A note from Nick Sturge, Engine Shed Director: Just Another Day at Engine Shed

Our most senior Royal visit last week was a significant feat of logistics, relationship management, and customer engagement, and the Engine Shed team walked it. Obviously that’s primarily down to the competence and professionalism of the individuals concerned, as they were able to build on the learnings and experience of operating such a multi-faceted operation as Engine Shed.

We are approaching the five year anniversary of Engine Shed’s opening, though of course, five years has already passed since we started working in earnest on the project in January 2013.

I think I have learned more in those five years than in my previous 45, and I know my team have learned similarly across a full spectrum of subjects: Politics, politics, business models, customer management, chaos theory, how easy it has been to weave a sense and practice of social justice into economic development, listed building management, new and different people management skills, security protocols, the confidence to say what needs to be said, the tension between common sense, progress, and heritage conservation, how to make sure a journalist, photographer, or VIP is in the right place at the right time for a soundbite or picture, stakeholder management, restricted funds on the balance sheet, LOLER inspections, how to inspire 10 year-olds about the world of work, how to inspire teachers about the world of work, guerrilla marketing, the theory of change… the list goes on.

But all this learning brings pressure on us to build on what we learn as we continually strive to improve and increase our impact. It can become addictive: we all must continue learning. That’s how, in a changing environment (be that micro or macro), we remain productive. An individual’s productivity is, inevitably, directly related to physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Getting the right chair and display screen set up is easy (unless you’re working peripatetically with a laptop) but making sure you continue to enjoy your work and understand when you are doing too much, or too little, to stimulate yourself or be healthy, is really important.

Last week Engine Shed was completely subsumed by 100 senior business leaders (such as the The IoD, Lloyds Bank, Deloitte, Virgin Money, Flybe, EY, University of Bristol, UWE), and the Mayor of Bristol and the Duke of Cambridge, all talking about – and rightly taking very seriously – the importance of Mental Health at Work. It’s clearly a leader’s responsibility to create a culture where people are not under undue pressure, that they can speak out about things which are negatively affecting them, that people feel able to ask for help, and that managers and peers recognise warning signs. There is also a certain amount of personal responsibility to look out for yourself and your colleagues – and even, dare I say, look out for your manager or leader, who may find it even harder to ask for help.

I think a common thread in all this communication is how leaders communicate the Why as well as the What and the When.

Feeling like you don’t know what’s going on, or that you have been excluded from something (what some people might call FOMO) can be challenging for people in your team but is also an issue in the ecosystem, and can lead to stress. The proliferation of email and increasing numbers of alternative communication channels (Slack, Yammer, WhatsApp, SMS, LinkedIn) are supposed to aid communication, but often they don’t, because they can breed broadcasting of even more information, and require you to search multiple channels for that conversation you half remember. Clarity and focus is key, otherwise you, and the people you’re communicating with, can’t see the wood from the trees, so to speak. Less is often more. However, trust is the enabler of effective communication.

Having learned so much about what we can and can’t do, as Engine Shed we are reflecting on our focus, what we can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do, and how we communicate that internally and externally. As part of that, we are investing in completely revamping our website to better reflect what we do and, most importantly, why we do it. We are working with a great partner, Bath-based agency, Storm, and it’s been a really valuable process so far as they help us weave our threads and learnings together. We’ll launch the website in December in celebration of 5 years of Engine Shed. Then we can all relax…