forward into their day-to-day activity far more than from previous training events.”

Jane Read, who has been running City Challenge events for the last decade, said: “The success of the Unipart training day only goes to show that while more simple ‘fun’ activities have their place, it is a structured and facilitated event like this which delivers much more in terms of benefits for organisations and their staff.

“We focus on setting clear objectives, providing support during the day and encouraging participants to think for themselves to get the best results. Unipart’s feedback demonstrates that it is possible to combine having an enjoyable day exploring one of our most famous cities, while learning some important lessons at the same time.”

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TNT Express logo

City Challenge

Case study for TNT Express

Delivering a new team approach for TNT Express

When global mail and express delivery giant TNT decided to bring together its customer service, quality, and social responsibility teams into one larger customer experience team, it had several hurdles to overcome.

Not least of these was the fact that one group was based in the UK and made up mainly of UK staff, while the other was based in the Netherlands, where TNT has its headquarters, and consisted of a mix of nationalities, including Dutch, Belgian and German.

Geoff Martin-Henry, director of internal communications, said: "As an organisation, we wanted to change the focus of the department to look at anything to do with the customer experience.

"This included our corporate social responsibility programmes, the quality experience and the way in which we communicate with our internal customers - these are all elements which we felt should form part of the new customer experience group."

Having made the decision to bring the two teams together, they recognised that because of the geographical differences in where they were based, they needed an event to help them get to know each other better and to work more closely together, which was the underlying objective of our exercise.

"We wanted them to learn how to relate to one another, to think about the wider impact of their actions and share their experiences, to work together as a whole rather than as individuals."

With such a multicultural team, and also one which spanned all levels of seniority within the business, from top managers through to administrators, it was important to find an event which would appeal to everyone.

"Quite a few of the team, especially those in the Netherlands, had been involved in various teambuilding exercises before, so we wanted to find something different, and that's when we discovered City Challenge," said Geoff.

The one-day Amsterdam Challenge, organised and run by UK-based team development specialist City Challenge, saw individuals from both groups divided into small teams and given a series of questions to tackle around the city against the backdrop of a tight timetable.

The event mixes urban orienteering skills with the need for good planning, sharing information, negotiating and communicating with colleagues, and experienced facilitators also accompany the groups to provide support if required and report on progress.

At the start of the day, each team was also asked to set objectives for their own specific group - such as improving team skills and behaviour - and the facilitators, who are all trained learning and development specialists, awarded Euro (points) based on how well these were fulfilled.

With Euro also accrued for every correct answer on the Challenge, the scores from both elements were added up and the winners were the team which had the highest overall figure.

With such a mix of individuals from a variety of cultures and languages taking part, Geoff said the type of event worked well for everyone.

"At TNT everything is conducted in English, so language wasn't a barrier and most people could understand what was going on and follow all the different things that were happening," he said. "What was key however, was the fact it was a very good opportunity for people from different cultures to work together and talk to each other as they were involved in the Challenge, which was something they wouldn't have the chance to do at other times.

"It also worked very well because it was a lot more structured than some events, but at the same time it gave people the opportunity to approach the challenges in different ways."

Emily McDonough-Scott, internal communications co-ordinator in the customer experience team, added: "Having the facilitators with the groups made a real difference and the size of the teams was also important. Because they were an average of six or seven people, it meant you could really talk properly to your team-mates and get to know them as well as doing the Challenge. It wasn't just about ticking boxes for the clues, it was really nice to spend the day together with people who you wouldn't normally see and have time to talk."

"What also appealed was that people could tackle the event in different ways. There were those who were highly competitive and wanted to run around all day, whereas others decided they could still answer the questions, do well in the Challenge and get to know their colleagues at a slower pace - it showed that different approaches to team building could still work."

Six months on from the training day, Geoff says the benefits of the event are still evident.

"Within the customer experience team there has definitely been improved awareness of each others' roles and a real feeling of sharing," he said. "You know that if there is potentially a customer issue which needs solving, everyone will work together rather than leaving it up to someone else to sort out".

"Having that awareness of who your colleagues are has a knock-on effect because you know who to talk to if you have a particular issue to sort out and people have a much better understanding of what each person does."

Although employees in the customer experience team still work out of both the UK and Amsterdam, Emily says when colleagues from each office visit, there's a much greater feeling of friendliness and camaraderie between them.

"There's a real feeling that we're all in this together, we're all part of the same group now and it makes a real difference to have spent time with each other, we know how approachable everyone is and it has really helped," she said.

