Case Study – Experiential Learning

Research Organisation, Germany

Duration of Working relationship: 2009 – ongoing

The stated aims of the programme:

Ultimately the client’s goal when setting up the programme was to improve soft skills within the organisation, the result being that new supervisors and managers within the organisation have a set of skills and understanding that ensures better leadership and relationships. We now have participants on the courses who are being supervised and managed by alumni of the courses and have been recommended to attend. We aim for the learning that takes place on the courses to be transferable into daily life and back in the workplace.

‘I was attending a leadership workshop by the DPG and got into talking to one of the guests of the panel discussion, who is now working for the Ministry for Education and Research. We were chatting about workshops we attended during our PhDs, and she mentioned some great experience she had with “people who used to work for BP”, and I instantly knew who she was talking about.’ Dominik


What were the key features of the design?

Each course has aims and objectives as stated above, but there are also a number of themes that are woven into the design of the three courses, to ensure they connect together:

  • Personal Impact / personal qualities
  • Communication – style, mode, feedback
  • Relationships – resulting from values, motivations and behaviours
  • Thinking – reflective, creative, analytical and critical
  • Planning and Delivery (Project Skills)
  • Working with others
  • Networking

The courses were designed in partnership with the client to deliver their needs, resulting from numerous conversations and meetings. These conversations are ongoing with tweaks and changes being made on an ongoing basis.

We have developed and delivered a series of three virtual and face to face soft skills courses for PhD Researchers across Germany, covering: Being an Effective Researcher, Leading in a Research Environment, and Careers and Leadership of Self.

Our client group is international, and we often have 8 – 10 different nationalities on a course with 24 participants.

Our involvement started in 2009 with Emma Ford and Mike Rawlins being facilitators on an established soft skills course delivered through UK University, they were then asked to develop and deliver the course on Careers and Leadership. As a result of this we then developed and delivered the first two courses specifically for organisation, these have now superseded other experiential soft skills courses. At the beginning of the pandemic the courses were transferred on-line and opened to all Researchers across the organisation. We now run a combination of virtual and face to face courses and have since developed two courses for Post Doctoral Researchers: Creating Your Future and Your Next Leadership Steps.

Soft Skills Development

We believe everyone has the skills they need to be successful now and in the future. Sometimes these skills need to be developed, they can appear to be hidden or not valued by the individual themselves. Throughout our courses we encourage participants to be themselves, join in, experience challenging situations and have fun in order to learn and develop to realise and fulfil their potential.

Each course has specific aims and objectives:

‘Making an Impact as an Effective Researcher’

(Working with others, team dynamics, building relationships, communication, values, feedback) This course focuses on building the core skills required to make a strong personal impact in the workplace and to be able to contribute effectively when working in teams.

The course will help raise awareness about individual preferences and their impact on others. It will explore how an individual can use their strengths to most effect, whether they are presenting to an audience of academics or working in a cross disciplinary research team. Participants will also have the opportunity to work in a number of teams and gain feedback on their impact and performance.

‘Leading teams in a Research Environment’

(Latest leadership thinking, leading and facilitating teams, influencing & negotiating, followership) This course will build on the key aspects of the first and will focus more on leadership and the challenges of leading teams, particularly those in the research environment. The course will focus on three aspects Leading Self, Leading Others and Leading Projects. Activities will be built around a range of interactions working in different groups and teams.

‘Leadership and Career Development’

(Leadership of self, personal development, career path & planning, selection & recruitment processes) This course will provide participants with an opportunity to look ahead and build their understanding, skills and confidence in the key areas of career planning, career development and the further development of their leadership style.

Using their skills and expertise, the course will explore what is important for participants in terms of ongoing career development. Working individually and in groups they will be encouraged to build a clear picture of what they want to do, who they want to be, and how they want to get there. Participants will also build on their understanding of personal leadership; career planning and the skills and competencies organisations require when recruiting and developing employees.

The courses are supported by workbooks/learning journals either electronically or in print.

For participants to feel comfortable to fully take part and try something new and different, which often goes hand in hand with them taking a risk or feeling exposed it is critical that we create a space of safety and inclusion for everyone. This space is created by being clear what our purpose is, that we understand some might be attending because they are told to, that they are not sure what to expect, and are working with new people in a way that is not always reflective of their present working environment, which can be challenging. We invite participation and for people to come on the journey with us. We have a saying ‘Whatever happens in Buchenau, stays in Buchenau’ we don’t feedback into the organisation. After so many years, participants still arrive with little content knowledge of the courses, as alumni continue to trust the process and don’t share the content with others. As a result of the trust we build, we are often sought out as confidants and coaches, during and after the courses.

Our audience in the organisation are scientists so an academic rigour is required for the courses to be credible. This means we have to consider the pedagogy of the courses we develop and deliver. Each course has a detailed facilitator agenda which outlines the purpose of each activity. Our aim is that by the end of each course participants will all have covered the same content but at the right time and pace for them individually or the group in which they are working.


After each course participants are asked to complete a feedback form, this is now an on-line Survey, it is held by the client and C4C has access to the content. C4C Directors read the feedback, and before each workshop the team of facilitators meet to plan the event, review any feedback and make changes as required. The questions asked are:

  • Overall Impression – Please give your immediate and overall impression of the course, its value and impact
  • Objectives – Explain whether or not your objectives for attending this course have been met?
  • Learning Environment – Please comment on the environment (digital tools used, atmosphere, …)
  • Course Content & Style – Please comment on the content and style of the course. Likes and dislikes, most useful and least useful things.
  • The Tutors – Please comment on the style and performance of the tutors – giving specific examples where possible of both positive qualities and areas of development
  • Course Development – Finally, we would appreciate any comments that you have about how we could improve both the content and style of the course. • Would you recommend this course to another student? Yes / No
  • Impact of Course – Very Good, Good, Neutral, Fair, Poor

During the course facilitators meet every morning to check in and note any feedback or concerns. Changes are often made live as we deliver the course; or taken away and discussed further.

C4C Directors are also in regular contact with the client. And all participants have contact details for facilitators and are able to have conversations before, during and after the courses.

Over the years we have delivered the following, many participants attending all three courses.

31 “Making an Impact as an Effective Researcher courses” –  approx. 750 participants

27 “Leading Teams in a Research Environment courses” – approx. 630 participants

65 “Career and Leadership courses” – approx. 1240 participants

If you would like further information, please contact Emma Ford ( or
Linda Butler (