Lucy’s Kitbag Episode 9 – Graduate Development


I have recently been tucked away in deepest darkest Surrey working alongside our talented Graduates. I often wondered what we put our potential leaders of the future through in their early careers. What do we teach them? How do we teach them? What is the best form of learning for bright young minds fresh out of University? Yet again the value of experiential learning has been demonstrated to me as an effective form of learning and one that is very much relevant today.

The graduate programme started on Monday and straight away the delegates were launched into a Team Challenge, they learnt about the sort of team player they are and how to work more effectively as One Team. This is such a fundamentally important value for all Thales employees as our motto and aspiration is to work as ‘One Team, One Thales’. The graduates start by designing and developing their team to compete against the other teams on the course. They learn about identity, branding, working together, what makes a High Performing Team and how to provide feedback to each other in the interests of personal and team development and growth.

The theory is then put into practice and each team embarks on a series of complex outdoor challenges designed to test their performance as a team; they are encouraged to assimilate complex information and apply creative problem solving to difficult physical challenges. Activities like this have been around in L&D for many years but they are still relevant today. The graduates learn about the need to listen carefully to instructions, confirm understanding, the dangers of assumptions, when to take risks and when not to – all important business skills. They learn that they need to rely on each other to complete tasks successfully – important team skills. Through active trial and error they learn the value of working as a team and what true team bonding means.

Other topics we introduce are influencing skills, negotiation and dealing with conflict   The exercises we use build up during the week and become more and more intense, putting each team under pressure as they work together to do a wide variety of tasks from crossing electric fences to decorating cakes while blindfolded. By the middle of the week they have become much more effective and understand the value of giving good peer feedback.

The programme rounds off with an introduction to Creative Problem Solving and Design Thinking and a look at Agile Project working.  

Having spent a week working alongside the delegates and facilitators, I have seen a definite impact on inter-personal skills, a greater appreciation of peers, an understanding of the value of developing High Performing Teams and the emergence of that special team factor, team bonding between each graduate.   To create an effective work climate, one that contains and nurtures High Performing Teams, these are vital skills which need to be introduced during the early stages of individuals’ careers, explained and developed. Businesses also need to provide opportunities to experiment and learn these skills in safe, supportive environments.

As an L&D professional it is very satisfying to watch people learn vital business skills in a fun, yet challenging environment. It is widely known that experiential learning accelerates and embeds learning; I am sure that each graduate will remember and reflect on this experience for years to come and equally will remember what it means and feels like to be in a High Performing Team. In addition, through networking they have made many new business relationships that will help them as they embark on their career. I for one will not forget this week and the sight of teams laughing, clinging to each other to complete difficult physical tasks, flags waving, groups singing strange National Anthems, and engineers covered in baking flour, decorating cakes. Yet I have also heard first-hand the impact this has had, summed up by phrases such as; ‘I have learnt to listen’, ‘challenge’, ‘be assertive’, ‘understand the value of diversity’, ‘understand risk’, ‘how to compromise’, ‘when to be accommodating’ and ‘when to seek to win’.   All vital skills we want to see being applied to our multi-million pound projects!