LEADING LIGHTS     Issue 3 | 2020

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Positive Change in Agile Organisations

The NZEALS story of re-invention post Covid19

Article by   Anne Malcolm

An impetus and drive to become an agile and agentic organisation was the outcome of NZEALS’ design thinking.

THE PAST - what was happening pre- Covid 19

Keeping on doing what we have always done has mostly worked for NZEALS. Although it is not a large educational leadership organisation, the members and committees articulate through their meetings, journals and conferences NZEALS’ purpose of sharing leader stories. It is the only New Zealand cross sector group that shares dialogue about educational leadership and leader ‘ways of being’. Due to the diverse membership the dialogue is rich in practice. NZEALS accesses emerging theory, theory to inform and practising leader stories. So, why isn’t every leader a member?

The branch presidents and executive committee have talked in depth over the last 3 years about agency and agility being needed; about how we are important in the growing professional dialogue space. But, the reality hasn’t changed. NZEALS membership has been dropping; branches have been struggling to keep going and the catch phrase or blame comment that is recurring is, “People are too busy’.

Despite upgrading the website; moving the very respected academic journal JELPP to an on–line platform and ‘Leading Lights’ to a termly electronic form. Despite a successful conference promoting New Zealand academics and culturally appropriate thinking in 2018. Despite branches offering amazing opportunities to listen and share; opportunities to value visiting scholars, it seemed to the committee members that the organisation might be doomed to close down. And, then came Covid 19!


Leaders had to all move incredibly quickly to accommodate new learning opportunities during New Zealand’s lockdown. This impacted on NZEALS: an organisation that suddenly had to consider how to engage the members. An impetus and drive to become an agile and agentic organisation was the outcome. So what happened? What is the story of change?

Branch leaders and the Executive team were incredibly fortunate to have Carolyn Stuart as a member of their group. Her organisation ‘Weaving Futures’1 is a design thinking and leadership growth practice which works with leaders to navigate effective change. Carolyn was also a key member of the group who set up Leader’s Connect2, a fortnightly leaders’ forum enabled by the Zoom platform that came about during ‘Lockdown’.

Carolyn was a leading light in our change process. Using tools and strategies from the design thinking methodology she guided us through several innovation cycles. She also used MURAL, an online visual collaboration tool to help us make sense of the process.

Carolyn’s guidance was invaluable and her message always, was to slow down and make sure all aspects of the process were followed, that skipping to solutions before deeply understanding a problem meant you missed some key thinking for new directions.

The following MURAL snapshots show how we moved through 6 phases of thinking, resulting in a collaboratively developed prototype for member dialogue and sharing in NZEALS 2020 and Beyond.

  1. Firstly, we established from recent focused conversations with a range of members what we know about them.
    We agreed that they are cross sector; learn in multiple ways at their own pace; they like to personalise their learning opportunities; use theory put into practice; they have a connection and a strong sense of belonging to our N.Z. context.
  2. Next we considered our organisation’s professional knowledge
  1. We then took what we knew our members needed and combined it with our professional knowledge to come up with the action goal:
    “Inter-connected, small groups of leaders meeting online regularly under a common format to build relationships and increase knowledge about leadership.”
  2. Our next step was to determine the value of our action goal and to assess it in terms of:
    • Desirability – how much do we want this
    • Viability – how likely is it to work in the current context
    • Feasibility – will this be easy or hard to achieve.

We used a tool called a Value Map which is a type of Lean Canvas.

Value Map

We established fairly quickly that we needed to keep our newsletter and journal. We needed to move away from having face-to-face meetings as our only way of communicating. We needed to continue to offer an amazing conference every two years, and finally we needed to move from a largely regional organisation to a more centralised approach.

Having completed the Value Map we gave the following scores to our Action Goal

  • Desirable 5/5
  • Viable 4/5
  • Feasible 3.5/5

These scores indicated that it was worth moving to the next stage of the design thinking process.

  1. Having validated our Action Goal it was time to embark on an open brainstorming session of all and everything we needed to consider. We used the Zoom canvas for this, posting one Sticky Note per idea. After the Zoom meeting the Mural planner was there to add to. The ideas were grouped to provide sense-making to the hundred or so thoughts.
  1. Our final step was to begin working on our prototype 2020 and beyond.

A prototype in the education space can be anything from a napkin sketch to a role play to a workflow diagram. The purpose of a prototype is:

  1. to help you clarify your ideas – as soon as you start to represent your idea on paper you see the gaps in your thinking;
  2. to explain your idea to others in order to test it and refine it.

This is what the completed prototype looked like.


Using our prototype we trialled a session, then refined and honed what future sessions might look like. We considered time frames, costs and responsibilities. Next we trialled the concept with the full Council, and the success has led us to believe we have a powerful and connected way forward.


  • Five online forums are proposed in total, over school terms 3 and 4 2020 and term 1 2021
  • Focus: Knowing Ourselves as Leaders Now
  • Aim: Building strong relationships. Creating a safe environment for learning is central.
  • The forums are of 50 minutes duration (within a 1 hour slot)
  • We aim to have 6-8 participants per cross-sector group with a cut-off point when groups are filled.
  • NZEALS Council members are to facilitate the initial groups.
  • A set question is to be posed across groups prior to the sessions.
  • Our unique point is connecting theory to practice. We propose that this develops through the discussion, not by sending readings etc beforehand. Readings and other links suggested during the sessions using the chat facility will be posted afterwards. Each forum group will have its own drop-down menu of materials, which will build up as the sessions progress.

We are making sense of practice through reflection.
We are: Making communities of practice real.

As Zuckerberg said "The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."

NZEALS has taken on that challenge.

We hope you will enjoy being part of our storying going forward and see you all Monday 3rd or Wednesday 5th August at 4pm., for our first member trial of the prototype.

This theme for groups in our August session.

What did I learn as a leader? Am I the same leader I was in February?