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Recently we met with Fiby Francis, a previous Masters in People and OD participant and valued Roffey Park alumnus. During an incredibly deep and rich conversation, Fiby opened up about his journey throughout the MSc. He offered us an invaluable and raw account of what it took to manage his working life whilst remaining dedicated and engaged in the master’s programme. Fiby’s passion was evident throughout the discussion and emphasised how powerful and personal his journey with Roffey Park was.

Fiby’s early career began in frontline banking and, whilst working at Emirates Institute for Banking and Financial Studies in UAE, he became aware of and interested in mindset, behaviour and organisational development. He decided to pursue a master’s qualification in organisational development.

From the outset. I was aware of Roffey Park’s reputation in the field of OD and they were very helpful in answering my concerns about the practicalities of studying whilst living in UAE,’ explained Fiby. ‘They introduced me to a current participant, also based in the region, who gave me confidence that this was not going to be a problem.’ After meeting with a Roffey Park representative at an OD networking event in Amsterdam, who ensured that Fiby could have more online access, Fiby joined cohort 27.

The Understanding of Oneself

Fiby defined the unique journey of the MSc as the process of better understanding oneself. That it is a liberating experience which asked questions that surround purpose and power in more ways than one. Fiby explained how the course enables leaders to handle power more effectively. It is the ability to understand your lens, perspective and diversity that really allows you to better understand yourself in all spaces and not just working life.

For example, throughout the learners’ journey, they are frequently encouraged to compassionately challenge their way of thinking. It is not just about reacting to the challenges ahead but intercepting the reaction and understanding what caused it.

Furthermore, the peer group work encourages students to analyse their own perspectives, conscious biases and unconscious biases. Understanding and accepting that we all carry unconscious biases can be challenging for some but once we understand what influences these unconscious decisions, we can learn to overcome these internal barriers.

Learners play a key role in shaping the module content, as many of the assignments are based on their own practice. The group work aspect of the journey involves peers scrutinising, commenting on and supporting one another’s work. This allows students the opportunity to expose themselves to diverse perspectives and positively challenge their own. Fiby explained how this unified the cohort as they would work with one other, exploring opinions and perspectives until they found a conclusion, together.

Understanding these group dynamics and individual diverse thought processes can help you realise your own behaviours. Understanding these behaviours and their impacts on others can make it an easier place to work – both for you and your colleagues.

Psychological Safety and Inclusivity

There are challenges that come from managing the MSc alongside a full-time working role. Despite this, Fiby emphasised that he always felt support and encouragement from his facilitators, who prompted his cohort to meet frequently and helped them feel comfortable with the ongoing challenges that COVID and virtual learning heralded.

The group dynamics of the cohort helped to promote a really inclusive environment. Influencing and beginning to know one another really deepens the understanding of motivations and helps to create a psychologically safe space. ‘The journey involved real emotions, real feelings and real tears,’ explained Fiby

Moreover, many students enrolled, and continue to enrol, on the MSc with English not being their first speaking language – take Fiby as an example. The MSc is a post-experience programme and offers an Academic Writing module to accommodate the needs of learners whose first language is not English or learners who do not have a first degree. This, alongside facilitators encouraging learners to engage in peer review sessions outside of the classroom, leads to a strong ‘we are all in this together’ sentiment.

The online delivery of the MSc has really allowed multicultural perspectives to shine through, in what was once a Eurocentric-dominated qualification. This encourages a welcoming and vibrant atmosphere where participants constantly bounce off one another. The peer and facilitated support aspect was a really valuable process of the journey, Fiby explained.

People of all different backgrounds come not just for the qualification, but for the benefit of understanding oneself and the motives of their actions, and that is why the MSc is unique.’ – Fiby Francis.

Impact and Key Takeaways

The MSc is designed to challenge participants’ assumptions and liberate them to find power and meaning in their practice. The mantra driving the cohort during each phase was: ‘What, so what and now what?’ and Fiby still asks himself this daily to refresh his perspective to lead and navigate individual and organisational change. Importantly, participants develop the ability to self-evaluate and reflect.

Those that enrol on the MSc are most usually intrinsically orientated and most students have experience in HR, OD and/or C-Suite and management roles. Typically, students are less focused on receiving a qualification at the end of the programme but rather want to concentrate on the value and experience of the learning process. The journey does not allow for passengers and with a participation requirement rate of 80%, aspects of it can be intense. However, it is a programme which yields incredible benefits for both in a professional and personal setting

For example, Fiby and his fellow students are still connected today. They catch up fortnightly and discuss challenges within their contexts, both professional and personal, and engage in thought-provoking conversations to help overcome them. Building relationships, connections and networks, sometimes for life, is a unique aspect of the journey.

Fiby explained how the MSc ‘helps open the eyes of those going into a position of power and prepares them to be a more compassionate and effective leader.’ By accepting ourselves, our fears and our vulnerabilities, we can begin to understand the impacts our behaviours have on others and how to harness those which bring out the best in our colleagues and organisations.

Fiby has enlightened us to understand that the impact of the MSc can be truly remarkable. Find out more information about Roffey Park Institute’s MSc in People and Organisational Development here.

By George Barnes and Laura Byrnes.

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