Leading by design: A user-centred approach to leadership development

Caroline Terpstra
31 March 2015

Terpstra, C. (2016). Leading by design: A user-centred approach to leadership development. (A placement report submitted to meet the requirements of MDE501 Design-Led Enterprise Project and in partial fulfilment of the Master of Design Enterprise at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand) [PDF 2.77MB]


Otago Polytechnic has been on a ten-year quality journey, achieving a widely recognised turn-around in educational and financial performance. In 2012, with results plateauing, the leadership team looked to staff to bring about an additional lift in performance. Acknowledging the developing capabilities of individuals within the organisation, self-managing teams were introduced, giving these same individuals the opportunity to be directly involved in decisions that affect their work.

This project focuses on emergent leadership development in a self-managing team environment. The use of reflective interviews and user-centred design research methods with a group of formal leaders in the institution, uncover rich insights into how these leaders have made personal adjustments to their own leadership style and worked with their teams to provide the resources, social knowledge and skills regarded by Henry Sims and Charles Manz (1995) as essential to autonomy.

In moving from traditional managing to coaching, mentoring and facilitating with their teams, leaders act as a link between the wider organisation and the self-managing team. As teams start to operate autonomously within agreed boundaries, formal leaders move into more strategic roles.

Opportunities for improvement are identified and include clear and consistent communication of vision and purpose and further alignment of supporting systems and processes. The outcome of this research project is an emergent leadership development model, represented through a ‘how to’ guide and exemplar resources. 


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International.

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