Leadership thinking has moved beyond the old command and control style to emphasising managers as "facilitators", developing, guiding and bringing the best out of their staff.
Bedfordshire Pilgrims Housing Association, which manages over 10,000 homes in and around Bedfordshire, recently put its 56 managers through a facilitative leadership course and the benefits, it says have been felt throughout the organisation.
"After assessing the goals and values of the organisation, and co-ordinating their operational and business plans, our managers prioritised facilitation skills and performance management as their most pressing development needs," Rosie Stevens, head of HR and organisation development at Bedfordshire Pilgrims.
"Facilitation can be the difference between an ineffective company and a really high performing organisation, Rosie added. "When team members are able to resolve issues and make decisions together, they feel far more involved and more motivated. This can translate into big improvements in effectiveness."
Before tackling facilitation, the association ran performance management training initiatives to help its managers better understand their own management style and the implications involved when managing different team members. It also provided training on coaching and giving and receiving feedback.
External provider Roffey Park then designed a three-day residential programme covering the different styles and interventions of facilitation.
Called Facilitating Effective Teams, it showed how facilitative leaders can improve group dynamics, develop team trust and handle challenges, such as confronting difficult group members. It also highlighted issues such as team development, team roles, measuring effectiveness and managing change, particularly understanding the human responses to change and overcoming resistance.
The programme was delivered for groups of eight managers at a time.
When Bedfordshire Pilgrims conducted a comprehensive survey of its 277 staff, it found a clear link between its organisational development initiatives and business improvements within the organisation.
Undertaken by a specialist research company, the survey investigated staff perceptions of their work and their working lives.
When analysing the results, the research company also provided benchmarking data from other housing associations as well as organisations in other sectors, such as finance, retail and government bodies.
"Our staff survey results put us way above the housing association average and consistently higher than the average of all sectors," said Rosie Stevens.
"We found that people are proud to work for us, they think their line managers are good managers, they understand how their contribution fits into the whole, they find appraisals useful and they’re happy with the training they receive.
"Certainly the facilitation programme and the managing performance work have contributed very substantially to these results."
Rosie Stevens is now aiming to consolidate the facilitation work.
"We still have a lot of work to do," she said. "People don’t just turn into wonderful facilitators overnight. Part of my role now is to work alongside our managers to help them embed the learning and further improve in the future."