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Staff Engagement Exercises Explained

I was involved in my second staff engagement exercise as part of a UK Civil Service recruitment recently. This time I was one of the staff on the panel rather than a candidate. So I learnt a lot about how they work (at least from the perspective of the half dozen people on it with me). I’d certainly recommend participating in one as a staff member, because it is very interesting and I had an enjoyable, if tiring day.

Types of Staff Engagement Exercise

There are two types of staff engagement exercises used by the UK civil service, mostly for SCS level posts.

  1. A presentation where the candidate talks about a topic provided in advance, and then the staff group asks questions.
  2. A facilitated dialogue where the candidate is given a topic to cover and is expected to lead a dialogue with the staff group.

Both of my experiences were with the latter type of exercise.

Staff group experience

The Staff Engagement Exercises are facilitated by an occupational psychologist, who brief the staff group up front with some ground rules, and then lead them through scoring the candidates. Our criteria that mirrored the civil service leadership statement, with an overall yes/maybe/no of whether we thought the candidate would make a good leader.

We were briefed to follow the candidate’s lead, to let them talk if they wanted to and not interrupt them, and not to fill in any silences that might develop – that was the candidates job. We were also told to ask questions based on what they said, to challenge anything that we disagreed with, and not to volunteer information we weren’t asked for or help the candidate if they got stuck.

Tips for Candidates

My impressions aren’t based on a large sample, and they are more anecdote than data. However the following features in style/presentation seemed to go down well with the group I was in. I’ve put them in this order because that’s what seemed to work well. We were on MS Teams, but I’m sure this would also work in a room. I did something similar when I was a candidate and got some really excellent feedback (although sadly I didn’t get the job).

  • Find out who the people are and what their background is, possibly also with a question about the topic
    • Make a note of names, key views
  • Having an overt plan/structure for the session
    • Tell us what you are going to do at the start, and then do that
    • Adapt the plan to the reality you find
  • Ask people for their views
    • Make sure everyone contributes
    • Get their names right when you ask them questions
    • Listen to what is said, and make notes if needed
    • Reflect back a summary of what you’ve heard
  • Set out your own position on the topic
    • Invite dialogue and questions about your proposals
    • Get everyone to comment
    • Expand/clarify/amend where necessary to show you listened
  • Summarise and close at the end (ideally without mentioning that you’ve run out of time)

If you’ve been involved in a Staff Engagement Exercise for UK civil service jobs please share your experiences, either with a link to this or by making a comment.

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