Celebrating 21 Years of FMA


The Fiona MacNeill Associates team

I’m delighted to contribute to this important piece written and edited by Suzanne McGowan to celebrate our 21 years in business.

Like all things connected with FMA, this piece has come about as a result of a friendship after meeting Suzanne at Glasgow School of Art Choir. We have co-created this piece with the team. In the first instance asking “What questions should we be exploring at this point on our journey?”, and thereafter compiling and asking the resulting questions to the FMA family. Suzanne brings her voice and external perspective to the piece, which I believe is critical.

In the beginning…

FMA was formed by five friends in October 1996; another friend and key associate joined the business in February 1997. Three of these people are still at the heart of the business 21 years later and we honour the contribution of those who have moved on: John Fullelove, Carol Graham and Donata Caira.

We are often asked how this came about. It wasn’t some big strategic plan but more of a response to opportunity, desire and belief. The opportunity arose when accommodation became available in a beautiful Victorian villa in the south side of Glasgow. The desire was to work together, do good work and make a difference, and the belief from David that I had the capacity and capability to lead a team and bring business through the door. David picked up the tab for the rent for the first six months and we put £1,500 each in a metaphorical jam jar and got started.

Our business plan: get business, do well, make a difference and get repeat business.

Our marketing plan: make the best use of every naturally occurring opportunity and deliver more every time.

Our financial plan: don’t get into debt!

Our people plan: work only with people we trust and trust them to deliver for us and the customer. No papers, no contracts, no strategic documents – not then and not now. Deeply held shared values, friendship, challenge, and an insatiable hunger for learning is how we started and that is the glue that has held us together for 21 years.

I commend this piece to those of you who are part of the story with thanks, and to those of you who we have touched in some way, with hope and curiosity for the future.


Overview from Suzanne McGowan

Glasgow School of Art Choir (December 2016)


It’s been a pleasure and a great learning experience to bring this FMA 21st birthday celebration piece to you.

Acting as narrator for your stories about FMA has been incredibly interesting – discovering what working for FMA has meant to you and to its customers, and hearing about the inspiring changes that it has created.

For me, putting this together has been a challenge because this isn’t the way I usually work when editing or writing. I tend to have a set vision or have be given a brief – and all roads lead to that end. Here, Fiona has taken me on a journey through FMA’s creative process, and out of my own comfort zone of needing to know where I’m going before I set off!

With her guiding hand, the piece has changed shape a few times and, despite my anxieties, I have learned to ‘trust in the process’ – to let go in a sense and let the piece write itself, or rather let the writing unfold as part of the co-creation process. It has given me an insight into how FMA connect with people.

I’ve also come to see the genuine high regard those involved with FMA have for a ‘family’, where its members are genuinely valued for their talents and contributions and treated as a whole person. Having worked for a number of organisations in the media that only really care about output, this feeling of family is a rare beast.

Being valued naturally extends to the customers; people who feel valued are more likely to value others. FMA understand this completely and everyone involved benefits. This is the most important message I feel I’ve learned about FMA from writing this piece. Thank you to everyone who contributed with written responses and in further conversation.

I hope you enjoy reading it because it’s your story.


The Appreciative Inquiry

FMA have been committed to working with an Appreciative Inquiry approach for some time. Appreciative Inquiry creates and supports communities of discovery and cooperation, and this in turn provides worth through listening and acknowledging all of the thinking. This act of inquiry requires sincere curiosity and openness to new possibilities, new directions and new understandings, and accepts that at its core that no one can have “all the answers”, “know what is right”, or “be certain”.

This inquiry is a learning process for FMA as well as for individuals who make up FMA, their community of practice and the people who are interested in their story. This positive, future facing practice has informed the way in which the questions for this piece were formed and responded to. These questions were affirmative and focused on areas valued by the people involved and directed at thinking; behaviours and values central to FMA and how we work.

We first asked the team “What are the questions we should be asking ourselves at this milestone in our journey?”

