On the ninth day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
Nine Heads of Service
Eight interventions
Seven Senior Staff
Six Student Surveys
Five REF Stars
Four Closing Calls
Three French Exchanges
Two DVCs
And restructure of the university

“Right, everyone, let’s get down to it.” John Jenkinson looked around the table. All of his heads of services were present and correct. Excellent. “Now, as this is the last meeting before Christmas, I thought we’d do something a bit unusual. There are just to items for the agenda: Communications Strategy, and Focus Strategy for 2016. I’ve had a few emails asking me about the Focus Strategy, but don’t worry, all will become clear later on, when we get to that item. Let’s start with the communication strategy.”

He paused for a moment, and pulled a manila folder out from under his iPad.

“Now. I think we really have to work on the image of the Professional Services Directorate. Everyone depends on us, and we need to make sure that our services are visible, and included in all relevant planning activities. We need a marketing campaign. So I’ve asked Belinda to devise some activities for us to help us to put some ideas together today which she can take away and do her magic on.”

Belinda stood up and bustled round the table to John’s place. She took the manila folder from him, and pulled out nine thick pieces of card. “I thought we could start in a really fun way, by saying what we all think the other services do! If we don’t know, how would anyone else?”

The others waited expectantly.

Belinda flourished the pieces of card and began distributing them, one to each of her colleagues. She gave the last one to John. “I’ll just watch and take notes.” she said. “Now, you can turn them over.”

Her colleagues obeyed. Each piece of card was a glossy A4 photo of one of the other Heads of Service. Some of them were professional-looking shots, one or two were hugely blown up and pixellated versions of tiny website photos, and one looked as though it had been taken with a long lens by a private detective. They craned to see each other’s.

“Where did you get these?” Asha was one of those whose photo was captured from a website. “This is off my Twitter profile. My private Twitter profile. My work one’s got the departmental logo on it.”

“Aha,” Belinda said, “Well, that’s our starting point, isn’t it? How visible is the Head of IT to her user community?”

“It’s not about me,” said Asha, “It’s about the service.”

Liam had his hand raised. “Yes, Liam.”

“I’ve got a picture of myself. Is that ok?”

“No, could you swap with Fiona?” Fiona and Liam complied.

“OK, everyone got something?”

They nodded.

Belinda strode over to the flipchart easel. “The first task is to write on the back of the photo something you know about the person, something you know about his or her service, and how you’d expect to come across the service in your daily working life.” She lifted the cover sheet of the flipchart to reveal these three points in summary.

“OK. You’ve got ten minutes. No conferring.”

There as a short silence, then Neil raised his hand. “Anyone got a spare pen?”

Fiona unzipped her pencil case and looked inside. “Any colour?”

He nodded, and she selected one and rolled it down the table to him. “Cheers. Never seem to need one these days.”

This exchange had broken the silence, and there was some muttering and sniggering around the table.

“How much are they paying us, again?”

“Bloody hell, look at Mike. He looks like the co-respondent in a dodgy divorce case.”

“I wonder when this one was taken. Still, nothing a bit of plastic surgery wouldn’t fix.”

Belinda cleared her throat. “No conferring!” she trilled at them, smiling to show it was for their own good.

A chorus of sighs accompanied their descent into concentration.

After ten minutes, Belinda clapped her hands to signal the end of the activity.

“Alright, everyone, if you could pass the photos up, then we’ll do a quick review, and I’ll get them typed up afterwards.”

She collected in the photos.

“OK, I’ll put these under the document camera and we can see where we’re up to. Let’s start with me, get it over with!”


  1. Belinda, Marketing
    1. Something I know about Belinda: She has a horse and two labradors
    2. Something I know about her service: It’s mainly external-facing
    3. I come across her service when I need to get leaflets designed, or get the website updated – which always seems to take forever.

Belinda laughed nervously. “Ooh. I can see I’ve got a bit of work to do there! They’re golden retrievers, by the way. Well, it’s interesting to see how you perceive me. Let’s move on. Who’s next? Arabella!” She turned over the next photo, and put it under the camera.

  1. Jim, IT Services
    1. Something I know about Jim: Most of his staff have beards
    2. Something I know about his service: It’s everything to do with computers
    3. I come across his service every day when I switch on my PC, till 5pm when I switch it off.

“Seems like a good summary. Any comments, Jim?”

“Does this mean we’re the most important service? If everyone needs it all day long? Do I get a pay rise?”

“Ha, ha, not sure we can agree that by committee, Jim.” Belinda picked up his photo and replaced it wit hthe next one. “Ah, Marjorie.”

  1. Marjorie, Quality Department
    1. Something I know about Marjorie: She’s worked at Burston Central for at least 25 years (I saw her at the long service cocktail party two years ago)
    2. Something I know about her service: It’s like the police
    3. I come across her service when someone tells me I can’t change something because of the regulations

“Interesting. Is that what you expected, Marjorie?”

Marjorie’s face was a deep, deep, shade of red. Apart from the tip of her nose, which was white. “I don’t think it’s very responsible of whoever it is to perpetuate these stereotypes. You all know perfectly well that our role is enhancement, not enforcement. Who was it? It’s not funny.” She swept her glare around the table. Her colleagues all looked fixedly at the table. “I do know your handwritings, you know. Let me have a look.” She started to get up. Belinda scooped the photo off the projection desk and whisked it into the pile of other photos. She looked desperately at John.

He made a kind of pretend laugh. “Very funny, I’m sure, whoever that was. I know it’s getting near to the end of term, but I do expect you to take these kinds of exercises seriously. Belinda had put a lot of time into devising that activity, and I did expect better from you.” He frowned.  His team were still looking at the table, except for Marjorie, who was scanning the faces of her colleagues, possibly for signs of guilt.

“I’m sure we can get these typed up later. And circulated, if I think they’ll be useful. Now, we’re running a bit short of time. We haven’t got much time for the Focus Strategy. But let’s make a start. Belinda, can you give everyone a Post-it note?”

While Belinda was going round the table, trying to pass out the paper without making eye or physical contact with Marjorie, John continued. “Right. Focus Strategy. The idea for this is that you’ve all been telling me, in your annual reviews, that you think that we’re too diffuse in our efforts, that we’re trying to do too much. We aren’t going to get any more resources, so we’re going to have to prioritise more strongly. And that’s what the Focus Strategy will help us with.”

John took a sip of water. “OK. I’d like you to spend a minute or two thinking, then write down on your Post-it the one thing we should focus on across this directorate.”

They wrote in silence, then passed their post-its up to John. He laid them out in front of him and sighed deeply. “It looks as though each one of you has written down the name of your own service. Except for one, which says ‘students’. I agree with you that they should be the priority, but what aspect of ‘students’ should we focus on?”


John looked at his watch. “We haven’t got time to do this again now. We’ll return to it at the first meeting after Christmas. Meanwhile, think about this very carefully. I’m determined to put a Focus Strategy in place.”

The team filed out of the room. John collected up the post-it notes and stuck them carefully together, before walking over to the paper recycling bin and dropping them in it. Was there any way of getting his heads of service to work together? Would it be easier to reorganise them, and start again?

Not the best team-building technique, but if you want to learn about another one, try this.


3 thoughts on “On the ninth day of Christmas

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