Action Learning Spaces for CEOs in the East of England

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Jul 06 2023 Blogs

Aqua was commissioned by the East of England Leadership Academy to provide ‘action learning’ spaces for Chief Executives from health and care organisations to come together and learn from each other. The initial programme began during the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are currently in the midst of our second iteration, which focuses on these leaders’ roles within the new Integrated Care Systems.

The hour-long discussions gave an opportunity for leaders to be vulnerable, build trust, and have a different conversation. Our facilitators leading these sessions give their thoughts on the programme:

As facilitators it was an amazing opportunity for to be part of these conversations, which allowed leaders to come together, share experiences and build relationships.

We know that for Integrated Care Systems to truly achieve their wider population health objectives and tackle health inequalities, a different kind of systems leadership approach is needed. Relationships and connection are the building blocks of effective systems working and these sessions were a great opportunity for leaders to role model this approach across the East of England.

We realised that whilst virtual working has brought benefits, it has meant that we miss the informal time before meetings to connect and build relationships, and have those tacit ‘water cooler’ conversations. The programme was designed as an opportunity for leaders in isolated positions to have a space where they can be share their challenges and successes, and be offered practical support and much needed assurance from peers.

The participants were encouraged to ‘bring their authentic selves’ and be frank and honest, aligning with the intended goal of Integrated Care Systems to collaborate rather than compete. We experienced many powerful and insightful conversations during these sessions, which included:

  • The similar feelings of privilege, emotion, and challenge that those in very senior roles feel.
  • The opportunities and sensitivities when working with MPs, chairs, or executive teams.
  • When facing future challenges, we are stronger together. For example, Integrated Care Systems, genomics, digitisation, or governance arrangements.
  • The power of navigating emerging contexts together, especially in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.
  • We quickly develop patterns of working and learning together, making sense of the relationships, leadership styles and daily dilemmas we face.
  • There is a wealth of opportunity for greater collaboration and sharing, e.g. innovation, improvement and peer site visits.

Reg Revans, ‘the father of action learning’ described ‘comrades in adversity’, which refers to the idea that groups of people working collaboratively have a clearer and stronger voice. Our programme introduced a different way for leaders to come together across the East of England with diverse perspectives from commissioners, acute trusts, foundation trusts and local authorities. They provided a space for NHS and public sector colleagues to join together, lift their heads, and raise each other up.

– Louise Gelder, Helen Kilgannon and Cathryn Sloan

If you think that action learning spaces could work for you, or you would like to find out more about this programme, please get in touch: We would also love to hear of any other experiences you have in this area, any thoughts on this approach, or opportunities to connect and continue to learn together.

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