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Thursday Thunks

Solving Workload Issues by Ordering Beer #ThursdayThunk

In The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge (1990) states “… to understand the most challenging managerial issues requires seeing the whole system that generates the issue.”  Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants rather a mess.  It’s about determining the correct system boundaries to allow you to look at all the interactions that are important to the issue at hand.

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Gian Luigi Perrella via Flickr cc

The issue at hand this week was workload; it’s an issue every week across the Trust but Monday after school was time to discuss it with a group of teachers, middle and senior leaders.  The irony of another meeting after school to discuss workload is not lost on me but no one person has a monopoly on insight or wisdom; we needed time to discuss the issues and focus on the major challenges.  Having led these “into the lion’s den” type meetings before you need a strategy; people understandably and rightly can get worked up by workload.  It impacts on their professional and their personal life.

When leading these meetings you need a way to channel what could be an unproductive general moan or a meeting monopolised by one or two voices into an encounter which produces light not heat. 

Workload Meaning

Having defined what we meant by workload (it means different things to different people) I fell back on an old favourite of a process.  Write as many workload issues as you think there are onto a sticky note, one per note.  This allows everyone to have a say, no one or two voices monopolise and all the issues are outed.  Gather all the notes together and start grouping similar ones; allow people to discuss the main issues so we understand the problem that we need to address.  Give everyone five sticky red dots to distribute how they like on the workload issues they consider most important; five on one issue or one on five different issues or somewhere in between.  If you are leading the meeting you don’t get any sticky red dots.  It’s an opportunity to listen; more power to the people. 

This process identifies the key issues for people; at this point you will be able to remove a whole series of gripes or minor issues or ones affecting an individual which aren’t common amongst staff.  Put the remaining ones in order and start discussing how they could be solved.  Our big four are pretty familiar culprits:

  • Teachers inputting test data
  • It isn’t always CPD
  • Reports and Parents’ Evening
  • Marking – frequency and intensity

What was particularly interesting for me is different academies had different workload issues; marking was the exception.  In some ways it is time for me to earn my money and facilitate some more precise sharing of practice across the Trust.  All of these workload issues have solutions but sometimes we need to think differently rather than just get a bigger hammer to try to crack the nut.  This process will be on-going but needs to focus on removing unnecessary work not just simply managing workload.

The “ordering beer” mentioned in the title is reference to the Beer Game which can be used to expose problems in our basic way of thinking; we blame organisational structures and policy when the issue may be our decisions within them.

#ThursdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week.  The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short.  It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger.  The intention is for it to be read in two/three minutes as you’re busy running around at the end of the week or relaxing on your day off.

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