Case Study

Learning to Lead Together in Newcastle

A pioneering scheme is delivering leadership training that brings together different NHS organisations, the local authority and the voluntary sector.

23 June 2023

A pioneering scheme has delivered leadership training that brings together leaders from different NHS organisations, the local authority and the voluntary sector. The shared experience has encouraged better understanding of each other’s organisations, working practices and the challenges they face.

Key benefits and outcomes

  • Staff from different organisations get the chance to learn alongside each other, encouraging understanding of their challenges.
  • Leaders have the opportunity to collaborate on an area of interest with a shared agenda to support delivery of Newcastle’s health and care priorities.
  • The scheme has adapted to cope with different circumstances and is now delivering training for more participants without increasing costs.  

What the organisation faced

The health and care system in Newcastle is generally high-performing but it was felt more could be done to encourage understanding across traditional boundaries and develop true joint working.

Collaborative Newcastle is a place-based initiative bringing together various NHS organisations, the city council and other bodies to boost health, wealth and wellbeing of the city’s residents through these organisations working more closely together.

Leaders from the individual organisations increasingly needed to work with and influence other parts of the system and work in collaboration. This would involve understanding some of the pressures and obstacles other partners faced and working together to overcome them in innovative ways. Building relationships and trust between individuals could also benefit joint working. The organisations involved felt their staff could benefit from learning together.

Underlying this was a recognition that the residents of Newcastle have very different life health experiences. Communities nine minutes apart on the city’s metro had a difference of nearly nine years in life expectancy, with the average across the city 5.5 years lower than the English average.

What the organisation did

In 2019, a single leadership development experience was set up for staff in all parts of the system.

The scheme has fostered understanding of the complexities of what each participant and their organisation face.  Even people within different NHS organisations can struggle to understand the role of other parts of the NHS, let alone appreciate the complexities of local government or the voluntary sector.

The key organisations involved have been the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; the then clinical commissioning group and now the Newcastle ‘place’ of the North Cumbria and North East Integrated Care Board; Newcastle City Council; Cumbria, Northumberland , Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services; and charity Blue Stone Collaborative, which has now merged with Connected Voice, a charity, social enterprise and voluntary initiative. Each were able to put forward staff to take part in the scheme, which has recently been renamed Learning to Lead Together.

Would-be participants undergo a psychometric test and self-assess against a number of leadership traits before starting the programme.

As part of the programme, participants are put into small groups with representation from each of the five statutory bodies involved, to tackle a collaborative piece of work based around priority themes set out in the Collaborative Newcastle joint delivery plan.

They also take part in shadow board room activities where participants walk in the shoes of an executive system leader. They have nine monthly sessions with a reconnection event a year after the last session.

Results and benefits

The programme has been very popular. Within Newcastle Hospitals, 80 people recently applied for 20 places. The attrition rate has averaged 14 per cent but much of this was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2019, more than 200 people have graduated from the scheme, including finance directors, clinicians, GPs, charity leaders and pharmacists. It is not intended as a ‘traditional’ leadership course and there is a strong focus on learning from each other.

Cohorts seven and eight are currently in progress and recruitment is underway for future cohorts.

Participant feedback has been consistently positive, with people saying they would not be able to work in their roles without it. Their self-assessed leadership competencies increased by an average of 34 per cent, suggesting many felt ready to take on new roles.

The cost of running the scheme has been kept down, despite the numbers taking part doubling over four years.

Overcoming obstacles

The pandemic was a challenge to a course that had been delivered face to face. The programme was delivered virtually but this presented challenges. For example, when participants had to be extremely open and make themselves vulnerable, this was a very different experience virtually. A hybrid approach is now being used.

Voluntary and community organisations often have no available funding to send people on the programme so the cost of them taking part is effectively met by the larger organisations involved.  

Takeaway tips

The project has benefited from strong buy in from local leaders, including chief executives. This can give permission for participants to try new things and fail.

Forging relationships is a key part of the project and can only be done through honest and open communications. Creating an environment where this can happen is crucial.

Developing a selection process that is consistent across all organisations involved can ease tensions and ensure better collaborative working.

Further information

For more information, contact Jill Cordes, senior workforce development officer – organisational improvement, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust: