The Value of Experience in Navigating Complex Challenges: A Personal Journey with MatchFit

An interview with Catharine Brooks

When the world was plunged into uncertainty with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, businesses and individuals alike faced a new reality. It was a time when adaptability and innovation became paramount, and for Catharine Brooks, it marked the beginning of her journey as a consultant with MatchFit.

Highly experienced, Catharine has always thrived on the dynamic interaction with clients. But as the pandemic struck, the landscape of her work shifted from physical, ‘in the room’ interventions, to virtual. One of her first experiences of virtual training was quite unique – she found herself working with the nation’s elite footballers, the England Lionesses. “It was an absolute privilege as well as being a real test,” she admits, “I am a huge football fan myself, and found myself working with these athletes who have achieved so much!” The experience exemplified the adaptability and resourcefulness required to deal with increasingly complex challenges. Through Women in Football, Catharine now has the exciting opportunity of working with the FA and the Premier League.

As a MatchFit partner, Catharine provides services and support that effect tangible changes to the lives of clients, their teams, and the organisations they operate within. When asked what she brings to the role, Catharine’s response is unequivocal: “I have over 35 years’ experience in corporate and cultural change, leadership and personal skills development, and executive coaching. I’ve worked across various sectors, including public and private, working with leading global organisations and FTSE 100 companies.”

But regardless of the organisation, it all comes down to people and personal development. “Personal development is exactly what it says – personal,” she continues. “I love that moment when an individual’s lightbulb switches on. You can sense, in that moment, they have taken their first step on their personal journey of new insights, reflective practice, and meaningful feedback.”

Catharine practises a strength-based and action-focused approach to both leadership and personal development. Being a certified Strengths Coach, as well as an Emotional Intelligence Coach, she encourages and supports leaders to identify strategies to get the best from themselves and their teams.  When asked what makes a great leader, she stresses: “Possessing a growth mindset, understanding and regulating emotions, demonstrating the right behaviours, and playing to strengths are at the very core”.

Her ethos for creating inspirational and servant leadership is simple: “My job is to help leaders find their spark and discover ways to share their passion, knowledge, and experience with their teams and across the business. Their job is to go out there, be themselves, and to grow and develop themselves, their teams, and their organisation.”

The programmes created and delivered by Catharine and MatchFit focus on giving compassionate, strengths-based feedback and coaching alongside interventions to deliver new understanding, simple strategies, and practical tips to successfully deal with phenomenological challenges and opportunities. Leaders who have worked with Catharine report having gained significantly higher confidence in their ability to lead themselves and others.

Catharine’s work with HMPPS and several leadership teams in a variety of HMP prisons highlights the transformative power of MatchFit’s CLIMB programme. In fact, with the programme’s support, the Civil Service HR Casework team recently won the award for best talent management initiative at the CIPD Awards 2023.

In an extremely challenging environment that lacks resources and faces high staff turnover, the CLIMB programme focuses on engagement, communication, problem-solving, and leadership. It creates a safe space for leaders to reflect on what matters to them in the present and how they can make a difference, even in small ways, to the future. “It’s about committing to small, meaningful actions,” Catharine emphasises. “If they can make a one percent change, it’s the first step. Then they can look to take their next step. It’s simply the aggregation of marginal gains.”

This philosophy underpins the importance of incremental progress when dealing with complex challenges. Creating a safe space for individuals to reflect, share their thoughts, show vulnerability, and commit to actions, is imperative.

“This is often the first opportunity for many of these leaders, and they find it both cathartic and rewarding.” As facilitators, Catharine and her fellow associate consultants at MatchFit assume roles that blend coaching and mentoring. They ask probing questions, share practical strategies, and challenge participants to carefully consider their decisions. This approach harnesses the power of collective small changes, which, when combined, yield significant impacts.

But success in this field isn’t just about tactics and strategies; it’s also about trust and communication. MatchFit has cultivated an outstanding reputation within the Ministry of Justice and the wider Civil Service. “Our clients trust us, which is so important,” Catharine acknowledges.  A poignant moment from her work with prison staff encapsulates the impact of trust. One individual told Catharine, “When you first came here, a lot of us were very sceptical; you said we could trust you, and you had our best interests at heart. Having worked with you over the past six months, you were right, and you’ll never know how much that means to us.” Feedback like this reaffirms the profound difference MatchFit makes in the lives of its clients.

Outside of her demanding role at MatchFit, Catharine balances running a successful personal leadership consultancy business. She enjoys travelling (her next trip being to China to visit her daughter, who us currently studying in Beijing), going to the gym, long country walks with her dog, and relishes good food and wine with family and friends. Mindfulness also plays a crucial role in maintaining a positive work-life balance, reminding us of that even in the pursuit of helping others navigate complex challenges, taking care of oneself is equally important.

In a world fraught with ever-evolving complexities, Catharine Brooks and MatchFit exemplify the invaluable role of experience, adaptability, and trust in guiding clients through the most challenging of journeys. As she continues to make a difference, both in the boardroom and at grass roots, Catharine’s unwavering commitment to positive change is a testament to the power of experience in a rapidly changing world.