“I am a regular visitor of the Taste of Knowledge events at Maastricht University because they allow me to stay updated on developments in the field. They give the theoretical knowledge to back up what I practise in my work. It makes me feel stronger and I notice that it is appreciated by my clients.”
Carla Bloemen, who runs a consulting company in the field of leadership and team development, was one of the over 100 participants at the latest biannual Taste of Knowledge afternoon organised on 5 June 2014 by the Postgraduate Education department of the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics.
Titled “Leadership with Balls”, this edition of Taste of Knowledge smartly played on the fact that it was taking place just a week before the opening of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Drawing a parallel between football teams and companies, the talks and workshops of the afternoon examined the various ingredients and conditions for good leadership and effective team strategy that are necessary to create an environment where players work together for a better performance of their team or organisation as a whole.
“Know what you want and act upon it”
The programme of the afternoon consisted of a plenary session with a conversation between Director Postgraduate Education (PGE) Mariëlle Heijltjes and two guest speakers, Ria Joosten, businesswoman of the year 2014, and Theo Thuis, COO of Q-Park, on their views on good leadership and what it takes to keep performing at top level, followed by five workshops on various aspects of the day’s theme.
Using the Globally Responsible Leadership GRID, Heijltjes asked both Joosten and Thuis to elaborate on the core values that guide them, the type of organisational culture they wish to have, the type of community or society they wish to have, and how they wish to relate to the natural environment – planet. Interestingly, although both speakers are successful leaders in the services industry, they appeared to have a different outlook on leadership and management and to apply different approaches to translate their values into actions.
Ria Joosten, who runs a Catering and Events company in the southeast Netherlands with a team of 120, sees herself above all as “a helper, a connector, a facilitator.” Her focus is less on end results than on processes. “By having talents at the right spot and developing them in a work environment characterised by trust and flexibility, 1 plus 1 often equals 3.” Her company’s sick leave rate is lower than 1%. “Our employees are not identified with their function but are seen as full persons. We strive to fully integrate their individual skills in delivering each assignment and our biggest reward is to surprise our clients by offering a result that goes beyond their expectations.”
As Chief Operating Officer of Q-Park, a 750 million euro multinational company operating 6,000 parking facilities and 860,000 parking spaces in 10 EU countries, Theo Thuis applies a leadership style based on three mottos: “Know yourself, in order to better guide others; Keep running, but don’t forget to look back”, “Capitalise on diversity by introducing different ambitions and different ways of doing things”, “Lead by confrontation: you can’t think about today if you can’t deliver tomorrow.”
SBE’s Taste of Knowledge events are especially designed for professionals who wish to invest in personal development or learn new insights that will help them improve the performance of their organisation. Led by SBE professors and affiliated experts, the free workshops were like tasty bites of the executive programmes and expertise offered by SBE.
Prof. Wim Gijselaers, chair of the Educational Research and Development department at SBE, made use of the afternoon’s football theme to look into the definition of talent and examine the relationship between talent and success.
He outlined the structure of the workshop in a clear and often humorous way: “We’re going to talk about art, football, organisations and ask ourselves how come some football teams with highly talented players play so badly and how come some organisations with talented staff also perform so badly? And what would you advise Louis van Gaal to make the Dutch team win the semi-final in Brazil?”
Gijselaers consistently involved the audience by asking for their input and it was clear that he knew where he was going and how to reach his goal. “You just did something very important,” he told Carla Bloemen when she raised her hand and pointed out that he had inadvertently forgotten her in his feedback consultation. But he quickly added with an intriguing wink: “Shall we save your remark for later?”
Gijselaers discarded a number of false assumptions about talent and success, namely that talent is innate, that potential can be identified early and that talent can be bought. He also described the “capacity to speak up”, earlier demonstrated by Carla Bloemen, as another crucial ingredient for optimal team performance and referred participants to SBE honorary doctor Prof. Amy C. Edmondson’s work on psychological safety.
“And now you will ask me: ‘How do we manage this?’ said Gijselaers at the end of his presentation. “Well, this is what I will teach you if you join my course,” he smiled under a loud round of applause.
Judging by the feedback on the other workshops and the reactions on Twitter, PGE’s Taste of Knowledge event delivered on its promise.
“This was an amazingly fascinating workshop,” Marleen Cremers, a project leader at Cubiss, said about Micole Smits’ session on the how to deal with the weakest link in a team. “Really a crash course, an appetiser, on the theme of mediation and conflict handling. Micole led the group of about 16 people through ultra-short practical exercises, which clarified the theory on the weakest chain in a team. Interestingly, this weakest link should not be perceived one of the team members, but, instead, the relationship between team members that does not go well. This “relationship” has a personality of its own. By addressing issues in this way, a leader creates space for all parties involved in the conflict to open up and work on improvement in a cooperative, participatory way. In less than two hours, we all had the feeling to have learned something useful. Definitely a result to be proud of – and happy with.”
Executive MBA director Sonja Zaar’s workshop Effective Learning and Development was “a very practical and entertaining workshop which led me to a better understanding of the learning process and the different learning styles, including my own,” said Maria D. Sancho Catala, Quality and Knowledge Manager at DSM. MSM lecturer Pilar Roberts-Gonzalez agreed: “It was a stimulating hands-on workshop that set new goals in our personal development. A fun experience too!”
Another engaging element of the event was the use of footballs on which participants were invited to write down their main takeaways of the afternoon through relevant keywords. “Authentic,” “Courage,” “Inspire,” “Connect” are just some of the words that Mariëlle Heijltjes read out loud during the networking reception that concluded the afternoon. Summing up the contributions in one sentence, Heiltjes hailed: “We need more balls!” as she threw the footballs into the crowd, to the joy and laughter of the lucky winners.
The next Taste of Knowledge event will take place on 28 November 2014.
By Sueli Brodin