Building a team of many talents

In the summer of 2017 I was offered a three month contract as Interim Water Quality Monitoring Manager with Southern Water to help implement a new Compliance and Resilience directorate.

Writes Bob Windmill

Eight months later (yeah, I know) I had led the creation of an entirely new team of six monitoring scientists and a principal, fitting this into a new department made up of existing teams.

Not an everyday situation……

The challenges

Bringing a new member into a team has challenges but good teams help new starters understand and adapt to their role. With a new team this can’t happen, so the candidates also had to be exceptional self-starters.

Add that the roles were challenging, requiring a detailed knowledge of lean water treatment, ISO quality systems and data analysis, the new
starters faced a steep learning curve. And did I mention that the roles were in three operational areas each some fifty miles apart?

Getting started

Discussions with Alison Hoyle (Director of Compliance and Asset Resilience) and Guy Franklin (Head of Water Quality and Compliance) established the role requirements and, importantly, that Southern Water would wait for the right candidates.

Further discussions with Guy agreed that no one candidate would have all the skills and personal qualities but that the team collectively must cover all the bases. We also agreed that the principal must have exceptional technical and interpersonal skills.


Recruiting the principal was straightforward with two strong internal candidates, the one with the greater operational experience shading the decision. Welcome Lee Dark, Principal Monitoring Scientist.

Lee showed his mettle by holding out for assurance that his new team would be trained to a common minimum standard before being deployed operationally.

The team recruitment took many rounds of interview over several months but ultimately identified six great individuals.

The candidates

The candidates were an interesting mix, some self-selecting by failing to complete the spreadsheet exercise or telling us how lucky we were that they had applied. However, others impressed with their technical knowledge and all showed a drive to better themselves in Southern Water’s service.

An outstanding candidate

One candidate stood out: virtually deaf (his choice of descriptor) he asked early on if this affected his chances. Being assured this was not so he went on have a stunning interview and was offered a position.

Southern Water were brilliant in supporting his integration, arranging assessments and liaising with Lee over the adjustments needed for him
to undertake the role safely. Welcome Oliver Richardson.

The Team

Oliver was joined by Catherine Silvester (a biologist turned environmental consultant), Ewa Esposito (a Southern Water employee progressed from water sampler to Biosolids Recycling Advisor), Caroline Harris (another
internal candidate, an experienced process scientist), and Magdalena Sobkowiak (a medical microbiologist).

The sixth successful candidate decided to stay in their current Southern Water role where they continue to shine, which just proves you can’t win them all.

The position was subsequently filled by Grace Gledhill (an environmental scientist turned ISO expert).

Definitely a team of many talents.

Leading by example

Lee proved a great choice, organising the required inductions and training with huge energy and enthusiasm. These attributes were somewhat tested by repeated enquiries from the business on when the team would “start work”.

However, his passion and professionalism assured the business that the wait would be worthwhile, a position fully justified by the team’s
subsequent performance.

Walking the talk

The team gelled beautifully, exceeding my expectation in how they shared expertise to ensure that they delivered objectives. By any standards they blitzed these, earning praise from across the business.

Learning points

A key learning point for me was the importance of giving a new team the space to find its feet before throwing it in at the deep end. Add to that the importance of appointing the right principal, not just the safe corporate option and waiting for the right candidates and you have a recipe for a team of many talents.

But did it work for Southern water?

The monitoring scientist team have demonstrated fantastic
attention to detail, ensuring that the instrumentation, sampling facilities and associated log books are fit for purpose.

I would like to personally thank Lee and the team for their continued hard work.

Richard Smith

Hazard Review Project Manager
Southern Water

It’s been brilliant to observe this strong interdisciplinary team form and then take a fresh look from many different angles at some of the thornier challenges that we face.

Guy Franklin

Head of Water Quality and Compliance
Southern Water


Did you find this post interesting? Would you like to say something about it? Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or start a discussion.


Bob Windmill

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