Stronger together: Navigating the challenges of local businesses in transition

Ensuring that a limited management and leadership team is optimised to engage with and support a growing workforce is a key aspect to unlocking future potential.

Ensuring that a limited management and leadership team is optimised to engage with and support a growing workforce is a key aspect to unlocking future potential, says Giles Orr, Head of CPD, Consultancy and Training at Oxford Brookes Business School.

One year ago, an Oxfordshire business owner challenged Oxford Brookes Business School to work more closely with local businesses, using its expertise to help them grow. A pilot project aimed at supporting organisations experiencing growth challenges was launched and local business leaders were recruited to participate.

The initial group of nine participants, drawn from the manufacturing, service and charity sectors participated in a year-long rolling action learning programme. They received input from Oxford Brookes academics on a range of relevant topics and the opportunity to develop skills in analysing problems and co-creating solutions.

A gap in the support available

Giles says “The Scale Up Network Pioneers group is now well-established and has created a lasting and trusted peer-to-peer development group for the participants.

“Many small and medium-sized organisations face issues around growth and while other sources of support currently exist to address access to finance and improve business operations, we were being told there was a gap in the support currently available.

“Our Scale Up workshops enable local leaders of growing organisations to jointly explore common issues around management and leadership, co-create solutions and test them out.

“At Oxford Brookes Business School we have substantial experience and knowledge in solving business problems, so combining this with professional, facilitated support, participants use peer-to-peer learning to solve problems together.

“We have seen organisational improvements and developments that have emerged in response to support and advice from the Network.”

“The challenges we face are often shared; there is lots we can learn from each other.”

Jennifer Schivas, Head of Strategy and Industry Engagement, at Oxford-based software development consultancy firm 67 Bricks is a member of the first Network group. The company wanted to transition from an agile startup company, to an established small-medium business. Jennifer explains: “At 67 Bricks we had grown organically year-on-year but we recognised that our clients from the publishing industry were facing a period of uncertainty and change and a significant opportunity existed to help them survive and thrive.

“To do this at scale we knew we would need to become more robust as a company and so upon joining the programme were entering a dedicated period of planned change and growth.

“Specifically, it was important for us to understand how to retain the culture that early employees loved and made us unique, how to implement appropriate lightweight processes without stifling the creativity, autonomy and agility of our staff and how to hire the best people in the extremely competitive software development space.”

Thought leadership and practical ideas

Jennifer says that joining the Scale Up Network has allowed her the opportunity to meet and learn from other business leaders in Oxfordshire. Gaining formal knowledge of best practice and thought leadership around both business and management from Oxford Brookes staff are just some of the benefits she’s gained, as well as practical ideas to put into action.

Jennifer reflects, “The group formed a close connection with each other right from the start, so there was a real sense of trust.

“The sessions are a safe space to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by our businesses openly, this allows members to ask the right questions and really help each other get to the root of their issues.

“One thing I’ve found interesting is that because the group are all from different industries we are forced to discuss our business challenges without any industry specific “jargon”. In doing so it becomes clear that the challenges we face are often shared by those in seemingly very different industries and business types, and there is lots we can learn from each other.”

Since joining the Scale Up network, Jennifer and her team have started to make positive changes within the business. However, it’s not only a renewed understanding of the challenges around scaling-up a business that they’ve gained, but also of the importance of coming together with fellow business leaders to share problems and work out solutions together.

“I have personally gained a lot from the interactions with the group, they are without exception intelligent, talented, passionate and driven. I’ve come away with a renewed understanding that, yes, scaling up a business is challenging and it’s vital to have people to share the highs and lows with.

“I also have an increased confidence that as a company we are caring about and prioritising the right things and have the skills and drive to make the changes we need to grow.”

Applications open for new 2020 Network members

Based on the success of the pilot programme, Oxford Brookes is pleased to announce that applications are currently open to join a new cohort of Scale Up organisations to work together to address common and shared issues.

The programme will provisionally commence in September 2020. If you are interested in applying, please submit this application form or email for further information.

In response to the global pandemic, Oxford Brookes Business School is offering a range of short, free webinars to help organisations and individuals. For more information see the Oxford Brookes Business School website.

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