How 12 Galliford and Castle Cement staff spent a week looking after 30 10-year-olds, and learned all about teamwork.
Every year, contractor Galliford and Castle Cement join forces for the “venture management training course”. The idea is for the two companies’ junior employees to find out how to put together a project team – but not by thrashing out a business case study. To stretch our management skills, a group of 12, including secretaries, a couple of graduate engineers and me – Galliford’s training and personnel manager – took charge of 30 10-year-old kids for a week.

Saturday 12 February

We arrived at noon and the first strategy meeting was held in the afternoon. Here, Barton Training Trust laid down the ground rules for working with children. The rule that really stretched us was that we could not be alone with a child. When there are three female adults and 10 girls, the logistics are frightening. It meant standing in doorways when one child went to the toilet while keeping an eye on another group in a corridor.

Sunday 13 February

The children were due to arrive at 5.30pm, so we spent the day organising activities for Monday. The plan was to have three groups offering outdoor games, arts and crafts and swimming.

Monday 14 February

We rose at 6.30am, ready to wake the children at 7am. All three activities were a hit with the kids. After the children went to bed, the problems started. We reviewed the day, but everyone was talking at once, some people were chatting in little groups and some weren’t saying anything at all. It was clear we needed some management. So we went round the table and everyone said why they were on the course. The least self-confident, one of the graduate engineers, was made chair.

Tuesday 15 February

The entertainment was the same as on Monday and the children were enjoying themselves. But the adults were starting to crack. Frustration, tiredness and the realisation that 30 children had 12 adults running around in chaos was causing friction. It wasn’t enough to be a mishmash of people; we needed responsibilities that were clearly defined. The crisis came in our evening meeting, when one member stood up, had a go at everyone else and threatened to storm out.

After much heated debate, we drew up an organisation chart that set out who was responsible for what. It wasn’t rocket science; we realised we’d formed a management team.

Wednesday 16 February

The realisation that 30 children had 12 adults running around in chaos caused friction

As a result of the discussion, we realised it wasn’t essential to entertain the children every minute of the day. We all relaxed a little and by splitting the children into two groups, we cut the number of activities. This freed up one team to plan the next day, so we could all go to bed earlier.

That afternoon, we had a feedback session with the experts from Barton Training Trust. They told us we had “formed”, “stormed” (most turbulently) and, by Wednesday, had accepted “norms” and started “performing.” This means we had gone through a process of understanding that we couldn’t work in an ad hoc fashion, but we got organised only when we hit a crisis point.

Thursday 17 February

For the last day, we organised a treasure hunt. There were a few hiccups – the children completed it in 20 minutes, rather than the hour-and-three-quarters that we had expected. We finished the week with a disco for the kids.

Friday 18 February

The children left at 9am and our managers arrived to discover what we had learned. One asked if I would stay another week. At first, I thought not, but then I realised it would be a lot easier because we had organised ourselves.

Monday 21 February

Back at work. I feel much more assertive and problems seem positive.