Health service managers need to take advantage of opportunities beyond their comfort zones in order to thrive, as one programme is demonstrating

An innovative leadership development programme is helping managers connect with people they would not ordinarily meet by bringing together diverse groups of people from the private, public and non-profit sectors for unique learning experiences.

Participants are taken to a range of organisations and locations in their local area, from prisons to radio stations. They are introduced to the organisations' leaders, who tell them about the challenges they face and how they deal with them.

The aim of the programmes, run by training organisation Common Purpose, is to give leaders the skills, the connections and the vision they need to lead more effectively, and to push them to extend their influence beyond their own organisation, locality and culture.

Gaining supportive networks

Dr Simon Forster is clinical director and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Berkshire Healthcare foundation trust. He attended a programme last year, which helped him establish a new network. This aids him in his work by providing a creative and supportive forum.

"Before the programme, I could see a potential in getting out of the NHS silo," he says. "I also thought bringing together leaders from across the three sectors to find their common purpose was intriguing and likely to be very challenging. We in the NHS are often unsure about how well our practices and abilities would stand up to scrutiny in any other operating environment and this would be the moment of truth.

"The 10 days kicked off with activity challenges, which gave the personalities in the group a chance to shine. We quickly developed strong bonds and a team approach to the challenges given to us. Another surprise during the course was the quality of outside speakers and visits to organisations. We really did have some top people come to talk to us and take questions from us, a rare experience for me."

The group has continued, with several members meeting regularly to share support and ideas. This gives them a chance to talk frankly about what is going on at work and their personal challenges.

Inspiring innovative ideas

Chris Simmonds is general manager of the Medical Practice in Doncaster. Chris attended a Common Purpose programme five years ago, which inspired him to develop the practice in innovative ways.

"I think we all tend to work in an 'isolation pocket'... and are unaware sometimes of the bigger picture. The structure of the programme was great in that it enabled me to visit various other areas of industry and work with a group of talented and committed individuals," he says.

"This not only stimulated my thought and innovation processes but gave me a far more rounded view of the work we all do to make our community work. It also encouraged me to get more involved in working in the community and to this end I have joined a school support group and also become a school governor. It stimulated my personal creativity to look at different ways of service provision for our patients."