Standing back to press the pause button. What happened at my ‘Re-ignite!’ workshop.

6 min readJan 26, 2018
Rabble Studio, Cardiff

When was the last time your management team stood back and pressed pause? How often do you get away from the office, turn off the phones and allow yourselves to talk about the things that really matter? How often does your team have frank and open discussions? Does it feel like a luxury to head off grid and look at your business differently? Or would you say it’s essential?

I’ve just run my “Re-ignite!” workshop for the Development Bank of Wales (which has recently transitioned from its former incarnation as Finance Wales). The bank’s mission is to unlock economic potential in Wales and enhance the local economy by providing sustainable and effective finance. The bank’s customers range from house builders to cake makers.

The transition from Finance Wales to the new entity has taken place over a busy few months. My workshop is the first opportunity for the team to stand back and reflect on the organisation’s future and their role in that. “Re-ignite!” is an exercise in venturing outside of the bubble, helping team members look at the organisation with fresh eyes.

Here’s what we did, and why, during the day-long workshop.

Somewhere different

The Development Bank of Wales is located in Cardiff’s Capital Quarter, a smart and shiny landmark office development in the city’s enterprise zone. The venue I’d chosen for their workshop couldn’t be more different. One mile away from their office, Rabble Studio is a co-working space on the top floor of a Victorian building in the heart of old Cardiff, close to the bay. It has high ceilings, wooden floors and lots of natural light.

On first appearance it looks a little rough and ready: a bare wooden staircase leads to Rabble’s entrance, up two flights of stairs. Inside the event space, there’s a low stage made from wooden pallets. But it’s friendly too, with a sofa, armchair and coffee table. It’s a space with a heart and purpose. The venue was purposefully selected: it was important the team got away from their corporate environment. What’s more, the building is at the heart of what used to be a thriving entrepreneurial area — across the road is an empty building that used to house Chamber of Commerce — but today Rabble is home to entrepreneurship of the 21st century. Here freelance writers rub shoulders with graphic designers. This is a space where creative projects and business ideas get born.

Getting close to the customer

So what makes entrepreneurs tick? The Development Bank’s leadership team is familiar with growing startups and SMEs. But what about the grassroots level of entrepreneurship? We started the workshop hearing from Amy Pay, a Rabble resident, who explains why she’s chosen to work from this space. Amy told us how Rabble affords her the opportunity to collaborate and to be part of a community — so important when working for yourself.

Next it was time to hear from a current customer. It’s all too easy to stay ensconced behind a desk and to think we always know what our customers want. But nothing beats living and breathing their experience. In the workshop we heard straight from the horse’s mouth, in a session with Marc Thomas, CEO of doopoll, an online polling platform. Doopoll has recently received investment from the Development Bank, funded by the Wales Technology Seed Fund. Marc told us the story behind doopoll, sharing his experiences, and the inevitable ups and downs of being a startup entrepreneur. The Q&A session at the end was invaluable for the team to ask Marc how they could be more customer-centric. Once Marc left the room, one member of the senior management team commented that, in twelve years working for the organisation, this sixty minute session has given him the greatest understanding of what the bank does. If that’s not impactful, I don’t know what is.

Marc Thomas, CEO, doopoll

Knowing where the organisation is headed

This is a senior management team that meets regularly. A typical Tuesday morning sees these ten people around the board table for their weekly meeting. But this Tuesday morning the agenda was very different. Time and space away from the office gave the team a precious opportunity to take stock and reflect on where the organisation is headed in 2018. It allowed each member to focus on their individual role in taking the organisation forward. The bank has been through a major change recently. The workshop was a chance for everyone to agree to goals and where energies need to be focused. The management team decided this year it’s about scaling, and ensuring they have everything in place in order to deliver that growth and to do it safely. CEO Giles Thorley summed it up, “this year is about upping our game.”

Outsider perspective

My workshops are designed to get teams out of their bubbles. I’m the outsider — having someone come in who’s outside of your industry helps you see your organisation in a new light and get a fresh perspective on things.

Beyond a workshop such as this, there are many ways you can keep fresh and stay outside your bubble on a daily basis. I shared a few suggestions with the team: reading business magazines, listening to podcasts, getting out and about visiting customers more, sampling local independent retailers, cafes and restaurants, swapping the boardroom for meetings in coffee shops.

Getting inspiration from small retailers

I’m a big believer in getting inspiration from outside the office. I told the team a story about Howard Schultz. When Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO in 2008 he convened an offsite meeting with its management team in Seattle. Back then the business had lost its way and the soul of the brand was at risk. He knew they needed to put the customer back at the heart of everything they did. So at the end of the first day, the team split up and immersed themselves in some of Seattle’s homegrown retailers. They were told to go to a food market and report back. At a cheese counter, Schultz was struck by the woman serving him and her passion and expertise for the product. Chatting, he was floored to discover she’d only been working there six months. That single experience prompted a retraining exercise — closing 7,000 stores for three and a half hours to retrain baristas to make the perfect espresso. The lesson: you never know what might spark ideas or innovation. Go to a cheese counter and see what you discover!

Drawing on Schultz’s experience, at lunch the team in Cardiff was tasked with visiting local cafes or coffee shops and to observe and report back what they heard, tasted and felt. This part of the city is blessed with some unique independent businesses. Places like Quantum Coffee Roasters, Nata & Co Portuguese bakery and Gourmet Guru which serves Indian street food from an old shipping container.

Later that afternoon discoveries from the exercise got a discussion going from Judi, who told us about two good experiences with an airline and supermarket over the Christmas break. It was a reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to customer service; it’s about listening to what the customer wants and acting on it.

What’s your organisation’s Why?

Playing a clip from Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, where he draws his golden circle with ‘Why’ at the centre, was a helpful reminder for the Development Bank on how it can leverage its purpose. Injecting 1 billion pounds into the Welsh economy and supporting 1,400 businesses (who will create or safeguard 20,000 jobs) is a powerful mission. I related the story of the Welsh jeans brand Hiut Denim and how founders Clare and David Hieatt have succeeded in creating a brand that leverages its story and purpose to get noticed and attract customers. Hiut Denim is a great case study for any organisation or brand looking to amplify its sense of purpose.

What’s next?

We ended the day, going around the room, identifying six areas for the management team to work on. At 4pm it was back to their office to deal with their in-boxes and check their voicemails.

The team will return to Rabble in February for the second part of “Re-ignite!”

So to answer my first question, I think off-grid workshops are essential. … What do you think?!

Ian Sanders is a creative consultant who takes teams and organisations on a journey of change, getting them fired up about work.




Sparking change through story. Energising people at work. Author of 365 Ways to Have a Good Day (out Nov 2021). Fuelled by coffee, curiosity, walking.