From the responses we co-created three powerful questions which we believe reflect their thinking:

  • Why is/was being part of FMA important to you as a person?
  • What’s your most significant story about being part of the team and your personal learning?
  • What have we achieved together that makes you feel proud?

The responses and stories that emerged from the written responses, and the conversations, help to reveal how FMA live their values; not just with their customers but critically and evidently with each other. As the writing unfolds, the values and connectedness become evident.

In this way of working universal themes always emerge. The common purpose and values that hold people together collectively combine to create a picture of the true essence of FMA. This piece aims to share the themes and provide some headline quotes and insights. It evokes a strong sense of FMA.

FMA top team (June 2017)
Fiona, David, Hilary, Edith and James

Connectivity and Friendship

It’s clear that FMA are regarded as a close-knit family who nurture and care for their people, whether they still work with the business or not. This was a golden thread woven throughout all the responses gathered. FMA apply their philosophy and practice to each other: respecting views, listening to needs and having a commitment to providing the best working and learning environment possible. This extends into caring for personal lives, for the whole person, and in striving to be a community of practice.

David, for example, said he saw FMA as being an extension of his own family life with Fiona.

“Being part of FMA was and is important to me as it has allowed me to build and maintain the business along with Fiona. It feels really like it is part of our family and time together.”

Hilary added:

“The team care for each other and the work that they do. We live out our values every day, both with other people we work with and each other.”

Responses frequently remarked on friendships that have stayed strong no matter the distance between members or the time passed since the last conversation.

As Mark explained:

“I remain connected to FMA even when I’m physically not working for them, through the friendships created and the values I have learned from being part of the FMA family … Fiona, David and one and all are merely a phone call away, and I’ve often drawn on that shared thinking when working with other people.”

Associates invariably pass that sense of respect and the learning experienced on to other people whom they come into contact with at other jobs, at home and in their day-to-day lives. This completes the circle and it is FMA’s holistic approach that binds it all together. This shines through in the sentiments expressed in the responses given by the FMA family.

Even when people go on to pastures new, that sense of being part of the family remains.

Donata said:

“It was a place that I felt appreciated, valued just for being me. There is no better way of being loved.”

Carol, who now runs her own retail business (with her daughter Jillian who also worked at FMA for a time), commented on what made her proud to be part of FMA: being recognised as a close-knit professional team, even when we may not have seen each other for weeks. I believe that this is a testament to everyone making a choice to keep informed, hold on to the learning and stay in touch with each other.” The emerging theme was that being part of FMA is more than the work – it’s a way of life.

Jim, for example, spoke about “the friendship with people who care about you, about who you are, what you are, and how you are. Friends who are interested in all of you and take time to listen and support.”

FMA 10 (October 2006) David, Hilary, Fiona, Donata, Andy and John


Debbie, who first connected with FMA as a delegate almost 20 years ago, said: “Over the last 20 years it has helped me grow as a person and as a leader. I have learned so much and for me it has helped to bring my own values and DNA to the forefront of my working life and given me the confidence to be the kind of leader I want to be. I have also been inspired by the strong, dynamic women who have worked in the team which is probably something I have never voiced before, but Fiona, Carol, Donata and Hilary are true role models and have helped me with my personal journey more than they will ever know!”

Fiona said:

“Donata joined FMA in February 1997 and her thinking continues to have a footprint on what and how FMA do things. Carol came to us at a time of significant change and took hold of the challenges that were left in the wake of that change. I am so excited for her and Jillian in their new venture. This is not about living in the past but honouring it.”

FMA go to Dallas (May 2013) American Society for Training and Development
Jillian, Carol, Hilary, Fiona and David


This connectivity is not just within the team, but with customers and beyond. Carol has taken FMA’s philosophy about connecting into her new venture. She remarked: “I learned the ethos of the focus being centred on the customer at FMA and have taken that into our new business. Customers always get a warm welcome. People say, ‘walking into this shop is like getting a big hug’. And we have employed staff specifically with those customer-focused qualities, just like FMA do.”

