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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
University of Surrey library takes an artistic approach to team-building
Article Type: HR at work From: Strategic HR Review, Volume 10, Issue 3
Short case studies and research papers that demonstrate best practice in HR
As an international university with a worldwide reputation for excellence in teaching and research, the University of Surrey in England offers a unique combination of high academic standards, employment success and a prime location that offers easy access to London for both its undergraduate and postgraduate students.
The university’s busy library is open to everyone for both study and reference use. Staff and student members of the university regularly use the full range of library services and a large number of visitors have now become paid members of the library, which entitles them to certain borrowing facilities.
To support the efficient running of the library and all of its related services, the university’s Library and Learning Support Services Department has a number of diverse sub-teams that draw from different professional backgrounds. With department roles, including student learning advisors, librarians, archivists and a range of different types of tutors, individuals from all walks of life regularly contribute to this multi-faceted department.
A new team structure requires integration
The Library and Learning Support Services Department is run by professionals who are dedicated to enhancing both the knowledge and practical development of the staff who support the library on a daily basis. As such, the department is committed to aiding the development of both managers and support staff equally and therefore wants to encourage a positive culture whereby all employees can communicate and support one another effectively.
Recent changes in the staff structure meant that different teams were brought more closely together to support various library services. As a result, the Library and Learning Support Services Department felt that staff needed to form stronger bonds and get to know each other better, so that they could work together more efficiently. It faced a two-pronged challenge. Not only did the department want to help its staff to manage and feel positive about recent changes in the workplace, but it also wanted to take practical steps to support an ongoing program of integration between its teams.
Team-building with a difference
While reviewing a number of team-building options online, the Library and Learning Support Services Staff Development Group found White Rhino Event Solutions in May 2010. The group was initially interested in White Rhino because of its close proximity to the university, as well as the wide range of different activities on offer. As a result, a representative from the group contacted Timmon Whitehead, the managing director of White Rhino, and both sides agreed that a team-building activity would work well, especially if it were to coincide with the department’s annual conference scheduled for the end of June 2010.
The group felt confident that White Rhino’s team-building event would be a great addition to the ongoing process of integration in the department, but at the same time it wanted to organize something that would be enjoyable for the staff. Having gone through a recent staff re-structure and having coped with a number of challenging projects and developments, it really wanted to reward all staff for their outstanding levels of commitment over the previous year.
After being presented with a number of possible team-building events, the Library and Learning Support Services Staff Development Group opted for something known as “Team Work of Art.” It wanted an activity that was a bit different – and ideally something that the staff may not have encountered before. White Rhino had quite a few unusual activities to choose from, but because the event needed to cater for staff of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fitness, the group thought that the Team Work of Art exercise would be ideal.
The Team Work of Art
The idea behind the Team Work of Art activity is that everyone works together in small groups, but each group has to communicate with the other groups in order to complete the task successfully. At the start of the session, each team receives a small part of a larger photo, which they have to re-create by sketching and painting a new work of their own. All of the teams were given time to sketch the outline of their picture, and some participants used this time to work together to get an idea of the “bigger picture,” so that the whole picture could be reproduced accurately. Also, because each new creation would ultimately need to fit seamlessly with the paintings created by the other teams, the different groups needed to communicate what colours needed to be used and where.
The Library and Learning Support Services Staff Development Group’s main objective for the session was for people to communicate across different teams effectively, and so White Rhino introduced additional challenges with this goal in mind. For example, only one member of each team was allowed to work with the paints at any one time, and primary colors had to be mixed carefully in order to match the colors on the photos. The whole task also had to be completed within strict time constraints.
At one point during the task, a member from each team wore a blindfold, and had to be guided by his or her team members to paint on the canvas. This exercise increased the level of cooperation required between team members during the session and also encouraged participants to think about the importance of clear communication. At the end of the exercise, the facilitators put all of the individual canvasses together on a large frame – which the department kept – so that all participants could see the “big picture” together.
A positive experience for all
The Library and Learning Support Services Department found the experience to be extremely positive, as it helped staff of all ages, backgrounds and levels of fitness to work together on a project that was creative, interesting and constructive. In addition, the department found White Rhino to be very flexible and willing to accommodate its specific requirements.
Vivien Sieber, head of Learning and Research Support and Development at the University of Surrey’s Library, comments: “Because all of the participants had the chance to speak to a lot of different people, many of whom they didn’t normally speak to at work, this event really helped us to achieve our goal of integrating different teams more effectively. White Rhino was friendly and efficient throughout, and the fact that each group produced something creditable whilst interacting with each other made the day really enjoyable.”
The group did not have a huge budget and wanted to stay on-site, so the event was organized within these limitations and at short notice. The library team felt that the whole event offered very good value for money. People can now put names to faces and relationships within the workplace have improved as a result. The Library and Learning Support Services Department reports a tendency for sub-teams to consider each other’s areas of work a lot more when they are planning tasks, which is a very important development point for the group, so the day really was a success on all levels.
Timmon WhiteheadManaging Director at White RhinoKate PriceHead of E-strategy and Resources at the Library and Learning Support Services (LLSS) Department, University of Surrey, Guildford.
About the authors
Timmon Whitehead is the Managing Director of White Rhino, a team-building and hospitality company based in Surrey. An ex-logistics officer for the Royal Air Force, he established White Rhino to provide event solutions. The company offers audiovisual services as well as team-building and hospitality. Through his experience in the Armed Forces, Timmon Whitehead is an expert in motivation and teamwork. Timmon Whitehead can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Price has been Head of E-strategy and Resources within the Library and Learning Support Services (LLSS) Department of the University of Surrey for seven years. She is a member of the LLSS senior management team, and also chair of the LLSS Staff Development Group. Kate Price can be contacted at: email@example.com