FAQs on The Challenge

What is the purpose of the challenge?

The challenge will offer a rare opportunity for aspiring senior managers to gain exposure to issues outside of their normal working lives and give them a taste of what senior management is like.

The challenge is open to teams of six people. Delegates will spend the day as the management team of a fictional local authority, encountering many of the tasks that a real corporate team would deal with. They will have to work as a team, with neighbouring councils, and with partner organisations to deliver a new strategy for the council.

They will have to choose which areas to prioritise, deal with politically sensitive issues, and still keep their focus on how to give the public the best services with limited resources.

Do you have to work for a local authority to enter the challenge?

No. Although the scenario is based on a local authority organisation, the skills being developed and tested are generic management skills. Working in a local authoritymay help you in understanding some of the decision making processes and some of the cultural aspects but that could also be a hindrance – as we are asking teams to innovate and come up with new approaches and ideas. The Challenge will help you understand how an effective organisation deals with issues and will help you understand the working of local authorities in partnership with other organisations.

Is it all about winning?

Absolutely not. To give the Challenge added edge, and hopefully some fun, there are prizes awarded at the end of the day in a number of categories; but that is not the point of the Challenge – the point is for you and your team to learn during the day and develop new skills. Winning in this case is not everything, and in all the Challenges that have taken place every team has demonstrated real strengths – particularly in just getting on with the Challenge and whatever it brings. The development report aims to bring those achievements out and invariably the winning is close fought; with only a few tweaks every team could have won a category.

How senior do I need to be in my organisation?

Previous Challenges have involved staff members of all levels. Some teams have very senior officers but the winning teams have been from all levels. The Challenge is for those aspiring to develop their skills and careers. It is for you and your organisation to consider if you would learn new skills and develop through the Challenge – you are never too junior, or too senior, to learn!

Do I need to be in a particular job role to participate?

No. Again it is for you and your organisation to consider if you would learn new skills and develop through the Challenge. For example, part of the Challenge will involve working with the media – you may want to use this to help your current communication team enhance their skills but it would be equally valid as a way of introducing the team to what it is like to face a journalist and deal with difficult PR issues.

Should the team do lots of preparation?

No. You will be sent some information in advance and you should read this as background. You may also want to meet up as a team in advance to agree some basics around the way you will operate or, do some sort of team building activity. You should see the Challenge as an opportunity to learn, if you do too much preparation it may constrain your learning on the day.

Is it the same every year and won’t teams be briefed and coached by previous winners be at an advantage

The concept of the Challenge remains the same each year, however, the scenarios within it will alter year on year.

Some teams enter on an enhanced package and receive a session before the challenge, isn’t that unfair?

No. All organisations have the option to purchase an enhanced package.

The sessions delivered before the Challenge focus on helping teams to consider how they work together as a team, identifying strengths and helping with generic strategic decision making skills. The sessions are also designed to help with identifying individual and team development goals for the Challenge.  Teams on an enhanced package do not get given any additional information about the challenge than what teams on a standard package receive. (All teams receive a briefing pack approx. two weeks before the challenge).

What if my organisation does not want to support a team of 6 to enter the challenge?

You may be able to agree to work in partnership with another organisation. In 2016, three local authorities joined forces to create one team! Alternatively let us know if you have just 1 or 2 people who would like to take part and we’ll see if any other organisations are in a similar position. This may mean we create a hybrid team! There will be a price per head cost of £250 (2017 price) rather than a team fee if you choose this option.

Why should i participate, what are the benefits to me and my organisation of challenge?

The interactive format ensures an opportunity to ‘learn by doing’ – with the Challenge offering participants the opportunity to:

  • Gain an understanding of issues beyond a delegate’s normal role to see the bigger picture of how local authorities operate.
  • To develop the skills needed to deliver more for less in a tighter fiscal climate.
  • The chance to test and hone many skills including interpersonal, communication and time management skills
  • Discover strengths and weaknesses and how to develop them in a safe environment.
  • Use the day’s experience as an opportunity to help progress to the next level career-wise.
  • An opportunity to be part of an extraordinary (and highly enjoyable) event
  • To work with a wide range of colleagues from across the region

Participant comments included:

“This was a fantastic experience to see how much you can achieve as part of a team. I am already urging my colleagues to keep an eye open for the chance to take part next year”

“Wow, what a day!! The whole event was non-stop from start to finish but highly enjoyable. It gives you a first-hand experience of the challenges being faced by our strategic leadership teams on daily basis”

“This was a great opportunity for personal development, I completed the day with a real sense of achievement. … I would encourage others to attend this fast paced and fun experience. 

“The challenge gave me confidence in my ability to make decisions under pressure, to take responsibility and a leadership role. Also, recognising the importance of delegation and working effectively as a team”

“Participants will bring back renewed energy, ideas, innovation and skills to their organisation.”

A Chief Executive whose organisation has entered a team each year into the SW Challenge has said:

“The SW Local Authority Challenge will give your staff team the ability to develop skills they didn’t realise they had, pushing them outside of their comfort zone in a safe, but pressurised, environment.”

The challenge is an unrealistic scenario why should i participate?

The Challenge is, as the name suggestions, challenging! For a senior team most days don’t contain so much new information, so many new partners or so many different issues to deal with. But there again neither do most senior teams have the luxury of not worrying about getting the “perfect” answer.

The Challenge is designed to give participants a safe environment in which to try out and develop new skills, by throwing a lot into the challenge it creates some of the stresses and strains placed on senior teams but also some of the enjoyment of making things happen.

Participant comments about how the experience was very challenging but helped them learn in particular :

“I learnt a lot from the madness at the beginning!” 

“The rapid assimilation of material and the working together across fields of expertise” 

“The challenge of pulling together a plan and the adrenaline generated by time pressures” 

“Team work – having to come quickly together with people you don’t usually work with to share ideas/ deliver an objective in short space of time” 

“I would tell future participants that the day is intense and will be the busiest day of their lives!! They may feel stressed, under pressure and not enjoy certain parts but at the end of it all they will look back and reflect and will have enjoyed and learnt so much”

Is the Challenge value for money?

Yes! The Challenge is a very intensive process and there is considerable added value by having so many elements to the challenge and so many role players involved in delivery.  Participants to date have highly rated the Challenge and with packages starting at only £1500 for a team of 6 for a full day we believe this represents excellent value for money.