Case Study

How Warburtons leveraged virtual leadership conversations in the Pandemic (1)


About the client

COVID-19 disruption requires rapid change in working practices

Warburtons is a British baking firm founded in 1876 and based in Bolton, Greater Manchester. For much of its history Warburtons only had bakeries in Lancashire, it is now a  £700-million-a-year business, employing around 4,500 people across 12 bakeries and 14 depots across the UK. It remains a family-owned company. 

  • The challenge: Working with complex challenges, virtually
  • The work: Executive team development and virtual facilitation
  • Outcomes: A stronger team and foundation for moving forwards

Simon PrestonGIta GoldmanJo WoodMegan Taylor


Where it began

The challenge


With a well-established culture that thrived through in-person interactions, the team at Warburton’s had little experience in virtual working, a requirement of the COVID-19 crisis. To add to the pressure, they were thrown into home-working at a time when demand for their products was booming. With much of the nation in lockdown contemplating the contents of their cupboards, Warburtons were quickly tasked with feeding a much bigger, hungrier market.


RISE consultants Simon Preston and Gita Goldman were asked to step in to support the leadership board at Warburtons as they adjusted to this disruptive new reality. Initially we focused on moving the existing Board meeting format into the virtual space and introduced techniques for good virtual collaboration. As the group settled into this new virtual environment, it became clear they had only just glimpsed the horizon of transformation that was taking place in their business.

RISE were invaluable in our transition to working online as a Leadership Board when coronavirus hit. It became clear they could play a much broader role, and they increased

their remit to help us develop as a team. They skillfully and naturally navigated the expansion of this role.

Neil Campbell, CEO

What we did together

The work


We supported the leadership board by encouraging more skillful noticing, reflecting, and learning from their experience. We asked them to look at how they were doing things differently as a result of virtual working? This team was already a high-performing group of functional Heads. They didn't need help with their tasks, they needed support in their process - the how of working together. We brought in approaches and techniques aimed at building trust, getting to know each other, and deepening the connection between each other.


Corporate cultures tend to focus on making fast decisions and getting things done. Whilst these are vital, high-performing teams are also able to hold divergent conversations to keep things open and gather a wide range of perspectives. We created and facilitated opportunities for the group to practice being in dialogue around complex challenges where there were no clear answers or solutions. We helped them get comfortable with the uncomfortable, helping them diversify their thinking.


Through an iterative and agile process, the work we did became about enabling the board to hold higher quality conversations, to grapple with complex challenges together, and to develop new perspectives on their own ways of working.

Outcomes and Ongoing work



Covid disruption and its knock-on effects, still yet to be fully understood, turned into a unique opportunity for Warburtons’ leadership board to build a stronger team - one that is more connected and more aware of how it needs and wants to evolve in ever-shifting uncertainty.


RISE helped the Warburton’s leadership board to kickstart the process of reinventing the business to ‘build back better’. By spending time reflecting and learning from lockdown disruption, the board was able to better imagine what it would take to come back stronger - individually, as a team and as a whole organisation.

Related Blogs & Useful Resources

We think you might like