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"Although we knew what we wanted to achieve with this event, we weren't entirely sure how something quite so unusual would go down with staff from so many different backgrounds. But what happened on the day itself surprised and pleased us all." Jackie Carter, Central Services Director, Southern Housing Group
In 2001 Southern Housing Group (SHG), a not-for-profit housing association, began to plan for a staff conference "with a difference": a full day's programme bringing together their entire staff, for the first time, from regional offices all over southern England - approximately 400 people in total. The aim was to motivate and inspire the staff with an inclusive vision for the future - and to have some fun in the process.
Fresh Tracks had worked with SHG previously and knew that it was an organisation open to new ideas. The programme was developed in liaison with the Group's Central Services Director, Jackie Carter, who was keen that the day should be seen as a valuable and inspiring use of each participant's time: "We wanted everyone to leave feeling proud of the organisation, ambitious for its future and energised to develop their own skills within it".
To mix up the participants, the delegates were divided into tables of about eight people from different regions, disciplines and levels of seniority. And to ensure that the programme ran smoothly, each table had a table host who had attended a training day focusing on leadership and facilitation skills to ensure that they were confident leading sessions and activities on the day of the conference.
The programme featured a mix of presentations and work sessions all aimed at realising SHG's three main objectives for the conference: to share knowledge and expertise; to celebrate success; and to break down barriers and encourage communication between different parts of the organisation.
A popular session was a video and film-writing session. Teams were asked to develop a storyboard for a 2-minute promotional video about SHG. Each team was given a Polaroid camera with which to create images for their storyboard and 45 minutes to get their ideas onto the board. Over lunch the completed storyboards were displayed, highlighting an impressive breadth of ideas, creativity and imagination.
In one of the final sessions participants were asked to pin down ideas for implementing some of the examples of best practice that they had heard about during the day. This was done in the form of a confidential "letter home" which was posted by Fresh Tracks to the recipients a month later.
At the end of the day, most participants were leaving with a smile on their face: "I really enjoyed it". The aim had been to get people talking to each other and give everyone an opportunity to find out a bit more about the successes and plans of the organisation for which they worked. Above all people had had fun and in doing so, were encouraged to think creatively about their contribution to the organisation, and ways in which they could enrich their own working environment. "Very informative, good team building and a fun day for all".