6 phases of MAT growth: by MAT characteristic

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, and formerly GEMS DfE recently wrote about the 6 phases of MAT growth (and the crises that follow), explaining how as MATs grow in size and complexity the leadership style needs to flex, else crises can occur. 

Below Chris has summarised what type of MAT fits into what phase of growth, as well as what early warning signs to look out for to avoid the 6 common crises he highlighted from occurring. 
Summary: What to look out for, and what to consider doing about it

Growth led by: Ideal MAT characteristics for this phase of growth                                                    Early warning signs of limit of growth
1. Creativity
  • Executive Head/ CEO
  • 2-4 schools
  • HQ Focus: Students
  • Structure: Informal
  • Style: Entrepreneurial
  • Control: Moral purpose and direct line management
  • Crisis: Leadership
  • Unable to produce timely reports to Board
  • Non-specialists managing increasingly large functions (finance, HR, IT)
  • No formal basis to engage new schools because ‘non-negotiables’ and systems have never been put in place
2. Direction
  • CEO + functional leads
  • 5-15 schools
  • HQ Focus: Operational efficiency and effectiveness
  • Structure: Centralised, functional
  • Style: Directive
  • Control: Standards, Cost
  • Crisis: Autonomy
  • Growth drives the need for clusters and Regions, and the directive style becomes restrictive
  • Regional leaders complain the HQ is out of touch
  • Regional leaders leave due to restrictions
3. Delegation
  • CEO + Regional and Functional Leads
  • 20-50 schools
  • HQ Focus: Sustainable growth
  • Structure: Regions and clusters
  • Style: Delegative
  • Control: Board level reports, management by exception
  • Crisis: Control
  • Regions break away from HQ
  • HQ requirements for reporting or intervention are ignored
  • HQ cannot address performance issues within a region
  • HQ strategic planning team +  MDs of ‘territories’
  • Size: 50-100+ schools
  • HQ Focus: ‘Watchdog’; stability for further future growth
  • Structure: ‘Territories’, each containing several regions
  • Style: Co-ordinating
  • Control: strategy, plans, investment
  • Crisis: Red tape
  • Crisis of red tape
  • Growing mistrust between territories, regions and HQ
  • HQ relatively small and strategic with a few core functions
  • Size: 100+ schools
  • HQ Focus: Innovation and system leadership
  • Structure: Matrix of territories and functions
  • Style: Participative
  • Control: Mutual goal setting
  • Crisis: Growth
  • Growth:
  • There comes a point where there is no further scope for growth through either convertor or sponsored Academies 

6. Mergers and alliances

  • Size: Any
  • HQ focus: Identifying opportunities for mergers and alliances, considering carefully the options available, clear discussions with other MATs.  Keep strong focus on core educational mission throughout this.
  • Structure: Full mergers (through one MAT merging into another, or through creation of a new MAT); Alliances relating to shared services between MATs; or temporary executive structures which can be reversed later if needed.
  • Style: Clear-eyed about the reasons, the benefits to students, selfless about individual Board interests.
  • Control: Strong project management, communication, responsiveness
    Crisis: Alignment
  • Crisis: Identity
  • Different phases of management styles are not fully understood before the merger, and lead to strong differences of opinion after it.
  • The new identity is not properly shared and owned by staff, pupils and and parents.  Insufficient time, leadership and communication is put into managing this risk.
  • As a result, focus is taken away from the educational mission and performance goes through a dip.

Five practical tips

  • Discuss actively within the MAT leadership team and schools which phase you are in now, and where you might be headed.  Self-awareness is a powerful tool
  • Consider whether any of the signs of crisis are present.  Do these resonate with the phase of growth you are in? If so, you should consider what it would take to move to the next phase.
  • Don’t be tempted to think you can easily cut out stages because a later one sounds more appealing.  ‘Collaboration’ is naturally attractive in our sector, but it is only the appropriate HQ style in the last phase of growth because of all the systems and capabilities that were put in place before that.  Otherwise you may simply be in the creative phase, but without the systems of the Directive phase that support sustainable growth.  This doesn’t mean people don’t collaborate with each other until that stage – it is about the overall management style of the HQ.
  • Like all models, this framework is a useful prompt for open discussion, but is not the whole truth.  Whilst the Growth Model has long standing provenance in other industries, it has not been directly tested in the MAT sector (to my knowledge).  You may find some parts of it useful, and that your MAT has characteristics of several different stages of growth.
  • When facing clear signs that the current management style is becoming outgrown, don’t take it personally.  This is a necessary part of growth, and as individuals we all have preferences and capabilities that suit us more to one phase than another.  So be prepared to make the necessary changes for good of the organisation.