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The Management Centre

Case study: Developing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Leadership Culture

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is one of the most famous theatre companies in the world. They work to connect people around the world with Shakespeare through innovative and distinctive theatre and education. As well as Shakespeare’s work, they also produce bold, ambitious work with living writers, actors and artists. This includes the multiple award-winning collaboration with Tim Minchin on the musical Matilda and the 2013/14 adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker-prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

Challenge

The RSC is a thriving and dynamic organisation. Much of their work focuses around the production of world-class theatre, working to tight timescales with extremely high standards. In support of the productions, other RSC staff work in a variety of settings from front of house to marketing, catering to IT, and much else. Inevitably there was a degree of siloing between the different departments. The diversity of rhythms and patterns to people’s work made it difficult to implement organisation-wide management and leadership development, apart from occasional one-off training programmes or ad hoc external courses. This in turn made it hard to develop a common understanding and knowledge of ‘the way we want to do things at the RSC.’

With a change in key leadership, senior managers identified an opportunity to create a development approach that would span the whole of the RSC, supporting managers in all departments and providing a stronger sense of consistency and ‘brand’ to the RSC’s leadership culture.

There were three key challenges to overcome. The first was how to create a development programme that was relevant to all managers, regardless of whether they manage the costume department, or a lighting team, or a restaurant. The second was that it needed to fit the rhythms and demands of a hectic production schedule. Third, it had to be both engaging and relevant for managers to want to commit their time.

=mc’s brief

The initial brief from Libby Alexander, Training & Development Manager, was to develop a modular development programme for RSC’s managers. However, it quickly became clear that for any programme to make a lasting difference to the way people work at the RSC, it was crucial to get the senior team – the Steering Committee – on board. So =mc was asked to design a complementary series of intensive workshops for the RSC’s Directors.

What we did

The first step was to identify the reality and complexity of the life of the RSC manager. Working with a project team of senior managers we researched the challenges, work and context of each directorate’s managers. And we looked at the practical implications of asking managers to commit to a long-term programme.

 

From the research we identified the core elements of the two programmes. For the Steering Committee, these included:

  • Leadership and culture
  • Organisational decision-making and prioritising
  • Management and leadership structures
  • Leading change


For the managers, we included:

  • Core leadership skills
  • Developing people through coaching
  • Managing priorities
  • Handling challenging conversations
  • Project management and cross team working
  • Managing change

In addition to formal learning, we also proposed a ‘buddy’ system between managers from different departments and teams as a way to help overcome the siloing. They would be encouraged to meet between training sessions to continue the learning and support each other in using their new skills and techniques.The two programmes launched in May 2013 – the Strategic Leadership Programme for Steering Committee, and Amplify for the managers. Running programmes like these in parallel means the two groups can share key learning, and we can shape the content of future training in response to emerging challenges.

 

“I am so pleased that we have been able to make a start on following through on the commitments we made as a senior team to fully engage in this development programme.  It is proving an incredibly valuable programme. The Steering Committee is working together more collaboratively, and we’re already starting to see a positive difference to the RSC as a whole.”

Catherine Mallyon, Executive Director

Result

At the beginning of 2014 the Strategic Leadership Programme is nearing completion and has already had a significant impact. The Steering Committee have overhauled their decision-making processes, creating simpler frameworks in order to increase clarity around how and where decisions are made. They have also reviewed their organisational structure to ensure that staff and managers have clear lines of accountability for their work and results.
The Amplify pilot is at the halfway mark, and has been positively received. As well as the learning from each module, participants have highlighted how beneficial it has been to go through the process as a cohort, learning and developing together. It has also provided opportunities to identify shared challenges from across the organisation, supporting each other to find solutions.

 

“It’s hugely helpful to discuss real RSC examples with peers. Everyone is opening up as the group moves through the programme and I’ve made connections with people outside my department that I couldn’t have contemplated before.”

Kevin Wright, Commercial Manager

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlotte Scott

Charlotte specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlotte worked for over 12 years as a manager in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc six years ago, she developed...

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