Empowering board members at the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service

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The King’s Fund developed a bespoke leadership development programme for board members at the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service. The aim was to help members take on a more strategic leadership role and equip them to handle a period of change.   

We chose to work with The King’s Fund because of its long-established track record for providing tailored leadership development expertise to health care organisations. From day one, they were professional and focused, challenging us on what we wanted to get out of the programme and pushing beyond my expectations and those of the board.
Karin Jackson, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) supplies all hospitals and clinical units in Northern Ireland with blood products and provides other services such as clinical diagnostic services and teaching and training courses. The service collects, tests and distributes more than 64,000 blood donations each year and operates three mobile units at around 250 locations. 

The board at NIBTS had been running without a stable executive for several years and, as a result, it had taken on a more operational role than was sustainable in the long term. The service was also facing a period of change due to an anticipated reconfiguration of pathology services across Northern Ireland, a process that the board needed to participate in, influence and lead its organisation through.  

Our approach

Tricia Boyle, Senior Consultant at The King’s Fund, led the programme, working with NIBTS board members to design it. ‘The work started with one-to-one and group conversations to establish a framework for the content of the programme and to define the balance of the work to be done with individuals and with the board as a group. The programme worked across a range of levels, considering the role of the individual, the board, NIBTS and the wider external environment.’ 

The next step was an analysis of the group conversation at a board meeting. Tricia observed the pattern of the conversation and then gave individual and group feedback on what could be worked on to improve the quality of participation and outcomes.

The board then agreed priority strategic topics to work on together. These covered the external environment (including future plans for the service in the face of the pathology services review) and internal operations (such as strategic planning and engaging staff and stakeholders to support future culture change). ‘During each session, real attention was paid to the quality and structure of the conversation,’ says Tricia. ‘We looked at the theory behind the dialogue, naming the behaviours to help us to get the best contributions and involvement from everyone. By doing that in live discussions, we moved on from polite conversation to animated and productive dialogue.’

Tricia also paid attention to conflict resolution, change and leadership in complex systems and the importance of reflection, with individual coaching sessions between the group sessions providing an opportunity to review each person’s contribution and aspirations and to plan for the next group session.

Our impact

‘Our work with the group helped them move beyond operational delivery and to focus on the strategic challenges facing them as an organisation,’ says Tricia. ‘This has been apparent in both what they are focused on – for example, the external environment and future direction – and how they are working together. Board members became more skilled in observing their own conversation and became more flexible in the range of contributions they made, expressing and resolving more of their questions, anxieties, and differences of opinions.’ 

Jim Lennon, Chairman of the Board, echoes Tricia’s views about the transformation that has taken place. ‘Initially, there was some scepticism about the development programme. But that view has been turned on its head – the programme exceeded our expectations and created the space for us to develop relationships within the team, increase the board’s understanding of the internal and external environment and clarify our role and future direction.’