Interpersonal Relationships in Organisations is an open programme offering
real-time learning about yourself and your interactions with others, says Mark
Bunker, communications executive at Burger King
If you want to help people understand and enhance their interpersonal
relationships with others, the best way to do it would be to get a group of
people together for five days and let them relate to each other and learn from
That’s exactly what I found happened on Roffey Park’s open programme
Interpersonal Relationships in Organisations.
The philosophy of the programme is that there are patterns to people’s
behaviour that will reconfigure wherever they are. This means we all recreate
the relationships around us in whatever group situation we experience.
As a participant on IRO, you learn about yourself through your interactions
with others on the programme.
In October 2000, I was a communications and press officer at insurer
Liverpool Victoria, the UK’s largest friendly society. I had some issues in
terms of the way I conducted relationships with others at work. I was very
assertive, bordering on aggressive at times, and I sometimes vented my
frustrations verbally when I came across what I perceived as blockages in the
My manager at the time suggested I should attend IRO. He knew of the
programme as he’d sent someone on it previously and had been very impressed by
the change in their behaviour afterwards. He said the programme would be good
for me. I knew I had to do something to address my behaviour, so I took his
IRO is a five-day programme run with two tutors. Before starting the
programme, one of the tutors called me to ask if I had any questions or if
there was anything I was concerned about.
The idea was to get you thinking about your aims for the week, to understand
why you were attending and to highlight the special nature of the programme and
the type of experiential learning involved.
I was sent pre-course material to work through, which involved collecting
feedback from my manager and peers about my interpersonal relationships. I was
also asked to prepare and bring a work-based scenario which I could talk about
on the programme.
IRO is not a typical course with few "training activities". It has
a high degree of complexity and ambiguity, which in many ways mirrors the real
world of work.
Much of the week features large group work, where you learn from the
relationships you form with others.
We started by clarifying objectives, agreeing ways of working and reflecting
on the feedback received in the pre-course work. We were then asked to share
first impressions of each other. This was something I hadn’t experienced
before, and it was one of the features of the programme throughout the five
days. There was always plenty of feedback available – if you wanted it.
The large group work was an opportunity to find out not only how you were
perceived by others, but also how these impressions were formed and how they
were influenced by events. The interaction and contact with other participants
became a key source of real-time learning.
Outside of the large group, the content was moulded around individual
requirements. We could self-select sessions or activities based on our learning
goals and the tutors would then offer workshops on those themes. I chose workshops
on power, authority and office politics. Others were run on issues such as body
language, group dynamics and influencing styles.
In small group and one-to-one sessions, you could talk about your specific
work scenario and get feedback to help you develop a strategy for handling that
situation. The "problem" scenario could even be recreated, to help
you understand how you came across. You could also opt for a one-to-one with a
tutor to explore issues raised on the programme in more depth.
Getting other people’s perceptions of how I came across, and the ability to
share some of the personal issues I’ve experienced over the years with the
group and the tutors, had a profound effect on me.
The last day of the programme focuses on bringing your learning together and
planning its transfer to the workplace.
When I got back to work, my manager and my colleagues immediately noticed a
positive difference in my behaviour.
In January, after attending the programme, I changed jobs, moving to a
large, global company. The programme was not so much instrumental in making me
want to change, but it put me in a position to be able to do so. It gave me the
confidence that I needed to move on.
Since then, I’ve maintained contact with the Roffey Park tutors and with
other participants from the programme. I keep a photo of the group on my desk
and whenever I feel the pressures of work getting on top of me, it acts as a
comfort. It reminds me of the choices I made about how I would build better
relationships at work.
IT has changed me
I found IRO quite fascinating and it certainly had a huge
impact on me.
Roffey Park’s grounds and facilities all contribute to creating
a relaxed environment for learning. The group was conducive – some participants
had reached a certain threshold and needed to change their behaviour to
progress. Others, like me, had come to resolve a particular problem or issue.
All of us were there because we wanted to learn about ourselves and our
relationships with others. The tutors facilitated very well and they integrated
with the group to become part of the whole experience.
One possible reason for IRO’s effectiveness and consequent
longevity is that it touches people personally at a very deep level. It lets
you be yourself. There’s no rigidity, so the programme can adapt to provide
whatever people want from it. You could run it with 10 different people every
week and it would be different each time.
It’s true to say that IRO changed me as a person. It made me
sit up and realise that I needed to go back to work and do things differently.
Overall rating * * * * * (key * =
Disappointing * * * * * = excellent)