Alex’s Favourite Activity for Leadership Development

In this series of articles, I’m trying to capture some of the immense experience and knowledge held by our senior facilitators at MTa and to see how our hands-on activities work in context.

Today I’m talking to Alex Greenwood, MTa’s Senior Facilitator, who has delivered workshops using MTa experiential activities to hundreds of participants across five continents.

Alex, you’ve been using MTa materials for a long time. Which is your favourite activity for developing leadership skills?

It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I’ve recently used Waste Away for a large professional services provider in New York and got great results.

So, why did you recommend this specific activity for them?

They were putting together a High Potential (HiPo) programme for their best new talent. These are the people in the organisation who would soon be stepping into management positions and the company hoped would then move on to more senior leadership roles.
There was a need to equip them with the skills and attitudes they will need to be successful, such as: Planning, gaining commitment, prioritising, and valuing others’ contributions. This activity also brings home the need for good followership, being able to embrace and implement change, maintain customer focus and make difficult decisions.

I see. So how did you think Waste Away would help?

It replicates how leaders have to get things done both directly and by enabling other people. For example, the leaders in this activity must create a clear vision of success and gain buy-in from all team members to the extent that they can succeed in the leaders’ absence. I don’t want to give too much away about how the activity works, but the brief changes slightly as the activity progresses, which challenges commitment to that vision and requires quick thinking.

And how did the participants react to the task?

They were engaged and there was a real buzz in the room. There was some ambiguity to deal with, and it was interesting to see how participants adapted the way in which they approached the task. These very bright individuals had to go through the difficult process of translating theoretical understanding of leadership into practical application. For many of the participants this was their first experience in a leadership role and there was a steep learning curve.

How about at review stage? How did you facilitate the process of learning from the task?

I used the MTa Learning Arena as a framework for developing the learning. In between the three phases of the task participants were given the review sheets provided in the kit. They completed these individually to help crystallise their thinking and make sense of what they had just experienced. The review sheets were followed by facilitated discussion to help participants draw out their key learning, raise their awareness of how the group are performing and identify areas for improvement. This was done after each phase of the task so that they were able to put their ideas for improvement to the test straight away.

What was their learning, in this instance?

As you’d expect with experiential learning, each of them had different learning points to focus on, but all of them left with a tangible experience they could draw on in future. Having been able to observe and feel how both effective, and ineffective, leadership can impact a team meant they could be thoughtful about their own behaviour as new leaders. They gained invaluable insight into the skills, attitudes and behaviours of both high performing teams and leaders within the context in which they work.

And how did it impact them as individuals?

You could see that they left the room feeling more confident and excited about the challenges ahead. Each participant had a heightened awareness of the skills and attitudes that enable success in their organisation, both in their current role and looking forward to the next steps in their career. It was rewarding being involved in that transition with them.

What happened next?

The clients were thrilled to see how this practical activity complemented the theoretical parts of their HiPo programme, and how it helped the participants consolidate their new knowledge about leadership. They decided to make it a permanent part of their programme and I was asked to train their internal facilitators to deliver it effectively. By nurturing their talent in this way, they’ve made a positive investment into the future health of the organisation.

Finally, do you have any tips for someone using this activity for the first time?

Yes! Prepare thoroughly:

1) Use the facilitators’ notes contained in the manual to ensure you understand both the requirements of the task and your role as a facilitator.
2) Prepare yourself for facilitating experiential learning too – you can download our tips or even get yourself certified on the MTa Facilitator Masterclass. It’s designed to help you get most out of our activities.
3) Finally, if there’s anything you want to ask, give us a call – we’re always happy to provide guidance to help you meet your programme objectives.


Activity: Waste Away
Kit: MTa Insights, The Ultimate Trainer’s Resource, containing 53 activities
Level: Advanced
Duration: 2.5 – 3.5 hours


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