FMA ‘off duty’ (September 2014) James, June, Jacki, Alan, Debbie, Dave, Hilary, Mark, Jim, Fiona, David, Donata, Clare and Andy (Thanks to Rod White for the photograph)

Shared Values


Belonging to family and lasting friendships can be strongly linked with the fact that Fiona and David actively chose to work with people who have the same core values. Associates were drawn to the organisation because it mirrored their values, and FMA were drawn to the Associates for the same reason. This reveals itself to be the key foundation and the FMA ‘glue’ that makes it all stick.

Edith spoke from the heart when she said: “I finally feel valued as an employee at FMA – I never felt like that in any other organisation in the 34 years I have been employed.”

Hilary revealed how integrity, personally and professionally validates those FMA core values, and that facilitating learning by ‘asking powerful questions’ extends to the team members. She said: “We live out our values every day, both with other people we work with and each other. We praise, question, challenge in equal measure…”

FMA’s values have attracted associates such as Andy. He came on board at FMA after seeing Fiona in action at a programme for NHS Ayrshire and Arran in 2002. Andy said: The core values of FMA have always resonated with my own beliefs – a high work ethic, can-do attitude and knowing they won’t cut corners in delivering the best experience for customers. Working with people who are like-minded in thinking is a marvellous motivator.”

FMA’s values are the DNA of the business, inside and out. This doesn’t just mean through connectivity and friendship, it also means tough conversations, significant learning from mistakes and successes with a tenacity to do well even when the going gets tough. Many of the stories spoke about how the team listened to each other and worked together to deliver inspirational learning to individuals and teams and across organisations. Equally Fiona, David, Carol and Hilary spoke of significant challenges with customer organisations and internal change, where FMA’s values were clearly the compass for the route forward.

Integrity – our touchstone; we will always be straight with you

Respect – for you and your thinking, your story, your core purpose; we will listen

Commitment – to always deliver more than expected to all of the people we connect with; we are accountable to you

Positivity – our way of being; we are passionate about uncovering potential and energising creativity; we believe that we make a difference

The Trinity Knot that is FMA’s logo appears in the Book of Kells and was originally created on the island of Iona in the 9th century. The choice of this symbol has a link to FMA’s values as Fiona’s maternal grandfather was born and brought up on the island of Iona and it remains a central part of Fiona’s story. Whilst historically this had a religious meaning – symbolic of the three in one – it is also the most enduring of the Celtic knots and has a never-ending, never-beginning line which seems a perfect visual metaphor for the way in which FMA live their values, learn together and understand their interconnectedness.

James summed up the theme by saying:

I think it is also important to say that the FMA team live their values. They practice what they preach and don’t say one thing and do another.”

Positivity and Making a Difference

These core values have been passed on to customers too and many have applied them into their work and personal lives. The touching and inspiring stories that emerged surrounding the next theme of Positivity and Making a Difference convey this perfectly.

There were many anecdotes about clients whose relationships at work and at home had changed after taking part in the powerful learning facilitated by FMA. This, in turn, has made a real difference to the Associates. The responses contain many stories of customers who have met Associates months or years later and confirmed just what a change it had made to their work and personal lives. This provides the FMA team a great sense that they are doing something truly worthwhile.

Jim recalled an experience with a man called John whom he met while working on a contract with Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. He explained that John was in care and attended the event as an NHS service user.

Jim said:

“To spend time with someone in my role as an FMA facilitator one day and then to find out six months later that you had a profound impact on his life, allowing him to take personal responsibility for getting himself to a better place, and moving out of care into independent living. It still catches me emotionally when I talk about it. I learned on that day, more than on any other, about how the power of asking the right question with emotional intelligence can have a significant impact on those you interact with.”

