Workshop 3: Time for team work

Nobody is perfect, but a team can be. IFSTAL students Katharina Wabnitz and Joaquim Muntané reflect on Workshop 3 as well as their IFSTAL experience so far…

Workshop 3 took place in Oxford on 8 February 2020, with a clear focus on team roles and multi-stakeholder partnerships as crucial components of interventions in the food system.

After a week of lectures and readings, spending a Saturday in a seminar room is not something most students look forward to. Even less so when it involves taking an early train from London or Warwick to Oxford in time for a much-needed 9:30am coffee. It says something about IFSTAL, therefore, that having already attended two workshops and a public lecture, more than 25 of us gathered once again for a third day of discussion and learning about food systems.

So, what is it that we value most about the programme?

IFSTAL is a diverse community of students and researchers

On one hand, it is probably the interdisciplinarity and mix of personal backgrounds that drives most of us to engage in this optional learning programme. As a student, it’s not often you have the opportunity to interact with like-minded people from five different UK universities – at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and from programmes as diverse as Public Health, Veterinary Medicine, Agronomy, Environmental Politics, Anthropology of Food or Development Studies and others.

The presence of IFSTAL researchers and guest speakers enhances these interesting gatherings. In Workshop 3 we had visitors from the United States: Yona Sipos, Jennifer Otten and Adam Drewnowski run a similar programme for undergraduate students at the University of Washington. All in all, exchanging experiences and ideas with people outside our respective field of study is an enriching opportunity for all of us – especially as the end of the academic year draws closer and uncertainty about our academic or professional future starts to loom.

Relevant insights: what makes up a successful team?

On the other hand, the contents of the programme are particularly appealing to those of us interested in systems thinking or who aim to build a career in the food sector.

Workshop 3 focussed on the dynamics of working groups by exploring the characteristics of different team member roles as well as the process of building multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs). The key principles of aligning diverse stakeholders behind a common goal were presented. Tools and methods for setting the scene of a team-working process, creating common grounds and goals and facilitating the process of co-designing a theory of change were introduced.

IFSTAL Education Coordinators (ECs) Louise Whatford and Niko Dadios shared their experiences of bringing diverse stakeholders together. They both initiated MSPs to tackle issues such as enhancing overall sustainability in meat production and marketing or ensuring food safety. By addressing complex problems in this way, solutions are co-created and hence become more comprehensive and sustainable. Tackling a complex problem, therefore, can always be seen as an opportunity for igniting positive change.

A hands-on approach

One final aspect that makes IFSTAL’s workshops appealing is the involvement of a good deal of experimentation. In this third one, theory was put into practice by reflecting on our own natural roles within a team. Based on the results of a pre-course survey, everyone had found their position in the matrix of Meredith Belbin’s nine Team Roles. These roles include ‘Specialist’, ‘Implementer’ and ‘Shaper’ as well as ‘Coordinator’ and ‘Evaluator’. The capacities of each role on its own is limited. When they combine, performance will invariably be boosted and the team becomes more than the sum of its parts – this applies not only to complex systems but also to people. Diversity in a team is a source of complementary skills, which are crucial to the success of any project.

Energy and motivation were maintained not least because we were again treated to exceptionally good catering during the day, this time in cooperation with the local food-saving initiative Waste2Taste. IFSTAL clearly lives up to its vision!

The afternoon was again action focused to address the question: how can sustainability and health in food provision be promoted in an organisation? As a first step, participants had to gather in effective teams according to skill sets. The groups then embarked on a collaborative game to develop an intervention strategy and deliver constructive feedback to other teams. The groups were assessed on creativity and feasibility as well as quality of mutual feedback. After this intense exercise, four very promising project ideas were pitched to the whole group. We hope to see the winning ‘OxVeg Partnership’ rolled out soon!

Katharina Wabnitz is a medical doctor from Germany and current student of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
She has a special interest in sustainable development, systems thinking and health issues of global scale. By participating in IFSTAL, she hopes to lay a solid foundation for her future career as a food system transformer.

Joaquim Muntané is an environmental scientist and geographer from Spain currently studying an MSc in Environmental Governance at the University of Oxford. He previously worked as a project manager and environmental consultant, mostly in local and regional food policies. He was drawn to the IFSTAL programme to help consolidate and broaden his understanding of food systems.

Image credit: Pascal Swier | Unsplash