Growth brings along plenty of changes. When Edurio's team doubled in size almost overnight in 2016, we had to get used to many new faces, a larger office, and more structured processes. The casual morning coffee conversations that worked with eight people no longer generated the alignment required for a team of eighteen. However, some things remained the same; we took active care in shaping the team culture in a period of growth.

Photo of the Edurio team gathering

Culture is a set of behavioural principles that underlie most other things in an organisation. Defined in the eighties as "how we do things around here", culture will influence your operational processes, your hiring policy, your decision-making, and the day to day experience at your organisation. Keeping that essential core strength is vital in periods of growth when so many things seem to be up for debate.

Culture in Growing Academy Trusts

Culture ought to be kept strong during periods of change such as academy trusts undergoing growth, mergers, and acquisitions. Academy trusts are large organisations and already contain multitudes — the trust central team and each school are likely to have their own take on how we do things around here. However, just like with the different teams and their subcultures in Edurio, it is important to know what are the core behaviours to rally around in order to provide much-needed stability during change.

The practical implications of strong organisational culture during periods of growth will differ depending on the type of growth. If a large trust takes on a single school or merges with a small trust, the practical challenges will gravitate towards figuring out how to ensure the new school or schools adapt to the larger culture without feeling marginalised. If a small trust expands or there's a merger between two similarly sized trusts, the outcome is likely to be a significant change to the organisation’s culture — something that should not be left to luck alone.

From speaking with academy trusts going through mergers, culture-driven growth pains can be a real hassle. Consequences of ignoring culture during periods of growth range from losing key members of your team because they haven't been prepared to work in a way they're not familiar with to losing track of the trust vision and guiding principles that could have helped in a period of low stability.

Cultural Due Diligence

To address these practical concerns, we recommend that trusts carry out cultural due diligence with the goal of identifying the key commonalities and differences in the organisational cultures. This should be done alongside the legal and financial diligence during the merger process.

Our Cultural Due Diligence playbook (available free of charge here) is a starting point and gives you tips on carrying out 3 simple steps:

An infographic summarising various stages of cultural due diligence journey
  1. Define your trust's culture. You need a clear understanding of where you are at this point before you draw any conclusions about similarities and differences. We recommend carrying out a staff survey and analysing the results in a central team workshop (instructions in the playbook).
  2. Understand the culture of schools joining your trust. We recommend setting aside time with the other trust's leadership team for culture, as well as asking focused questions in a survey.
  3. Compare the two cultures. Answering key questions as you assess what you've learnt in the first two steps and visualising the data can help you identify risks and opportunities that you can tackle proactively.

Of course, the true work on cultivating culture begins after the growth period is over. Edurio’s workshops on culture were carried out in 2016, and this action was only the beginning of our journey — over the next years we have run follow-up workshops, clarified the behaviours we expect, designed an interview process that addresses culture, and, of course, modelled the culture constantly.

Happy Edurio avatars

Just as we have worked side-by-side with trusts on their staff wellbeing journeys, our team is also keen to keep supporting academy trusts as they shape their cultures in the long run — and to make the next academy trust culture playbook as useful as possible, I would love to hear what questions you'd like us to address!

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