What participants said:
  • A worthwhile exercise and it certainly achieved the objectives of getting to know the people in the team
  • It was fun constructive and it worked. A team was built!
  • Fantastic time - one of the best team building events which I have attended.
  • Demanding fun exercise that allows participants to really understand how fellow employees will behave in a team dynamic
  • Successful in setting people working together and thinking differently.

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Eurostar logo

City Challenge

Case study for Eurostar

Eurostar trains to boost teamwork

Keeping his team on track by mixing fun with intelligent activity was the goal of Eurostar's Arnaud Masson, head of commercial intelligence and finance, when he was looking for a motivational event for his staff.

Around half of the 19-strong team, which is responsible for optimising revenue management in the train company's commercial department, were newcomers and Masson himself had only recently moved into the role before deciding a team awayday was needed.

"There had been an acting manager for a while until I came in and rebuilt the team," he said. "Once that was done, I felt it was important to have a proper kick off session where everyone could have fun but do something challenging and interesting as well.

"On a daily basis the team is dealing with complex and abstract things in revenue management so people come from a statistical and mathematical background. We wanted something that would be intelligent and also motivational."

Having researched various ideas, Masson opted for an event in Oxford, run by team development experts City Challenge. Combining urban orienteering with challenges set against the clock, teams have to use their communication and negotiation skills to gain the most right answers and take home top honours on the day.

Trained facilitators provide support during the day and ensure teams keep to the rules of the game.

What especially appealed to Masson was the business planning element, as teams have to work out the best approach to solve the clues and, he said, it was a great opportunity to explore one of the UK's most historic cities.

"Not only was the day fun, but it was a great excuse to work together on a topic which was very different to what we would usually be doing," he said. "It was very interesting to see the effectiveness of the challenge and how team members co-operated with each other.

"It was also an excellent way to find out about the city and learn all about its history and the curious facts that you'd never see otherwise."

One of the key reasons for the event was, he said, that the team had felt quite isolated from their Eurostar colleagues and it was a good way of demonstrating that by setting clear goals and using a more organised approach, they could integrate more effectively and in turn achieve improved results.

"It is pretty obvious that when you have clear goals you get better results than doing things your own way, it is better to be co-ordinated with others and the challenge helped get this message across," he continued.

An impressive 79% of the team said the day had been highly effective in helping them learn about teamwork and Masson said he was very pleased with the result from a motivational spirit point of view and delivery.

Among the comments from team members were:
  • "It was a good way to learn, to get to know each other and how to work and communicate together."
  • "Great motivating exercise and teambuilding event."
  • "Being new on the team it was great to see how people interact."
Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, said: "City Challenges are all about helping people see how working together in a team brings out the best in everyone and can achieve much more impressive results.

"The Eurostar team had an excellent day out and there was a real buzz about the event with everyone playing their role to the full."

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Nationwide logo

City Challenge

Case study for Nationwide

It's not often you'll find a manager who accepts that sometimes they need to step back and tone down their "dominant" personality, yet this is exactly the valuable lesson learnt when Lisa White, Head of Operational Risk Unit at Nationwide Building Society took her department on a training awayday.

The result, she says, is both a team which is now much more open and cohesive in the way it works and a set of individuals who are more willing to take on new challenges and responsibilities.

The transformation came after a training event in Oxford with facilitators from team development experts City Challenge, which specialises in helping organisations improve teamwork and communication skills through a series of different challenges.

White explains that after several changes of management over the last couple of years, her role had been to bring the Operational Risk Unit together and develop new styles of working, something which needed a robust and forthright approach.

The 16-strong team, which is responsible for identifying potential risks that may affect the building society's business, is split between two offices in Swindon and Northamptonshire, and historically only came together when there were problems to sort out.

"The team had been through some very difficult times. I am a very dominant manager with a very direct style and when we started working together that was what was needed at the time to make the necessary changes happen," she said.

"Having achieved that, we then needed to move onto the next stage, which was learning to work together better as a team, to find out more about each other and draw out the different skills that each individual has.

"We needed a training event where learning would be an integral part of having a good time and City Challenge seemed to combine all of our requirements. This wasn't about putting people in a classroom but about getting out there and taking part in the Challenge, seeing things from different peoples' perspectives, working together in a co-ordinated fashion and really becoming a team."

What also appealed to her was that at a City Challenge event, everyone from senior managers to support staff has an equal role to play, giving them all the chance to add real value to the day.

One of the hardest lessons for her, she said, and one that wouldn't have been possible without the support of the facilitators, was recognising the need to step back from her automatic leadership role.

"The facilitators were excellent and seemed to have much more than just a training background, they were not just interested in our team behaviour but also the human psychology element, which I had never seen before and found very useful.

"They made me realise I needed to step back and observe, but it was extraordinarily hard to do that and if they hadn't made me, then I wouldn't have seen the benefits," she said.