Another remarkable story of positive change came from David, who had a chance meeting with a client years after finishing a course. David said:

I met a gentleman on a programme in NHS Ayrshire and Arran while I was working with Donata. Through the training he learned that his response to a stressful work environment was to shout quite a lot and be very competitive and, at times, confrontational. After his programme finished, I came across him several times … and could always see a continuing change in him and, in particular, much more calmness. Several years afterwards, this very gentleman came running up behind me. He had seen me passing from a restaurant and wanted me to come back with him so he could introduce me to his family. His wife and two daughters told me the time he spent on the programme with us had completely changed him and their family life. His wife told me she believed they may well not have survived as a family if it had not been for the impact of his learning.”

Hilary said:

“One of the most significant stories was working with the nurses and using Thinking Space to help them explore their deeper purpose. Some had become disengaged in their roles, but through the training – asking them what the original deeper purpose of their work was – we helped them re-engage with the reasons why they became nurses in the first place. They went away re-invigorated and reconnected to an inner belief.”

James agreed that this work with NHS nurses was also his most significant story, focussing on the positive impact which the event had had not only on the nurses, but also on him personally. He explained:

“I will never forget the buzz around the workshops, especially the day when the delegates wrote and performed the ‘Take Back What It Means to Be a Nurse’ song. That whole day was amazing. I also need to mention the Letters to a Nurse (where experienced nurses wrote to nurses of the future), which were very touching; the words moved everyone in the room. I smile and feel proud of FMA and my colleagues when I think of that day. The delegates went away with a renewed vocation in nursing.”

Creativity and Innovation

FMA are a creative consultancy and this means that all of the people will have an experience that takes them out of their comfort zone and expects them to be equal partners in the learning process. FMA use large scale visuals the size of billboards, music (including having musicians in the room), and graphic facilitators to capture learning. In addition to all of this, their materials are bespoke, of the highest quality and creatively designed.

Carol said she was proud of “the ability of the team to support Fiona’s vision in bringing different theories and models together to create something new by being open to learning, willing to try, and listening to feedback that made great products even better and delivered something exceptional for the customer.”

Vanessa said: FMA offers me opportunities to observe and learn from a highly-skilled group of individuals who collectively give of themselves to create ‘magic’ for others.”

Vanessa’s ‘Window on The Future’ graphic: NHS Lothian (March 2017)


Robin worked as music consultant for FMA as part of the highly successful Blue Wave of Change Programme.

He explained just how pivotal that creativity was.

“The results were often very positive and surprising. People used their creativity, working and thinking in entirely different ways than they were used to. Business people and managers amazed themselves, working with others in an appreciative and enquiring environment that was out with their comfort zone. Did these business leaders know that they could write inspirational pieces of music together that defined and stated the hopes and purposes of their organisations? Probably not, but in the FMA environment they surely did!”

Carol and Robin with the enduring: ‘Take Back What It Means to be a Nurse’


The examples given regarding the difference that music, song and poetry makes to the power and the speed of learning highlights FMA’s continued push to offer unique events. June said: “Being stretched to read and consider new approaches to learning and development is one of the things I love about FMA.”

Peter Risk, a customer of FMA who later became an Associate, said that he considered a main FMA strength to be “imaginative delivery and presentation.” FMA were commissioned to deliver an event for Peter’s senior managers at Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in the South West of England.

Peter reflected on what happened:

“The FMA approach was to view this event as a visual metaphor of dropping a pebble in a pond and watching the ripples spread out. From this simple idea they built a highly stimulating event that saw the leaders end the day with a pebble and with a message (personal to them) that they could take back to their courts/offices, and use it to stimulate their own in-house events. A simple concept, but thought-provoking, beautifully presented and importantly with a lasting impact.”

Hilary added: “We have done some fantastically innovative work by bringing concepts and thinking together, and trying it out with clients who have trusted Fiona and the rest of us to deliver. We have all trusted the process.

