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Leadership development In June 2015, Mencap launched its new leadership framework: Our Leadership Way. To help embed key leadership behaviours and attitudes across all 80 of the top leaders in the organisation, Leadership Learning Sets (LLS) were established. Tese sets have offered an environment for active dialogue, where leaders can explore challenges in an honest and open way with colleagues.

“Leadership is an essential part of any manager’s toolkit and one of the key areas that gets missed is sharpening this tool. Te leadership learning sets have provided me with the time and space needed to develop my leadership skills and, most importantly, the opportunity

to do this with my peers and colleagues.” Dominic Picillo, Head of Mencap Business Support

“Trough the honesty of sharing our chal- lenges, I’ve developed strong connections with my LLS colleagues and the unexpect- ed bonus is that I’m now part of a team

of knowledgeable and insightful allies.” Susan Kernachan, Head of Property

Ways of working Mencap has also used an AL approach with specific populations; AOMs, Re- gional Operations Managers (ROMs) and teams to help promote closer, more collaborative and reflective peer learning as well as to support specific projects. Following the success of the AOM

programme, Nick Burton (ROM for South & West Yorkshire) initiated the roll out of an AL way of working to the 28 Service Managers in the region. His four AOMs, facilitated the monthly Service Manager meeting in a new way, based on their own experiences of being active members of a set over the previous 12 months. Te initiative was positioned as a ‘way to engage and learn from each other as well as drive positive change locally and inform thinking nationally’.

“Te [Service Manager] sets built on the concept of opening up to one another and building trust using tools the AOMs themselves had used in their own sets. Tis worked well to engage the interest of the participants and reaction was very positive. Sets grew more challenging as the dynamics evolved and the real

30 | November 2016 | business of understanding AL, and

making it work, got underway.” Nick Burton, ROM South & West Yorkshire, Mencap

All ROMs also attended a day together as a peer group to explore the principles of AL and how these could enhance the everyday ways of working across their large geographical regions. Many now describe holding their monthly team meetings in more collaborative, inclusive ways such as giving time for everyone to reconnect in a structured way at the start, open agendas, and all ROMs now actively support their AOMs to run their own AL-style groups.

Connection between the exec team and the top 80 leaders

As part of the most recent LLS programme, Mencap piloted an idea connecting each one of the eight executive team members to a separate learning set. Tere was no line-report crossover between members of the set and the exec member, and a meeting took place to discuss, clarify and agree how the relationship might work. Each set and the exec stayed

in touch between meetings with a light touch connection, helping to build more of a general connective leadership conversation.

“Checking in with my leadership learning set has helped me to stay in touch with parts of the organisation that I may have become more distant from. Several mem- bers of the set were part of a wider team that was going through significant change and so hearing honestly about the impact on those people and the rest of the set has helped me to think about the human

impact of change and how we manage it.” Kate McLeod, CFO, Mencap


One of the ongoing challenges for AL sets within the organisation is the tension between mandatory participa- tion, and gaining deep commitment from all participants. Although the majority of set members in Mencap recognise the value of being part of an ongoing group, the fact that they did not initially sign up voluntarily has impacted on ongoing commitment. A further challenge for any

organisation keen to use this powerful approach is gathering and make the most of feedback shared by the sets. In facilitated programmes, Mencap com- missioned highlight reports to extract themes and feedback, and used these to inform change within the organisation. Without facilitators, identifying own- ership of this key information sharing role is essential to capture significant points and inform key decisions.


We know that healthy and productive organisations create a climate in which people can be more honest and human in their approach to dialogue. We also know that wise people share an opti- mism that most problems can be solved. By creating space for people to think

together, engage in quality dialogue, share and learn from their experiences and try new or different ways of working, Mencap is weaving an ethos of more human and honest workplace connections into the fabric of the organ- isation. Trough evolving its use of AL, it continues to provide a compelling way to grow this climate and a framework in which to cultivate a wise approach. Tis evolution has required a

commitment and willingness to invest in its people and to work in a way which demands vulnerability and courage at all levels of the organisation. As a result, Mencap has strengthened connections between its people, en- hanced key leadership behaviours and authenticity, enhanced organisational learning, and deepened engagement.

Emily Cosgrove is co-founder of The Conversation Space. To find out more, visit

Reference 1 Emily Cosgrove, ‘AL unplugged’, TJ, February 2015


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