"It became clear to me that I don't need to dominate all the time, as long as my team know that I am there if needed. It was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but a necessary one.

"I could see that by encouraging people to work together it was bringing out different skills and it was very enlightening to give people the opportunity to shine demonstrating skills I would not have seen before," she continued.

White sees her change of style as having moved from a tougher crisis management approach to more of a "business as usual" one, and says it has helped her see that different styles of management are appropriate to different phases of a team's development.

Back in the workplace, these changes have been reflected with a reallocation of projects, enabling individuals to develop their new-found skills and confidence. At a planning day for the Unit's three year strategy plan, team members have, she says, been "more vocal" about wanting to take on new responsibilities and more challenging work.

Senior managers from the two offices now meet regularly, often without White, and she says communications have vastly improved throughout the overall team.

The success of the day was borne out by evaluation, which saw 93% of those taking part say the day had been highly successful or good in helping them learn about teamwork, while a full 100% said they had enjoyed the event.

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, said: "Lisa's comments demonstrate the importance of having facilitators and show that good training really does deliver benefits back in the workplace.

"Training should not be a 'one size fits all' approach and the positive experience of the team underlines this exactly."

City Challenge events include a series of challenges set against the clock in historic cities across the UK and Europe, where teams have to use their communication and negotiation skills to solve the questions and gain the most points. Trained facilitators provide support during the day as well as ensuring fair play.

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British Energy logo

City Challenge

Case study for British Energy

Challenge event boosts energy team

The most successful teambuilding sessions are those that translate back into positive results in the workplace and for one group from British Energy that was certainly the case.

The 20-strong risk team from the organisation's Power and Energy Trading division took part in a City Challenge event in Bath, tackling a series of specially-devised challenges based on the history and architecture of the city.

Working against the clock and split into two groups, the participants had to carefully plan their approach and use their intellectual and negotiating skills to solve a series of questions. Trained City Challenge facilitators were on hand to keep them on track and help ensure that everyone had a role to play.

Theresa Peacock, the risk analyst leading the team, said: "We'd never done an event like this before, but it was quite a new team with some new recruits and we wanted something that would act as an ice breaker and get everyone together working together.

"When we were looking at ideas, the feedback was 'no cars and no water' so when we found City Challenge, it seemed the right mix of fun and activity that everyone could be involved in. One of the best things was that we said what we wanted and they went away and planned it all, including the accommodation, so we didn't have to worry about anything."

The need for a structured, but informal approach to the challenge and the fact there were objectives to work towards proved very successful, she said, and it was this that the group has taken back into their workplace.

"One of the key things we brought back from the event was how beneficial a quick round-up session can be for everyone at the start of the day," said Peacock. "When we were given the tasks for the challenge we sat and discussed them first and this really highlighted how useful it was to do that, so we've now adopted the practice in the office."

In addition, mixing up the teams at the halfway stage on the challenge day helped ensure that the quieter people also had a chance to shine, encouraging them to take on more responsibility both on the day and in the office environment.

"Everyone really enjoyed getting out of the office for a night and day, it helped everybody get talking to each other and start working together more effectively," she added. "Bath was an amazing city and it was great to be able to get out and see it and learn at the same time."

Team feedback showed that everyone agreed, with 100% of participants saying the day was good or highly enjoyable and the vast majority saying it had been very effective in helping them learn about teamwork.

"It was enjoyable and very different from typical teambuilding events," said one, while another added: "I learned more about my colleagues in this one day than I have over the last two months in the office."

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, commented: "Good team events are all about learning lessons which deliver real benefits back in the office and it's excellent to see that the British Energy team felt they achieved this.

"Our challenges are designed to combine both intellectual stimulation and a fun day out and it is exactly this combination which proves so popular."

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etc venues logo

City Challenge

Case study for etc.venues

Uncovering the hidden secrets of the City

With its operation in the heart of the capital, employees at etc.venues know more than most about the sights and sounds that London has to offer.

But even its staff found there were plenty of surprises to be had when they took part in a training event with team development experts City Challenge.

Etc.venues has seven specially-designed non-residential training venues for conferences and meetings in central London, the most recent of which is Dexter House, near Tower Hill.

Alastair Stewart, who took over as managing director just over a year ago, wanted a training session that would boost team development and communication and take employees out of their familiar surroundings.

Armed with a series of cryptic clues and working in teams against the clock, staff tackled The City of London Challenge, which took them on a walking tour of many of the capital's most historic famous names and places, including the Guildhall and St Paul's Cathedral, as well as less well-known destinations, such as St Bartholomew the Great, the oldest parish church in London. Trained facilitators provided advice and support during the event and the team scoring the most points was the winner.

