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Dinner Ladies move from contempt to collaboration

Dinner Ladies

Some of our Systemic Modelling trainees – known as the “Inside Story” training group – have  been supporting me in a series of small, but exciting, projects. Last year we worked with a small group of dinner ladies, who, for a variety of reasons had got themselves into conflict, with half of them off work due to stress. Two team members hadn’t spoken to each other for almost two years despite having to work in the same kitchen.

We had to adapt Systemic Modelling to fit into the 25 minutes available on Friday afternoons and deliver the Clean for Teams models in bite-size pieces. Despite the high anxiety and conflict levels the women were able to learn and apply the models quickly and to move from full contempt to collaboration in five short sessions. The Inside Story team helped to keep me in a creative and curious state, even when – until the last moment – we thought the project was going to fail.

Nine months later, we’ve heard that the intervention worked really well. The dinner ladies have pulled together throughout lockdown and the project commissioner describes them as now working ‘as smoothly as butter.’


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About Caitlin Walker

Caitlin Walker's avatar

Caitlin is a director of Clean Learning and the developer of Systemic Modelling™. She is the author of From Contempt to Curiosity, which details many of the innovative and transformational projects she’s led across our community from the most dispossessed to leading think tanks.

Caitlin graduated in Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies and completed four years post graduate research in ‘Strategies for Lexical access’ including fieldwork in Ghana. She began modelling teaching and learning while at SOAS, volunteering intermediary classes to translate information presented at lectures into different learning styles for the students. At the same time she was a youth worker in Kings Cross bringing these leading edge tools to groups of young people.

She went on to set up literacy clubs in King’s Cross, where children could come to learn to spell. From 1996 – 1999 Caitlin was an Education tutor with the Dalston Youth Project, a Home Office run experiment to offer accelerated learning to at-risk students, alongside mentoring, to keep them in school. She ran these sessions as NLP modelling workshops and achieved excellent results with the students. The project won a Crime Prevention and Community Safety award for Great Britain. In 1999 she was offered the opportunity to develop her work in a business context and she created the ground breaking metaphors@work process. These techniques are available on the Creative Management section of the Open University MBA program and on a 10 week modular course on Practical Thinking. She has co-designed and she co-delivers a Masters Level module in Coaching and Mentoring at Liverpool John Moores University.

She has since developed her modelling skills from small scale group development to whole scale organisational culture change programmes. She designs and delivers tailor made learning and development programs for addressing diversity, conflict, leadership, managing mergers and creating ‘learning organisations’.

Caitlin practices in a variety of contexts. Clients include: Jeyes Group, Liverpool John Moores University, Pharmacia, Hull City Council, South Yorkshire Police Service, Bexley Care Trust, New Information Paradigms, Work Directions UK, Crime Concern, BT, Police National Search Centre, Celerent Consultancy, Carbon Partners, Ealing LEA, and Working Links. She has trained a number of in-house trainers to carry on and develop the work without creating dependency on her expertise. She has systematically tested and developed her ideas in challenging arenas and her robust products have become sought after learning aids.


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