Beyond the multi-disciplinary team

For the last nine weeks, we have been running a social enterprise coffee cart, Leaps & Grounds, at the British Red Cross Office near Moorgate Station. We were testing a new concept — designed to support refugee women into work while selling delicious speciality coffee.

In this blog, I’ll be talking about how we collaborated with many, many teams across the organisation to make this test possible. If you want more insight into how we developed and tested the concept, check out these blogs:

  1. Introducing the Refugee Social Enterprise project
  2. Wrapping up discovery
  3. Ideation Sessions
  4. Supporting people into work through innovate social enterprise models
  5. Validation bingo: testing big ideas bit by bit
  6. Testing…testing

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the idea behind a multi-disciplinary team is to have all the skills you need to complete a project in one team. So instead of passing a project from the design team, to the development team, to the marketing team — you put some designers, developers and marketers in a single team and together they get the project done.

But, what do you when a project touches a lot of areas but isn’t big enough to even have a team yet? It’s a fairly common challenge for any large organisation especially when you’re trying to test something brand new that doesn’t yet justify a business case.

Here’s how we collaborated with over 20 departments at the British Red Cross to launch a pilot.

Ship your features early and often:

Anyone familiar with an agile development cycle will have heard this phrase until they’re blue in the face. But guess what? It still applies when you’re working on any piece of complex, collaborative work.

In our case, ‘shipping’ product meant breaking our pilot down into ‘features’ each of which required different multi-disciplinary teams to deliver it and then getting those pieces to done. This meant that for each ‘feature’, we were able to devote time and energy to engage with the experts to deliver a piece of the puzzle. We were really lucky that wonderful individuals were willing to spend time helping us develop each feature to make it a success.

Here’s how we broke it down (in no particular order)

Feature 1: An approved and safe coffee cart can operate at our Moorgate office.
Feature 2:
A new, lightweight volunteer barista role
Feature 3:
An employment opportunity for refugee women
Feature 4: A barista training and support programme for people new to coffee
Feature 5: An attractive coffee menu and product to attract customers
Feature 6: A legally defined and trademarked social enterprise

Each of these features required collaborating with a different group of experts to understand and navigate the complexities of an area.

For example
Nine people from four different departments worked together to create Feature 2: A new, lightweight volunteer barista role.

First, Laura Clays helped us to define the role, and define it as a volunteer opportunity.

We really wanted to attract skilled baristas so that they could share their coffee skills with the projects participants.

It took Alison Faraday, Miranda Bradley, Christina Burr, Colin Stewart and I working together to map out the volunteer journey, set up the back-end processes and get the role itself live.

To improve the volunteer experience for busy baristas, we had created a training platform that put all the key information on a single page.

So, as we got the volunteer role ready, we also looped in experts on Learning and Development, Safeguarding, Health & Safety and our Code of Conduct. Thanks to Tamsin Hyde, Wendy Solesbury and Rishi Verma we were able to create something lightweight that hit all the key points.

Finally, we looped in our wonderful colleagues in Information Governance to ensure that the new platform we were using met our IG needs.

It’s important to understand that this is just one example. Every single one of the features laid out earlier required the same amount of collaboration from teams across the British Red Cross to get it over the line.

In all, we collaborated with over 100 individuals across 20 teams in the organisation in taking this concept through to a pilot.

We were moving too quickly to set up new ‘official’ multi-disciplinary teams each time. But, by working in an agile way and clearly chunking our elements into product features, we were able to engage individuals with the expertise we needed to create something wonderful.

The best part of this process was the depth of engagement we got from individuals across the organisation. So many people generously gave their time and energy to help make Leaps & Grounds a reality.

In fact, we had so much support and engagement from across the organisation that our little pilot at our head office at Moorgate has moved beyond a multi-disciplinary team. It became a movement — a great example of individuals kindly offering their time, skills and expertise to build a service supporting people in crisis.

There are literally too many names to put in a blog, so thank you to our wonderful colleagues in Brand, Content, Corporate Finance, Corporate Partnerships, Governance & Support, Health, Safety & Security, High Value Giving, ILD, Information Governance, Legal, Learning & Development, Media, Property, People Support, Refugee Support, Red Cross Training, Retail, Strategic People Partnerships, Safeguarding, Transactional Operations and Volunteer Mobilisation.

It wouldn’t have been possible without you.




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Brid Brosnan

Brid Brosnan

Innovation officer @ British Red Cross

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