Stewart said: "The City of London is the focus of our primary market and I wanted an event which would make the most of the area, something which was different and which involved teambuilding activities.

"The City Challenge couples very good urban orienteering with teambuilding and learning and development skills, and does it much more effectively than I have seen before. By taking people away from their desks, and using the stimulus of the facilitator and the group itself, we began to achieve behaviour change as people started to think about what they were doing and how it affects the wider team."

In addition, Stewart says a major bonus of the Challenge is that it relies on good old-fashioned legwork, something which in today's drive towards being green, he highly commends.

"Most people are used to getting around London by taxi or on the underground and one of the things City Challenge draws out is the benefits of using some shoe leather," he said. "It is amazing how fast you can get around on foot, which is not only great fun but also much healthier.

"I was surprised how much ground we covered in an afternoon and also how the clues helped us discover all sorts of points of interest that we normally pass by without even knowing they were there."

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, said: "The history of our great cities is fascinating, yet all too often we simply don't see it. By marrying teambuilding activities with urban orienteering, we combine the best of both worlds. Participants get to see some fantastic places that they didn't know existed and at the same time they are learning skills such as communication and leadership which stand them in good stead back in the work environment."

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Gillian Kenny Associates logo

City Challenge

Case study - Gillian Kenny Associates

Prague proves priceless for team dynamics

Absolutely "priceless" is how Chris Kenny, chairman of medical market research consultancy Gillian Kenny Associates (GKA), describes the ongoing benefits of a two-day teambuilding event for his team in Prague.

The 32-strong group headed off to the capital of the Czech Republic in September 2006 with City Challenge, a team development specialist and, nearly 12 months on, he says they are still realising the results.

"When we got back, the buzz in the office was priceless and that lasted for months, you can't buy that feeling and it's made a real difference to us as an organisation," he said. "People could see that we were prepared to invest in their training and they know that if we look after them, in return they'll go the extra mile for us when it is needed."

When Kenny began planning the event, he wanted to find something that would eclipse the previous year's activities at a chateau in Brittany, an occasion he had organised and facilitated himself, using his own skills in staff training and organisational development. This time however, he wanted to take part as well.

Having searched the Internet for ideas, he decided City Challenge fitted his expectations exactly, providing corporate lessons in a fun and enjoyable atmosphere.

The Oxfordshire-based organisation runs bespoke team development days designed to build morale, empower individuals and improve communication skills in cities across the UK and Europe.

Divided into teams and working against the clock, participants have to tackle specially-devised challenges which are based on the history, design and architecture of each city.

Objectives are set in advance and trained City Challenge facilitators work with the groups during the day to help bring out the best in people. The tasks are designed to get everyone working closely together and use their intellectual and negotiating skills to solve the questions.

For staff at GKA, who are split between two sites in Gloucestershire and a newly-opened viewing studio for clients in Birmingham, it was a good chance to get to know colleagues better.

The company specialises in market research for the medical sector, including organising focus groups, in depth interviews, telephone interviewing and providing data analysis and reports. Staff often work in small teams or remotely from the offices, which means there is little chance for interaction on a day-to-day basis.

Kenny said: "Our Gloucestershire offices are only a hundred yards apart, but at times it felt like a hundred miles because people didn't communicate.

"That's why I felt it was important to change the environment and get away from the norm of holding an event in the UK. Choosing Prague made it a little bit special and it was completely different culturally, which made it more exciting."

While some employees were, he said, initially less keen to travel overseas, the company provided support to help them make any necessary arrangements, such as additional childcare facilities, to enable as many as possible to join in.

There were nearly 80 tasks to tackle, each personally set by Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, and teams vied to see who could complete the most.

Read said: "Prague is such a wonderful city, full of history and places to see. Doing the challenge is a great way for people to uncover some of the magnificent sights - both the well known ones and those more off the beaten track - while learning to communicate better with their colleagues at the same time.

"It's about getting people to think, to talk to each other about what they find, to use their negotiating skills and a real team approach to problem solving. Having the competition makes it fun, but the real winners are those who take the lessons they've learned back into the work environment."

Individuals take turns at tasks such as map reading and leading their group and for every question answered correctly the teams were awarded Euros (points).

Combining the challenge with the tourist trail saw visits to the capital's Old Town Hall, with its famous astronomical clock, as well as searching for clues among the memorials and sculptures to the renowned sons of the city.

On day two, the groups headed across Charles IV bridge to the ancient Castle Hradcany area, where tasks included tracking down the name of the 'golden' saint and checking out the historical house signs which were used to identify homes in days gone by.

