Creating the Dream Team

The British School of Amsterdam and the Breakthrough Leadership Programme

It’s not often you hear the words “It’s changed my life” after a leadership programme

Ruth Sanderson joined the British School of Amsterdam as the Principal in August 2022. Her goal was to build a high-trusting and high-performing senior leadership team between the existing team, with up to 27 years of experience, and the newly recruited leaders.

She engaged TWI to develop a bespoke Breakthrough Leadership training programme that included both in-person and online training, together with individual coaching over an intensive 12-week period.

The aim was to achieve Ruth’s goal of developing a high performing senior leadership team to nurture, inspire and empower the school community forward and achieve its ambitious vision …. and develop a team that is fun to be part of.

In short, Ruth saw this as an ideal opportunity to build her dream team.

Breakthrough Leadership Programme
 

TWI's Role

To develop a high performing senior leadership team
to nurture, inspire and empower

 

TWI's Role

To develop a high performing senior leadership team
to nurture, inspire and empower

We asked author Samantha Lyth to interview participants as to whether Ruth’s vision had been realised. Had the changes been sustained over time?

The response was resounding – it’s not often you hear the words “it’s changed my life” after a leadership training programme.

Q. What did you get out of the training sessions?

A. Bas: It is actually the best leadership development programme I have attended. Our leadership team is all at different levels of experience and have different personalities. The programme has created a common language which has created closeness and understanding within the team.

A. Zee: Honestly, the training far exceeded my initial expectations. It wasn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill instructional session; rather, it offered a refreshing departure from conventional training methods. The approach was dynamic, engaging, and thought-provoking. It encouraged us, as leaders, to challenge our existing knowledge and perspectives.

A. Mel: I learned a lot about myself in terms of my skills and attributes. It helped me practically too, giving me the tools to lead and to navigate my way into establishing my team. It also gave us as the senior management team a precious chance to get to know one another professionally, develop trust between us and create a psychological safe space.

A. Lindsay: At first it felt a bit like a therapy session, but you soon realise why you need to go into such depth. It was unbelievable how we got to learn about our skill sets so quickly. I can’t praise it enough – it has been fabulous for me personally.

“I can’t praise it enough – it has been fabulous for me personally.”

Q. What was important about the neuroscience approach?

A. Ruth: Having the neuroscience foundation to all the sessions made it evidence-based and less threatening, it put everyone at ease. Knowing how the human mind works and that reactions are hardwired through evolution meant that it was more scientific and less personal, less emotive. This allowed people to be more open and engaged.
A. Bas: I really liked the neuroscience angle with my typical accounting background. It created the authority and credibility of the programme. It was good to be able to see how the brain works and how that explains my own personal behaviour.

A. Mel: I really appreciated the neuroscience behind it and that the sessions were grounded in evidence.

A. Lindsay: I found it fascinating!

A. Zee: The beauty of the neuroscience approach lies in its ability to offer profound insights into how the brain functions in various situations. It enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of why we experience certain emotions, how our brains respond to these feelings, and the consequent behavioural patterns that emerge. There is no doubt in my mind that the neuroscience approach has had a profoundly positive effect on me, igniting a desire to continue learning and striving for personal growth.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the neuroscience approach has had a profoundly positive effect on me.”

Q. How did you feel that your mindset changed?

A. Ruth: There’s been a big mindset shift in our approach to team meetings. People used to say they dreaded the meetings, but now they look forward to them. They feel that their voices are heard and they can be much more creative in the ideas they share. It’s serious stuff, but now we can laugh together too.

A. Mel: I recognize now that I was stopping myself doing things and had become quite fixed in my mindset. I feel now that I can check myself and question the mindset I am adopting in different scenarios. The idea of marginal gains has helped with overcoming a sense of overwhelm.

A. Bas: I became more self-aware and with the self-knowledge came some ‘aha’ moments. This has allowed me to create more understanding and empathy within my team. I now know that asking for feedback is more powerful than giving unsolicited feedback, so I now regularly ask for feedback on my own performance – this means that nobody is awkward or offended.

A. Lindsay: It doesn’t just help at work – it helps in your home life as well. It really helps with difficult conversations. You stop and think before you respond, rather than just reacting immediately to an issue. I put on a very obvious mask when things become challenging. I have learned how to break this down, particularly with the support of our line-manager, Ruth.

A. Zee: My mindset underwent a huge transformation, marked by high level self-awareness and empathy. I became more aligned to my own emotions, reactions, and thought processes, recognising their significant influence on my behaviour and decision-making. I adopted a deeper compassionate approach to leadership and collaboration.

“My mindset underwent a huge transformation.”

Q. Have the changes really lasted?

A. Zee: Without a doubt. The positive effects of the training continue to play a big part within our team and how we apply it in our own areas. I find myself continually drawing upon the materials and concepts from the training to guide my actions and decisions. It’s improved collaboration, communication, and overall team dynamics. It’s remarkable how a training program rooted in neuroscience principles could have such a profound and lasting impact on our team culture and effectiveness.

A. Mel: Yes certainly in how there is a structure moving forwards with the continuation of the buddy scheme. I certainly don’t want what we have learned to be lost and look forward to the next steps.

A. Bas: I have no doubt that the results are enduring. The long-lasting effect is that it has brought the team together with a common language. If we all pick up just 25% of everything we covered I would see that as great value for money.

A. Lindsay: This is a fresh start. We are now using all the skills that we learned with the new team. The buddy scheme helps take us back to the training as a reminder of what we have learned.

A. Ruth: From where we were in September to where we are now, there has been a huge transformation. Everybody has said it has been an amazing investment. With new and existing members, as a team we are feeling the positive changes. As individuals we are also feeling it. I can see my team becoming better leaders too and that is cascading down through the school. There is now more support, appropriate delegation and empowerment, allowing people to do their jobs better. There is a ripple effect that will continue to build.

“it has been an amazing investment.”

Conclusion

This leadership programme is seeing continuous and sustainable change. This way of leading has been cascaded down through all the teams in the organisation. There is a new found sense of support in the team, creating a stronger bond that is still evident today, months after the training concluded.

In summing the programme up Ruth says, “It has been transformational for the whole organisation. It’s the best team training I have ever done and I now have the best team I have ever worked with!”

With thanks to:

Ruth Sanderson, Principal

Bas van Haver, Bursar

Lindsay Bellis, Head of Admissions and Marketing

Mel Fidge, Head of Junior School.

Zee Mirza, Head of Technology

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