All of these concepts and the creativity have a singular purpose: to encourage people who learn with FMA to think better for themselves. FMA believe that their role is to create spaces where people can think differently. Every intervention is designed and delivered with the intention of people being adult learners with shared responsibility for what happens next. This creates disturbance in organisational systems where creativity, innovation and thinking are often not valued as much as task, target and doing. FMA continue to be focused on making a difference through creativity, inquiry and challenge.

Design Thinking at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust (November 2015)


Fiona said: “I have brought my own qualities into FMA – I’m tenacious, creative, visionary, pragmatic and I care for people. On the way, I have learned to listen better, that I can’t do it all myself, and that I can learn from others’ talents and experiences.”

Eileen is the newest member of FMA and she echoed the celebration of creativity: FMA is important to me as a person because it’s great to connect with like-minded people who strive to do their best with creativity, style and soul.”

Pro-bono fun and games with ‘Growth Mindset’ at Aileymill Primary in Greenock (September 2016)


Edith explained how important it was for her, being based mainly in-house as the Office Manager, to see first-hand just how FMA put that commitment into practice in every aspect of the programmes. Every detail is important to the learning experience. She said: “On that first programme, I had to mingle with delegates – people in senior management at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust – and deal with hotel staff. Telling them how the room needed to be set up, right down to the position of the pens and glasses we were using; paying attention to detail to make the customer’s experience the best it can be.”

Personal Learning

Personal learning and development was also significant in the stories I heard from the team: the learning experienced at FMA as a whole had made a real impact on the day-to-day lives of Associates. The Associates bring many qualities which fellow members have learned from and have acquired many more skills and qualities along the way. Jim said FMA was important to him because “it’s about the learning: a never-ending desire to be better than today.”

James has taken the learning into his other work as yoga teacher. He said:

What FMA has taught me I use on a daily basis – being appreciative and positive in my dealing with people, all very good qualities for a yoga teacher. I can see how people can develop and become more positive in situations themselves. Appreciative Inquiry – asking positive, powerful questions gives you positive powerful answers in everyday life as well as work. I also delve more deeply than before into getting people to focus on the positive connections they have rather than the negative ones. Thinking Space also helps in the yoga setting: taking someone as a partner and just listening to them is a good way to get people to open up.”

Edith spoke about her learning and how it had helped her personal relationships as well as adding to her work skill set.

FMA have been hugely important for me. My job skills have had a complete overhaul and almost every day I learn something new. In my personal life I listen better. The learning I have experienced has helped me to negotiate with my son better. I now think more openly and treat him more like an adult, listening to him more rather than perhaps dictating to him.”

The personal learning Robin gained had an impact on his professional role. He said:

As a creative musician and care worker, my FMA experiences helped me in many ways. I am now the manager of a medium-sized social care charity which I could not have envisaged a few years ago. The FMA approach helped me to form my own views of management strategy and shape my attitude towards those I manage and the purpose of the organisation as a whole.”

Mark has also added elements he has learned into his work life. He explained:

“A few years back Fiona arranged some time for us to be together as a group to think about our thinking and that of the group … Through that event I was introduced to some different thinking which meant I embarked on a personal journey using tenets of the thinking environment to create some further bespoke learning material for my own teams. Personally, it’s seen an exploration of my own thinking and creativity, which has culminated in me setting up my photography website and exploring more professionally my own photography.”

FMA learning together at Ardoch (Loch Lomond 2012)

The Story Continues

Finally, I asked the remaining three founding members for their final thoughts.

Fiona said:

“FMA has and continues to mean a huge amount to me in terms of my self-esteem, ambition and identity. It also means relationships with people that have a huge impact. These people are customers, learners, suppliers and team members that I am proud to have met and that have made a difference in my life.”

David said:

I have been rewarded by being able to work on Fiona’s dream and she would describe FMA as an extension of herself. I believe that we will continue to succeed with new contracts and adapt as the economic climate changes. We will always stick to our core values – the values we hold are the same ones we bring in.”