Kenny says he and his team were completely 'bowled over' by the beauty of the city, but most importantly found the event delivered real benefits to the business.

"Any successful business relies on good communication and anything that can improve that is a Godsend," he said. "Mixing the groups up enabled people to get to know each other better and since then everyone has made much more of an effort to get up and talk to their colleagues rather than hiding behind an email or a terse telephone call.

"We try very hard to promote a 'no blame' culture, recognising that we all make mistakes and what makes the difference is how you handle them. Undertaking the challenge, in a very non-confrontational environment, has made us all feel more comfortable about either admitting our mistakes or not being afraid to ask if we don't understand something.

"The facilitators helped us recognised that everyone has a contribution to make and, as a result, people now feel empowered to express their views and opinions more openly, which is really good.

"And, if it's done as part of a fun activity like this, then the lessons are much more readily assimilated and long lasting."

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Royal Haskoning logo

City Challenge

Case study - Royal Haskoning

Top marks for Cambridge challenge

A day that focuses on communication and co-operation, that will be a good bonding exercise and a reward for effort - these were the objectives set by independent consultancy firm Royal Haskoning for a team development day.

With more than 70 staff taking part, from offices as far afield as Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Peterborough, it was important to find an event with the right mix of ingredients to appeal to all age groups and levels of seniority.

Sarah Budd, Business Group Director, Coastal and Rivers, Haskoning UK, said: "In the past, our team events have been in a hotel with a morning session on a business topic and then an event such as go-karting in the afternoon.

"This year though, we wanted to do something different. Our team has grown to 73, which meant it would have been harder to have everyone in one hotel room for the morning and we also have a real cross-section of technical and physical capabilities.

"We wanted an event that would give everyone the chance to get to know each other better - especially given we had new people on board - to communicate and enjoy themselves as well."

The organisation chose The Cambridge Challenge, a bespoke day which takes place in and around the historic university city, and has been devised by team development specialist City Challenge.

Designed to build morale, empower individuals and improve communication skills, it sees participants divided into teams and given specially-devised challenges which have to be met against the clock.

The tasks are designed to get groups working closely together and use their intellectual and negotiating skills to solve the questions. Trained City Challenge facilitators track the groups during the day to ensure fair play.

"It worked really well, people got to know each other and it was interesting because of the historical content," said Sarah. "A lot of people said it was really nice to look up and not down all the time and that they didn't realise Cambridge had so many interesting things to see.

"Our youngest participant was 18 and the oldest was 64, ranging from secretaries to technicians and scientists, and the challenge was good because it appealed to those more physical people who just wanted to get to the clues, but also to those who wanted to find out more and really work on solving the puzzles."

The team was from Royal Haskoning's coastal and rivers division, which works on projects around the globe looking at everything from the impact of offshore windfarms on coastlines to flood alleviation schemes.

One of its current major programmes is in Oman, where plans are being developed to build a whole new city, complete with homes, hotels and golf courses. Royal Haskoning's experts are focusing on the potential impact of the development on Oman's coast and the quality of the water supplies that will be needed.

In addition, Sarah included colleagues from other areas, such as support staff and the finance department, to help reinforce a real team approach

With staff based across such a wide network of offices in the UK, Sarah says one of the biggest benefits of the team development day is that people now pick up the phone and talk to each other, rather than simply resorting to email.

"Our objective was to give people a good day out, for them to have fun but also to learn from the experience and from the feedback I think that's what we achieved," she said.

"It was especially important for new staff members to realise that we are committed to our team and that we were organising the event for them. We have quite stressful jobs and tight deadlines to meet for clients, people work long hours so it was good to be able to say you don't have to worry about those for a day.

"There was a lot of laughter and it was nice to see people being happy. There was a lot of camaraderie and sportsmanship, people are now more open about talking to their colleagues and they are more willing to call each other and share expertise and knowledge."

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, said experiential learning - literally walking the talk - is an extremely successful way of breaking down barriers and encouraging people to share ideas and information.

By learning how to work together better on the day, the lessons learned can be transferred back into the workplace, as evidenced by Sarah's own feedback.

"Undertaking a challenge type event is a fantastic opportunity, away from the workplace, to really get to know your colleagues," added Jane. "The target for the day is to do well and answer as many questions as possible, but the underlying benefit is to get people to communicate and bond as a team, which is exactly what the Royal Haskoning team was looking for."

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Transport for London

City Challenge

Case study - Transport for London

Driving successful change

Increased sales, enhanced product knowledge and improved morale are just some of the positive changes reported after staff at Transport for London's Travel Information Centres took part in a series of carefully-planned team development days.

Staff at the TICs are responsible for selling tickets to events and attractions to the public as well as dealing with enquiries about destinations further afield.

