The scheme for a given group of pupils runs with the academic year. The businesses are started in the autumn and are wound up around Easter; many of the pupils involved have important exams and they take the focus during the summer term.
How we’ve been involved
The businesses are sponsored by a teacher, and are also assigned a volunteer business person to provide advice. I performed this role for this current academic year for two teams at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School. The role essentially required me to attend a weekly hour-long meeting at the school with each of the teams, and provide occasional input outside of the meetings via email.
The weekly meetings were designed to be along the lines of a company board meeting. Each department had the chance to report on their actions and progress, strategy was reviewed, and problems were discussed. As the Business Advisor, I had a mandate to gently steer discussions but to allow the pupils time and space to work things out for themselves, and if necessary to make their own mistakes. The objective of the programme was to allow the pupils to learn and grow, but to not necessarily achieve a successful business at all costs (e.g. with my intervention).
Outside of the meeting, the teams carried on the activities of the business.
The first team setup a business to select and re-package different brands and types of tea, delivered in presentation boxes.
The second team developed an innovative wooden container with a wicking system and water reservoir to be used for growing plants. The wicking system ensured that the soil in the boxes was kept moist over long periods.
How the pupils benefit
The pupils seemed to gain many useful experiences:
– Dealing with all the key aspects of running a business, including: strategy, product development, marketing, operations, finance, personnel
– Organising themselves to split the work by role, with delegation and reporting
– Coping with limited resources and time
– Problem solving
This was great coaching experience, and satisfying seeing the teams evolve over time and take on more of the behaviors expected in a real-life business. The pupils generally had loads of enthusiasm, and had a good grasp on how a business would work.
One interesting aspect was that many, if not all, of the team members strived to execute tasks as close to perfectly as possible (perhaps driven by how best to perform in an academic environment). Business often requires that tasks are executed imperfectly but quickly, and can then be improved upon if time permits and it’s necessary to do so. This was a constant challenge for my teams – getting them to complete tasks as quickly as possible and convincing them that “good enough” was ok.
Both teams exhibited the classic form/storm/norm development arc. The teams continuously changed throughout the programme as other pressures took team members away, or additional participants joined the existing teams – just like a real-life business team.
I’m looking forward to being involved with YE in the future, and would encourage others to consider it – either as a participant or as a business advisor.
Neil Tubman, Terzo Digital. May 2016