Let me set a scene. Imagine a random town hall in a random town somewhere on a random day. Within that town hall is a random 30 something council officer, freshly promoted into a senior manager role. He was promoted (and rightly so) because of his experience to date, his track record and his ability to get things done. But on this random day things started to unravel a bit…

The leader had a crisis that was top priority, his CEO was off sick and he needed to deputise and present at an all staff briefing due to start in 15 minutes, the local newspaper wanted to speak to a senior officer regarding the waste contract which had just collapsed, the local MP had turned up unannounced to address the sudden closure of a major employer in the area, and to top it all off his mobile phone would not stop ringing, pinging and vibrating. “This is crazy!” he screamed. “No one could have prepared me for this!!”

It was at that point that a penny dropped in my head. It dropped because I was there, right alongside our 30 something brand new senior manager trying to help him tackle the 101 top priority issues that were bombarding him from all angles. The penny drop; I realised that people can in fact be prepared for this. Through coaching, mentoring, training and a once in a lifetime learning experience, aspiring managers can prepare themselves for those random days when everything happens at once. Thanks to my frantic colleague, the Local Authority Challenge was born and on 13th September 2012, the 1st LA Challenge was delivered in Norwich. 12 teams from across the East of England attended and Suffolk County Council walked away as the 1st ever champions. Fast forward 7 or 8 years and the LA Challenge is now delivered to 7 of the 8 regions in England, over 200 organisations have experienced it and here in the West Midlands we are about to deliver our 4th West Midlands LA Challenge.

The LA Challenge offers aspiring senior managers that rare opportunity to have a go at running a council in a completely safe and supportive environment. The challenge is a simulation event, where right from the first whistle a whole host of real life and completely realistic issues are thrown at teams. They’ll have a real life council leader to manage, the media will be knocking on their door, they’ll have customers asking for advice, stakeholders wanting to meet and whilst all of this is going on they’ll have to work out how they are going to turnaround a gigantic budget deficit and get the council back on track.

I’m incredibly proud at what the LA Challenge has achieved in the past 8 years or so, particularly in the West Midlands. We’ve seen countless delegates go on to secure top senior manager posts within the sector with many of them citing the LA Challenge as the best and most impactful day’s training they have ever experienced. I’m biased when I say this, but the LA Challenge is one of the most important annual L&D events to take place across the country each year. I truly believe that every organisation should incorporate it into their organisation’s learning and development initiatives. Whether your local authority or not, anyone who is involved in public sector service delivery can benefit massively from using the LA Challenge as an annual workforce development tool.

Sadly, that random 30 something council officer didn’t stay in our sector much longer after that random day. One thing is for sure though, had he taken part in an LA Challenge as part of his development, he’d have taken that random day in his stride.

Blog post written by: Richard Wills, Managing Director | Breckland Training Services