The events are a vital part of an ongoing change programme across the department and its management. The Group Marketing Operations division at Transport for London (TfL) regarded it as important to see this development as both reward for the significant and positive contribution staff had made to this programme and as a development opportunity.

Managers chose City Challenge, a dedicated corporate team development organisation, which uses a blend of thought-provoking challenges and tasks to encourage individuals to work together better as a team and learn lessons that can be translated back into the workplace.

With City Challenge organising its events around historical and geographical themes, it was the perfect opportunity for Travel Information Centre (TIC) staff to leave the capital and take part in Challenges held in Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath - all places which feature regularly on the "must do" list for tourists.

Teams were formed around a programme suggested by City Challenge which encouraged them to focus on their specific, individual skills to tackle a variety of tasks all based around the history and heritage of the destinations they were visiting.

Participating in the specially-devised challenges meant everyone had to balance intellectual and time management skills versus risk skills to maximum effect by answering cryptic clues and navigating their way around, all the while working against the clock.

City Challenge's founder, Jane Read, explains: "This was a fantastic opportunity to take the teams away from London and to those places which most fascinate the public and they are constantly being asked about.

"Not only can staff now visualise the places they visited and describe them with passion and excitement, but actually experiencing the Challenge there really highlighted to the teams the many different ways there are to tackle a task, and none of them being necessarily wrong."

Five separate away days were held between September and November 2005 and TIC managers were on hand to observe progress.

The day after each event, the TIC management team worked with employees on a thorough de-briefing session, something which City Challenge also offers with its team of experienced facilitators.

Individual team members were encouraged to analyse their own input and think about what the team could learn from the day and develop back at the office. Key learning points were drawn from the City Challenge experience and identified by TIC staff. These included the need for teamwork and improved time management, awareness of others strengths and weaknesses and the need to learn from one's mistakes.

Since then, says Adrian Walters of TfL, the change in the offices has been "dramatic".

"Not only have sales increased thanks to enhanced product knowledge but morale is also strong," he said. "There is better cooperation between members of staff and there is a greater sense not just of being part of a small team based at a remote centre but also a part of the Group Marketing Operations family. In addition this initiative supports the wider change programme and builds on its success."

And, as a testament of the success of the City Challenge team building events there have been numerous questions about the timing of any future events.

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City Challenge

Case study - Roche Products

Unlocking the past to develop the teams of the future

With a quite new and rapidly expanding team of people under his direction, Martin Woollard, from pharmaceutical giant Roche Products, decided action was needed to get to know his colleagues better and help them bring out the best in each other.

Woollard is manager of the UK Clinical Projects Group, a team based at Roche's new Welwyn Garden City base in Hertfordshire, which has a clinical development role in the delivery of new drugs.

Formed three years ago with just three people, the team is a mix of clinical project team managers and clinical trials assistants, and it has increased four-fold to its present 12-strong group.

Woollard says: "Although the team worked well together already, it has expanded rapidly. I felt it needed to bond and allow me, as the manager, to better understand the team dynamics."

Having looked at a variety of options, the group chose City Challenge, a dedicated corporate team development organisation which uses a blend of thought-provoking challenges and tasks to encourage individuals to work together better as a team and learn lessons which can be translated back into the workplace.

Its events build on the history and geography of some of the country's most beautiful and historic cities, including Cambridge, York and Edinburgh and it was the Oxford Challenge that the Roche Products team decided to take on.

Working against the clock, participants have to use their intellectual and negotiating skills to maximum effect as they tackle a series of specially-devised challenges, designed to build morale, empower individuals and improve communication skills.

"What appealed about City Challenge was the fact it was a meaningful and structured event which addressed the issues we wanted to focus on," said Woollard. "We could have chosen a simple fun day out, such as bowling or archery, but we wanted to come away with strong messages and thoughts which we could really think about and use in our day-to-day work."

In order to achieve this, the City Challenge team works closely with clients in the run-up to the event to ensure that training expectations are fulfilled, as well as enabling the employees to simply have fun.

Before the big day itself, everyone taking part is asked a series of questions, including what their own personal objectives are for the session and the words they would use to describe a perfect team.

City Challenge's founder, Jane Read, explains: "To make our events effective and useful, we're looking for participation from everyone right from the start.

"By telling us what they want to achieve in advance, we can then focus on ensuring these objectives are met and it helps our team bring out the best in their team."

Expectations may include an increased ability to recognise peoples' strengths and weaknesses to enable people to work better together; to learn how to be an effective team member; to improve team motivation and, of course, to have fun as well.

