The ISBL has completely changed the way that I work. From the way that I have restructured my Business Team to the way we organise file storage and the bespoke solution to our MIS. I have been privileged to deliver training on Resource Management and Risk to NPQH and NPQEL cohorts and this has also been shaped by my experience of the ISBL. As a Business Leader in a newly developing Multi Academy Trust, it was apparent to me that we needed to be clear with our emerging business structure and if I wasn’t going to self-combust we needed to create additional capacity.
Purpose of a new structure
As Business Manager at one school, I had taken the lead on all things business related. Our journey had been a rollercoaster academising in 2013, moving away from our sponsor trust and setting up our own MAT in 2015 and subsequently sponsoring a second school in 2018. My role had seemingly incorporated a host of new responsibilities and without a new structure was just about to increase exponentially.
What I wanted to create was a structure that allowed for growth. I didn’t want to create something now that just wouldn’t be scalable and we would be back to the drawing board in a few years.
During my Masters study I had researched Appreciative Enquiry and this led me to consider this concept as a project; considering the 4 D’s -
The People - recruitment
The first phase included the creation of three teams - Finance & HR, Infrastructure and Admin & Communications. The plan was to encourage staff to work collaboratively across schools within the trust, sharing practice and gaining knowledge of each other’s roles and regular tasks and school context. This would enable cover or support where needed during absence or pinch-points.
Careful consideration was given to how staff would be given the opportunity to apply for these team leader roles and how the additional cost would be funded and sustained. Job descriptions were developed, and it was decided to open this out to all staff working within each of the teams. This was communicated to all the staff working within the non-curriculum roles across both schools as well as key personnel such as Headteachers and Deputies. Expressions of interest were received, and this was followed up during the final appraisal cycle which fell at a timely juncture.
It wasn’t always understood or popular to have teams working across the schools, there was pressure for teams to be centred around location rather than discipline and I feel extremely fortunate that I was supported and trusted to implement this model. One of Veritas MAT’s vision words is ‘inspirational’ and I felt inspired by the ISBL to design our structure around their concept; as a Fellow of ISBL I trusted that this would develop a strong model.
This ‘collaboration across disciplines’ model allowed for a scalable design, whereby as the trust grows team leaders would work across up to three schools, after which point another team leader role would be created emulating the same hub-based structure that our governance model follows.
The model we had been operating would have resulted in my line management of an unmanageable number of staff members, whereas the new model sees the Trust Business Manager line managing the team leaders which grows at a much slower rate.
The timescale for implementation was considered and shared with staff. It was felt that communication was key to increasing the chance of success of the new structure and ensuring staff felt supported - both those successful in securing a new position as well as the wider team.
There were two other main elements to the implementation.
- The Trust Executive Group was to be expanded to include a Business Assistant to support and add desperately needed capacity to the new team. This role was recruited to start simultaneously to the new roll-out and a training day was designed to get the new team prepared. This training included an introduction to the ISBL Professional Standards, clearly identifying the direction of travel and expectation
- Trust Board support was sought to introduce a new Business Management Portal. A five-year commitment was approved with a view to ensuring compliance across the business function and Asset Management. The system adopted is very bespoke and was created to emulate the new team structure which is based around the ISBL Professional Standards sectors
Impact - where are we now?
The new structure is in place and becoming embedded. A clear series of team meetings were set in place for the first three terms and this has kept the momentum going. Team leader meetings were also planned to ensure that the team leaders were supported and had the opportunity to feed back about how their teams were progressing and to gain support from the Trust Business Manager if needed. We have worked in a new way, using new forms of tech; another one of Veritas MAT’s vision words is ‘innovative’ and some meetings have been virtual which is a new concept for us. I didn’t want to create a system where we were meeting for the sake of it, so teams were made aware that the meetings could take the form of a training session or targeted collaborative work with specific individuals within the team.
Six months into the new way of working I am really proud of how things are progressing. The teams have really embraced this new way of supporting each other and strengths within teams are being identified. Last week I saw for the first time the new Business Assistant working to support one of the teams clear a backlog - this was a lightbulb moment that made me acutely aware that the plan is starting to work how I had planned it and it turned a situation where a colleague was feeling overwhelmed with workload to one where the colleague felt listened to and supported and practical help had been delivered - it was a good week!
The ISBL has been an instrumental part of this journey and has offered the direction needed to design and organise our business management structure. Support has also come from ‘Every’, the Business Management portal chosen to support the model. My next blog will offer an insight into how we have integrated this into our structure to manage tasks and ensure compliance; to be able to provide an answer to the question ‘how will I know if there is a problem?’
So, what next?
An important non-negotiable for us as we grow the trust is to create systems that are failsafe and future-proof. The new structure is starting to show signs that we will indeed be able to do more with less - across a larger organisation my skills (as well as those of other senior leaders) will be shared across a wider net, costing each entity less. Efficiencies and economies of scale will come from a number of initiatives. I truly believe that we will start to see a snowball effect where the shared learning will create much more; that the whole will be much more than the individuals within it and we are already seeing the benefits of group procurement within the trust and through our wider collaboration with The Kent MAT Alliance - a cross trust.
For now, we need to embed our new structure and create some sense of what is ‘normal’. We have been through a period of change and this is important. We also need more time to learn the intricacies of our new business management portal, how and what to report (to SLT, Governing Body, Trust Board and other stakeholders) and how best to communicate the business team’s story to the wider trust.