Team leadership that is fit for the future - Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust

Context & challenges

Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust is a Community and Mental Health Trust with a very geographically-dispersed workforce of nearly 4,000 people operating from 200 locations.

The Trust embarked upon a major development and culture enhancement programme to ensure that their leaders were equipped for the future structure and demands of the NHS. The 10 month programme was designed to provide space for leaders to reflect upon their leadership skills and behaviours, and the extent to which they are appropriate and effective in the new context of the NHS.

The ability to achieve more with fewer resources, different population demands, increased partnership working and inter-agency connectedness, the necessity to continually learn, innovate and improve, and a keener sense of commercial awareness were among the key aspects of leadership and culture the Trust were keen to enhance.


Participants on the programme were all the organisational leaders with line management responsibility from Agenda for Change Band 7 and above, up to and including Board level. Recognising that the right leadership culture must be modelled from the very top of an organisation in order to be sustainable, the Chief Executive and her Board were the first leaders to participate in a development workshop to explore the leadership needs of the Trust going forward, and how they can ensure they personally demonstrate it.

The Board workshop and the rest of the programme was designed with the format of providing research evidence and practical business case reasons for adapting leadership styles, from what might have been previously useful, guidance on how leadership needs to be in future, followed by reflective exercises and discussion. Participants were also provided with practical exercises, tools and techniques that can be used with their own teams after the workshops.

A series of five one and two-day modules were undertaken by all participants in mixed cohorts of managers. The programme was designed to build internal capacity as far as was possible, so that the learning and development can continue well beyond the lifetime of the initial programme. To this end, workshops were co-designed and co-facilitated by external consultants from Real World Group together with a range of facilitators from the Trust. Pre- and post-programme reading was provided to more fully explain the concepts being applied and to allow deeper reflection and learning than the workshop time could allow.

Leaders who attended the programme were enthusiastic and keen to learn from the outset. This was a significant undertaking both on the part of the Trust and the leaders themselves – with necessary back-filling of Trust activity, as well as the essential contributions of a steering group led by the Director of Workforce and Organisational Development.

As is the case with change, not every aspect of the programme was experienced as a comfortable learning process. However, being highly interactive and allowing people to raise their concerns, at the same time as challenging the leaders to push themselves and their teams in the right direction, it was felt that the workshops enabled major learning to take place.

The final event in the programme was designed to celebrate success and plan ongoing support and future development of employees to sustain the significant achievements so far.

Results – significantly improved employee survey results & team leader engagement

The results of the programme are expected to emerge over coming months and years as the Trust grows stronger and fitter than ever before. Indications from the annual NHS Staff Survey already show that the organisation has significantly improved its ratings on a wide variety of measures.

In addition, many participants have commented on how much they valued the programme, and that they have applied and can see changes in leadership style and its effects among colleagues.

The Director of Workforce and Organisation Development commented, “The programme has enabled us to create a common language and re-engage our leaders with our Trust vision and values… It has encouraged leaders to replicate activities they have undertaken as a participant on the programme, with their staff. Through this programme we have been able to re-enforce our values and the expected behaviours/approach to supporting change within our Trust by our leaders“.