On the day, City Challenge's trained facilitators, who are all qualified learning and development specialists, kick off the session by analysing and discussing the day's goals and helping participants understand how they can get the most from the exercise.

Teams are encouraged to have fun, but at the same time helped to focus effectively on the tasks, to motivate and encourage each other and to appreciate each others' different styles. Individuals are persuaded to move out of their 'comfort zone' and tackle tasks which they wouldn't normally put themselves forward for, something which can deliver real dividends in career development terms.

"It's a fantastic opportunity, away from the workplace, to really get to know your colleagues," added Read. "The aim is to get people to bond as a team with the motivation of doing well in the challenge.

"In today's culture so much communication is by email and text, but these are very one-dimensional ways of communicating and they lose the personal touch. We believe this means vital signs are lost and that the best results are achieved by reintroducing the human element.

"To do so however, you need to have a greater awareness of your own behaviour - body language; tone of voice and listening and questioning skills - and the impact these have on your team. This is essential if you are to effect and deal with change and bring your team members along with you. Our events are designed to bring out negotiating, team and leadership skills within the group and help the team develop for everyone's benefit in the workplace.

"The difference with this form of experiential learning means that by the end of the day people are communicating better - often without even realising it - and we believe it's a much more effective and memorable way to get the messages across."

With a series of challenges based around Oxford's academic, literary and theatrical history, the Roche Products teams had to tackle such quests as retracing the footsteps of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland or finding the hostelries made famous by Inspector Morse, before enjoying lunch in one of the city's college dining rooms.

For each challenge successfully completed, the team was awarded euros and City Challenge facilitators were on hand at all times to keep an eye on their behaviour and the way they interacted with each other.

As well as keeping a wary eye out for any 'unfair' actions - like splitting up the teams to cover more ground and answer more clues - the facilitators provide and encourage valuable two-way feedback to help participants move forward more effectively with their tasks as the day develops.

When the team returns to its starting point, informal discussions are held to discuss the immediate lessons which have been learned and team members are asked to consider if they feel their objectives have been met.

Participants are asked to produce both team 'banners' and individual postcards which highlight key learning points from the day and, a month after the event, City Challenge sends the postcards back to each participant to help reinforce the commitment they have made.

A detailed report is also sent to the team leader with suggestions for ongoing team development to help ensure the valuable lessons learned are continued in the working environment.

Woollard says he found the exercise incredibly useful: "Putting forward our objectives beforehand was very comforting because it meant we knew we were all approaching the day from the same angle, which was a good start. The event worked very well and we felt that everyone could play their part regardless of their position within the team.

"It was hard work, but we had fun at the same time and learned some valuable lessons. It gave me a comforting insight into the many varied members of my team and I am building on some of the issues which came out of the day, both in monthly team meetings and one-to-one sessions with individuals."

In particular, he said, he was pleased to see that encouraging people to step outside their 'comfort zone' had resulted in some team members volunteering to take on new roles which they may not have had the confidence to tackle otherwise.

His views are echoed by Read who adds: "We know a one day event can't work miracles and that isn't our aim. What we want to do is to get people away from work for a day and start them thinking about how they can make a small change to their lives and those of their colleagues.

"By communicating more effectively and taking notice of what's happening around them, everyone really can make a difference to their working environment. And when they feel better about themselves, that's when some of the big transformations can follow."

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Oxford Innovation

Oxford Innovation and City Challenge

Case study

Creating an innovative team

When fast-growing company Oxford Innovation expanded its marketing department, it looked for an event which would help the new team members to get to know their colleagues.

Close to home, at one of its own innovation centres, it found City Challenge, a team development specialist which helps organisations improve communication skills and encourage individuals to work together better as a team.

The six-strong team took part in a Challenge Innovate day in Oxford, a self-run event designed by City Challenge's experts to stimulate innovative thinking and learning, as well as having fun.

Oxford Innovation's marketing services manager, Charlotte Wilde, said: "The challenge really got us working together and was a great way to see the different strengths and qualities coming through from team members.

"Being new, it was a good opportunity to get to know each other. We started the event as our full group of six, before splitting into two groups of three, to tackle more tasks after mid-morning coffee. Then we met up again at lunch for a planning afternoon together."

Oxford Innovation provides a range of services to help innovative start-up businesses achieve their full potential. As well as providing support and advice on everything from how to attract finance, through to networking and marketing skills, it manages several innovation centres, one of which is home to City Challenge.

Jane Read, managing director of City Challenge, said: "Oxford Innovation has always been very supportive of us as a business and it was good to be able to put together a challenge which would help their teams succeed and in turn be able to help others even more effectively."

The event, which took place in Oxford, included solving a series of specially-devised mental and practical challenges designed to build morale, empower individuals and improve communication skills.

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Cokethorpe School

City Challenge

Case study - Cokethorpe School

Top marks for students as they learn teamwork tips from the corporate world

The start of the academic year saw major changes for the sixth form at Cokethorpe Independent School, near Witney in the Oxfordshire countryside.

Not only has the number of pupils taking their AS and A Levels almost doubled in size, but it was moving into a new building and a new head and new deputy head of sixth form had been appointed.

With so much change going on, the school wanted to find a way for pupils and staff to have a chance to get to know each other before the school term began.

Shan Copeland who, although she has been a teacher at Cokethorpe for several years is taking on a new role as deputy head of sixth form, explains: "Because the sixth form was going to be so much bigger and the number of lower sixth pupils is now virtually double those of the upper sixth, there were concerns that the older students would feel a bit outnumbered.

"We felt it was really important for them to bond together as one unit very early on and wanted to do something special to help them achieve that."

The school called in team development specialist City Challenge, which organises bespoke events aimed at improving communication skills, enhancing leadership capabilities and encouraging individuals to work together better as a team.

Although more normally used working in a corporate environment, managing director Jane Read says she relished the challenge of devising an event which would appeal to teenagers as well as achieve the key objectives set by the school.

"The day needed to be fast-moving to keep the students' interest, yet the questions had to be difficult enough to ensure they had to really work hard to find some of the answers," she said.

City Challenges take place in a variety of historic outdoor locations and, with Oxford almost on the doorstep of the school and also home to many of the students, it was the ideal location for the event.

The pupils, who all gave up the last day of their summer holiday to take part in the event, were divided into 10 mixed teams of both upper and lower sixth pupils. Each team had its own facilitator to ensure fair play, with both teachers and City Challenge staff on hand to provide support.

Teams had to tackle a series of challenges against the clock, deciphering clues and discovering little known secrets about the city, with points being awarded for correct answers. A prize-giving session at the end of the day saw medals being awarded to the winners.

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Copeland said: "There's no doubt that this event has given us as tutors a real understanding of the feel and the shape of what the sixth form will be like this year and it has been an excellent exercise which I'd certainly recommend.

"It's been a real insight for us to see how the pupils bonded together and how the challenge has brought out different aspects of their characters. It was a great learning situation as we were able to see how the students operated, how they listened to each other and ensured that they all had a chance to come up with the answers.

"For the students, it's been a great way for them to experience an event and learn to bond and work together as a cohesive sixth form unit, rather than two separate groups. They've really taken on their roles within the teams and worked really hard at motivating themselves and taking on the challenges.

"And on a personal level, it's been a wonderful opportunity to put names to the faces of the new students in the lower sixth and to get to know them in more relaxed surroundings before school started."

Jane Read added: "It was great to have the opportunity to work with the sixth form and demonstrate the principles of teamwork which are so important in the work place.

"Our objective was to make them aware of the need to appreciate different skills and capabilities within a team and how to work together to bring out the best in people.

"The whole event was highly energetic and the feedback from the teachers and pupils has been fantastic, so we really feel we have given them a great start to the academic year."

What the students say

Sixteen-year-old Elliot Bennett, who has just gone into the lower sixth, said: "It was definitely a good idea. Although I'm quite familiar with Oxford, I still enjoyed seeing parts of the city that I hadn't seen before and some of the clues were quite hard. It was a good way to find things out about people and get to know them better as well."

Fellow lower sixth pupil, Amy Minch, 16, said the day had particularly been good for new pupils because it had given them a chance to meet fellow students before the first day of term. "Because the teams were randomly put together, it was a good way to talk to everyone and meet new people," she said. A keen problem solver, Amy said the day had been ideal because all the team members pooled their knowledge of Oxford to come up with the answers.

Head of school, seventeen-year-old Erica Jennison, who is studying for her A Levels in the upper sixth, added: "We didn't know what to expect, but it was a good day. Instead of one person taking charge, everyone took their turn at leading the group and map reading and had input into the answers. It was definitely a good way to break the ice before going back to school and it means when we see new pupils we have something to talk about with them."

Tim Hatziz, also 17 and studying for A Levels, said: "The challenge certainly did bring people closer together, especially because it was after the long summer holidays when people had been away for quite a while. It helped to break down any barriers but it was also something productive as well, helping us learn how to plan ahead and think about basic skills such as listening to others." Tim, who has lived in Oxford all his life, said his team's style had been fairly democratic, with everyone sharing their experiences of the city. "It was a very successful day, especially because it was a chance to get to know everyone and a very good way of bonding the new sixth form together," he added. "It was very welcoming and something really fun to do at the same time with our teachers."

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