Hilary added:

Being part of FMA is important to me as a person because it is being part of a family. The team care for each other and the work that they do.” She also gave a very personal example of the support given to her by the team: “When my mum and husband died within a few years of each other, FMA were there for me. For these reasons and many others, I want to continue at FMA for as long as possible.”

Fiona completed the reflection by saying: “I hope we continue to make a difference in a challenging and changing world; staying connected to our values even when we feel vulnerable; learning more things and use the learning to grow the team and our offer; stepping into new markets with new people. It’s been a long time since the virtual jam jar and I have loved every learning moment, every bump in the road and I’m a better person for it.”


Happy 21st Birthday FMA!

A Final Thank You From FMA

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the customer organisations and learners who invited us in and gave us permission to try out new thinking, new approaches and to challenge them in new and different ways. There is, in my mind, a definite group of people who have had a significant impact on FMA – on our growth, recognition and learning. A heartfelt thanks to all of you, your impact remains.

Alan Rankin from The Royal Mail, who commissioned our first ‘Certificate in Training Practice’ programme (1998). FMA went on to train trainers for the next eight years, including a significant national programme with the Judicial Studies Board. From 1999 to 2006 we trained more than 400 trainers from a wide variety of organisations.

Jacqui Lunday, who commissioned our first personal development programme called ‘Grasping the Nettle’ for Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) in NHS Ayrshire and Arran (1998). That led to a 7-year contract won through our first European Tender to deliver a leadership programme called ‘Reach for the Stars’, where our key contact was Irene Gott who supported us and the programme over that period. Jacqui went on to great success at Scottish Government and we partnered her journey with a new leadership programme called ‘Change Weavers’. Building on this Jacqui created the opportunity for FMA to prototype their new Change Maker Programme called Blue Wave of Change in October 2014. We continue to support AHPs across some of the Health Boards in Scotland, with a special thanks to Billy McClean, Elaine Hunter, Cheryl McMorris and Catherine Totten.

Claire Buckingham, from John Lewis in Newcastle, completed her Certificate in Training Practice with FMA in 2001/2002 and invited us to meet her Managing Director John Hayes in 2003. This led to a programme for all department managers in JL Newcastle called ‘Coaching for Success’. This then led to Barry Matheson of John Lewis in Glasgow being interested and an amended programme was delivered there. The success of these two programmes led to FMA’s largest piece of work at this point (2006-2008), which was a national development programme delivered to 1,500 leaders over 26 locations called ‘Performance Coaching’.

Ken Hanna from Merseyside Magistrates’ Courts, Eilidh Murray from the Scottish Courts Authority and Iona Williams from North Wales Magistrates’ Courts for independently creating opportunities to begin a relationship with Magistrates’ Courts Committees and laterally Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service which lasted over 10 years (from 1999 to 2010). As this relationship emerged the role of Malcolm Marsh, Geoffrey Appleton, John Grant Jones, Shaun McNally, Peter Risk and Chris Mayer had a huge impact. From January 2008 to October 2009 we trained 3,000 leaders across England and Wales. This experience grew, challenged and developed FMA as a business creating new programmes, applying new learning, and culminating in our facilitation of our first ever World Café Event and our first ever Appreciative Leadership Programme.

Heather Tierney-Moore, CEO of Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. FMA won a European Tender to train 500 senior leaders in 2011 at Heather’s organisation Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. The programme was called Appreciative Leadership and over the following five years FMA were LCFT’s development partner engaging some 2,000 people. Significantly, Fiona and Heather co-authored an ebook which led to FMA presenting at an International Conference in Dallas, and FMA taking the Blue Wave of Change programme to MIT in Boston.

Of course, there have been many other important and interesting customers along the journey, but these are the people whose faith and belief in FMA have really made a lasting impact on our business. The learning opportunities both planned and unplanned stay with us and continue to inform our practice. Thank you.

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