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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The Story of an Advancement Team That Gave Up on Admissions, Communications and Development

A year ago, we embarked upon a quest to unlearn Advancement in our school. We intentionally let go of “the way we do things around here” and walked into the unknown, with only Our Manifesto to guide us.

The motivation to change, at this point in our story, was simple. Over the years, as the team had grown up around a classical organisational structure of Admissions, Communications and Development - with a manager having responsibility for each domain - we started to realise that we had become increasingly siloed. Despite increasing levels of professionalism and technical know-how, the reality was that each team showed up for work every day and went about their business, somehow in isolation from their closest colleagues.

Somewhere in the back of our minds, we felt that there must be a different way of working, but it was going to take a lot of research, talking to one another, as well as trial and error to see how to dismantle what had become such an established part of the school’s administration.

A photograph of a scrabble board with the word teamwork spelled out with letters

One year and a pandemic later, here are 5 ways in which our work has changed.

  1. We no longer have three managers, but one - a Manager of Experience Design - who has no direct reports but is responsible for overseeing and developing the experience of families moving through the Lifecycle of School Engagement.

  2. Each member of the team has an identified Superpower. This is, if you like, their home base and it is also where they have clearly identified accountabilities. At the same time, each member of the team is working on any number of projects and priorities across all aspects of our work. We discourage any old language that speaks of an “Admissions team” or “Development team”, choosing to speak instead of our work with prospective families or fundraising.

  3. There is no longer any hierarchy. Connected to the above, we made a conscious decision to remove as much of the hierarchy as possible. To be sure, members of a project team might be responsible to deliver a piece of work to a project lead, but none of us delegate work down.

  4. We have radically changed the spaces in which we work. We knew from the beginning that physical space contributes to team culture, so we turned each work space into a series of flexible rooms in which individuals exchanged their own desk for spaces that allowed for different kinds of team work - from individual desks and pods to collaborative spaces.

  5. Team meetings are now short and regular. So much of what we did previously was compromised by a lack of integrated thinking. When we did meet all together, we simply didn’t have the time or, dare I say, inclination, to understand everything that was going on across the team. Today, we have a 30-minute meeting at the beginning of the week, before which we each write down our individual priorities for the next five day, followed by another 30-minute meeting just before we head into the weekend. The regularity and routine of this discipline is just enough to keep everyone broadly up-to-date on everything that is happening and allows us to reflect on how the work of others might affect our own work.

The long term impact of these shifts are still to be seen. But already the signs are positive:

  • We have achieved a 30% reduction in our overall staffing budget.

  • We now have 4-5 individuals, as opposed to 2, who can confidently work with prospective families.

  • We have already achieved 85% of our fundraising target this school year, without a dedicated fundraising team.

  • We are all working on a series of connected tasks from advertising, to a new web design and the roll-out of a new Alumni strategy.

  • We have greater collective focus on key messages and KPIs than ever before.

Someone asked me recently whether we’d ever go back to how it used to be. My response was immediate.

Even if we still have some way to go in our quest and are refining some things along the way, we believe that we have found a path that is just too interesting to stop exploring now.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.



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