Building understanding between groups

Building Understanding between Groups

The Department for Education (DFE) wished to encourage the development of good relationships between Head Teachers and Governors in the education system. These relationships are important for the effectiveness of Education. Governor Trainers also have a valuable role to play as do Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Education (HMI).

The Department sponsored a conference of the parties to discuss policy and other issues. I ran a session specifically about “Fostering Good Relationships” on the last morning of the conference. There were about one hundred participants. The programme and design follow as before.

Rationale for the design

Building relationships is an active process. People learn it by doing it more than theoretical ideas.  Just talking about it will not be effective. Involvement is essential.


0900 Introduce myself briefly. Introduce the event, explain the objectives, structure and guidelines. Explain it is an opportunity to listen, share ideas and feelings and think things through. There will be no evaluation, be as open as you can, make sure you listen to everyone.


People feel safer and more able to learn when they know the “rules”.

0910 In ‘like’ groups, for example, Head Teachers, Governors, Governor Trainers take equal time for each to talk about

What is good about being an X?

What is difficult about being an X? How does that feel?

What could you do to overcome the difficulties?

What could others, in particular those represented at the conference, do to help?

Make these requests small practical things. We build relationships on small actions. It will be frustrating to ask for things that the other party cannot deliver.


HMI led the groups and ensured that everyone had a turn and everyone listened. Positive questions and being with like-minded people ensured the whole experience was constructive and forward looking. The process builds trust and commitment. I floated around the groups and helped if things got stuck or the instructions were unclear.

0955 We re-formed the original syndicate groups. These contained members of all the groups at the conference.

In Syndicates have the whole group listen to each subgroup, (Head Teachers, Governors etc.) talk about their learning from the previous session and, in particular, how the other groups could help them.

Try hard just to listen and accept what people say, this does not imply you have to act on it if you do not want to.

1030 Coffee in syndicate rooms but work straight through if you wish.

List the things that you could do in future that would help to improve the way your system works and foster good relationships. Pick out the best idea and one thing you have learned today.


People are more ready to listen to others when they feel good about themselves. The experience, of being in the “like” groups, builds that confidence. The sessions were constructive and many  surprising  ideas arose. You could see people dropping their stereotypes of people from “different” groups.

1050 In Plenary. Ask each group to share one thing they have learned so far and their best practical idea. Listen hard to the answers avoid criticising.


It helps people to know if others have the same ideas and to be stimulated by others new ideas. I listened to their ideas with interest. Some people also vented  some frustrations that the earlier structure of the conference had not allowed them to express.

1110 Brief talk to the conference. We build relationships by listening and support that encourages the sharing of ideas, information and feelings. You will have experienced some of those conditions today. Tasks have been set up to make it hard to compete which have no right answer so you cannot fail.

If you have enjoyed this atmosphere there are a few techniques that are immediately available and you could try.

  • Go around the group and give everyone equal time.
  • Start by saying something positive.
  • Use ‘equal time in pairs’ whenever things require more thought.
  • Take lots of time thinking about and clarifying objectives.
  • Plan the process at meetings. Think about HOW things to do things
  • Review the process in meetings. What has been good about today? How can it you improve it?

I gave people a handout on the above


The purpose of this session was to encourage people to continue the relationship building process after the conference.

1130 Next part of programme


Quotes from participants

“Those were the best and most open discussions I have ever had in the profession”

“We had much more common ground than I suspected”

The session was very effective at bringing together people who often relate to each other formally. With hindsight, the session might have been more effective at the beginning of the conference. Then people could have used and develop their strengthened relationships later on.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick