Thursday, April 28, 2016

Team Detective: What's Your Team's Spirit?

I'm an avid mystery reader, which I always thought of as leisure, unconnected to work.  But I've been thinking that there is a connection.  Part of any consultant's job is to go into a place and size up the situation quickly.  I'm not looking for footprints or the dog that didn't bark in the night, but I am looking for how a team works together.  I want to find the spirit of an organization as it looks to change in some way.  The changes might be big or small, but my work is almost always with organizations where change is in the wind--and change never happens with one person, it always happens with a team.

There's a great deal of research about teams:  you need introverts and extroverts,  you need leaders, it should be non-hierarchal and on and on.  Every team is different but here's my outsider's view on what helps a team move towards change.


As a consultant, I don't believe that I come with the answers.  I come with questions and the idea that together, we will puzzle out answers.  One way that happens is through experimentation.  Above, Matt Montgomery, Chief Marketing Officer at the Trustees,  becomes a docent as he leads us through a prototype of an Aeolian harp activity at the Old Manse in Concord.  And below,  Girl Scouts tag what matters to them at Juliette Gordon Low's Birthplace (she's the founder of Girl Scouts) in Savannah.  Experimentation accomplishes several things.  It builds team confidence together (and good humor) and it jump-starts a learning process.

Cast a wide net in your experimental process.  The tags are an inspiration from your friendly Museum Anarchist, and I'm definitely stealing Jeanne Vergeront's idea of a designated reader to share with colleagues.

Visitor and Community Centered

The strongest teams understand that interpretive change is not about protecting your turf.  They understand that museums and historic sites exist for community benefit.  Strong teams have a desire to understand their visitors and their communities.  They have empathy for different perspectives and are interested in learning what visitors have to say.  Last week at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace we asked scouts what they wanted to see or do, before their experience began.  "Be inspired!"  said several.  What a tremendous challenge those girls have set for us.

Trust and Fear

Below, staff from the Trustees trust that Matt and his group will not lead them astray in a prototype experience, as they are asked to close their eyes and listen.  Trust isn't always this literal, but change is scary, no question and the more teams can build trust together, the better.  At a mid-point in the interpretive planning process at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, we began one meeting by talking about our fears for the project. There were many as the change is big. They ranged from lack of funding to timeline to what would current visitors thinking.  Talking about all those fears somehow made them better.  The team had enough trust in each other to share them, and sharing didn't make them go away, but I think it did make them feel less of a burden and we've continued to be attentive to them as interpretive planning moved forward. 

Everybody has a Voice and Everybody Listens

Last week, sitting in Lisa Junkin Lopez's sunlit office in Savannah, I worked with a team who, I think, felt all their voices mattered.  Ideas tumbled out, they built upon one another.  On my second day there, I was stopped in the hall by the head of maintenance, who had been off the day before. She'd read this blog and we had a great conversation about sounds, listening and meaning-making. Ideas come from everywhere, so it's important to create an environment where everyone feels that their contribution can build something stronger.  

This also means understanding differences of all types on a team, and listening to and respecting those differences.

But What About Dysfunctional Teams?

I'd love to say that every client is a dream team, but unfortunately not. Here's a couple things I've observed that will slow down your team's ability to cope with change.
  • Body language:  arms crossed, eye rolling, unwillingness to participate in small group activities.  We all should know better.
  • "We already do that, we've already done that, that will never work."  No need to say more.  That never moves anything forward.
  • Unclear decision-making process.  That's frustrating for everyone, and that's a place where a leader needs to lead.
  • Perfectionism.  It sounds trite, but perfect is the enemy of good.  We work in places with so many variables, including our many visitors.  We need to do our best, but honestly, we cannot perfect visitor experiences for every visitor because every visitor brings so much to the visit.
How's your team culture?  (and, in a brief commercial, if you want to talk interpretive change at your organization, be in touch!)

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