This blog is part of a wider series on our People and Culture. For the past few months, we have been highlighting some of the core elements of our workplace culture, along with recommendations for embedding new practices within your own organisation. Keep an eye out for the final edition in December and check out our October blog on Wellbeing and Flexible Working at Student Hubs.
As a remote network that also deals with high levels of local interaction, we have spent years building an organisational structure that allows our staff to thrive in both spaces. We wanted to share with you some of the ways in which the structure of our organisation benefits us, and what practices have improved our internal culture.
Our personal approach to line management
As a charity in the higher education and youth social action sector our staff team has predominantly been individuals early in their career. Through supporting these staff with workplace skills and personal development, we have developed a unique approach to line management. And with the high turnover usually seen with early career staff, this approach has been put to test time and time again.
Our approach is person centred. We believe in developing personal relationships, devoting time to get to know someone so that you can offer them the bespoke support they need to thrive. Not only that, this support needs to be flexible over time as the report’s needs change. Our coaching approach encourages line managers to ask effective questions, keep an open feedback loop and give their reports the skills and knowledge they need to thrive, rather than always finding the answers for them.
To achieve this our line managers meet with their reports weekly, checking in on their priorities and wellbeing as well as offering a space for idea generation and problem solving. Each of our line managers receives a day’s training when they first step into the role, as well as annual refresher training, covering different models of leadership from autocratic to transactional, the Situational Leadership Model created by Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard in the 1960s and managing uncertainty and challenging situations effectively.
Creating peer support networks that can help us thrive
Student Hubs has had peer support in place for years. An opportunity to get support, advice and feedback from others in a similar role as you. As a remote network we recognise that cross team relationships don’t just happen as they would around the kettle in an office. Instead we consciously create spaces, through peer support, where individuals can build those close connections and networks.
Peer support is used to share frustrations and challenges, as well as successes. Each group creates their own structure based on what works best for them but it might include things like time to reflect on key successes and challenges, a wellbeing checkin and some gratitude practice.
This year we have also introduced a second type of peer support, focused specifically on the activities we run. So activities that run in multiple Hubs have a monthly peer support to discuss that activity – and specific challenges, advice and plans in that area.
Supporting development opportunities through Network Support (or NetSup) roles
Being part of a small charity means supporting one another, but also providing opportunities for growth and personal development. To build resources and knowledge, we created network support (NetSup) roles that focus on particular elements of our work. For example, our communications NetSup team is made up of our Management Team and two of our Hub Managers, with us all bringing different expertise to the wider team on communication strategies, as well as building our skills to offer further support.
As well as set NetSup roles, our teams often identify ad hoc learning opportunities that require more voices within the team. When this happens working groups are formed that can help build and strengthen our internal work. Over the past years, these have focused on key strategic areas challenging our equity, diversity and inclusion work and creating new practices (i.e. our paid blog and focus group work). By taking part in these groups, our local teams can interact across the network more frequently, and our newer staff members gain more development opportunities to build skills.
Finally, having a senior management team embedded across the network
As a small team, it is important to have clear support networks and development across the network. This is so that we can maximise our effort and learn from one another, as well as ensure a consistent experience across our Hubs. At Student Hubs, we have three national members of the team who also sit on our Management Team. They ensure that we share across our network and build practices that result in more sustainable and engaging programmes.
Our CEO, Simran Dhanjal-Field, supports local Hubs with finance and fundraising as well as sitting on a number of strategic teams including the Sustainability Team and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Team. Our Partnerships and Development Director Fiona Walsh supports the network with developing their own local partnerships, as well as bringing her expertise to our Comms and Marketing team. Finally, our Network Director Sophie Payne supports the processes and policies that bring us all together as Student Hubs.
If you would like to learn more about our network structure, or ways to bring these practices into your own workspaces, please contact our Partnerships and Development Director, Fiona Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.