The Office of Alumni and Philanthropy is an internationally recognised department tasked with advancing the University of Newcastle’s mission via alumni engagement, philanthropy and community engagement.


Universities teach and conduct research. But they don’t do this in a vacuum. They exist in a social and economic context within communities to foster learning, growth and innovation. Academics alone can’t do this. They need a team of specialists who engage communities, funders and alumni to drive investment in research and teaching forward. Advancement is what the folks at the University of Newcastle (and elsewhere) call this. It looks like: funding scholarships, building new research facilities and connecting communities to the story of knowledge creation. It feels like belonging when higher education is connected with and serves the needs of lives in regions. The team in charge of doing all this at the University of Newcastle is the Office of Alumni and Philanthropy (OAP). 


Rebecca Hazell, the director of advancement, invited Polykala to support her team of 40 people to work more effectively together. So, we set to work taking an ‘adaptive’ approach to team development. Our engagement began with a whole-of-department introduction to adaptive leadership to observe and interpret the existing dynamics within the team. We spent two days nutting this out and landed on their collective adaptive challenge. Armed with this collective insight, we worked closely with the executive to formulate a top-level strategy, vision and mission which led to the launch of their 5-year strategic plan. From there, we designed an engagement schedule incorporating small group coaching with the EMT and whole-of-team skill building workshops to equip the team with the leadership and communication skills needed to tackle their collective challenges.

Over the course of 9 full-day and half-day workshops (in-person and online), we developed a strong holding environment that enabled real conversations and difficult choices around trade-offs, competing commitments and immunities to change. Our ‘adaptive phase’ unearthed discrete areas of technical development. Here, we swapped hats from facilitator to trainer and delivered custom sessions on communication principles including Feedback, Coaching, Immunity to Change, and Difficult Conversations. Working so closely with the EMT for over a year, allowed us to identify opportunities for coaching sessions to deepen insights, calibrate aspirations and embed accountability.


We are excited to continue to partner with the OAP into 2023 and beyond. It’s been personally rewarding for us to get behind the scenes and familiarise ourselves with what keeps a large research institution ticking. Sometimes, with the nature of not being fully embedded in organisations, we don’t get to experience the impact of our work. Hearing this from a client helps us recognise what happens after our visible work concludes:

“I wanted to thank you for the support and guidance provided across the team through the work we have been doing with Polykala.  I am sure sometimes it’s hard to know the impact of your work and where it takes teams beyond that moment in time you are engaging with them. Please know your engagement has made a difference.“

Rebecca Hazell – Director of Advancement, Office of Alumni and Philanthropy, University of Newcastle.

Photo: Conor Ashleigh/Ma & Morley Scholarship/University of Newcastle


University of Newcastle


2021 – Present

Number of participants


Number of sessions



Newcastle (NSW) / Online