A common practice at many museums is to close on Mondays for administration and staff meetings; at District Six Museum we introduced a compromised position about 8 years ago, closing two hours earlier every Monday to enable whole staff development of which inscaping formed a very crucial part of the staff learning journey (we have reviewed the practice of closing early since a few months ago because of public demand, economic need to generate as much income as possible from entrance fees, and currently we are only able to activate a contracted version of what formed part of the initial programme.)
A quarterly programme was developed, based on the principles of the ‘each one, teach one’ philosophy of the student movement of the 1980s. It was premised on the belief in the knowledge inherent in everyone that could contribute towards organisational growth; that organisations are living organisations that need to be fed, nurtured and loved; that we needed to engage with the whole person, not just the work portion of colleagues, in order for individual and organisational growth to take place. Coupled with this was the nature of our organisation, which has its foundations in a human rights culture of democracy and inclusivity, and that vision, mission and values was the business of all staff not just those in the leadership quadrant of the organisational organogram. A small management team were fired up with belief in this and managed to energise all staff.
The programme had been vibrant for a number of years, and there has definitely been perceptible shifts in the way that non-management staff have engaged with the vision and mission of the organisation. The emphasis on leadership from all levels has also shown positive benefits, but at the same time I can see that there are some challenges which we have not resolved. For the purposes of brevity I will list them in bullet-form:
• Although the management team continues to be committed to this process of leadership and learning, the shift towards including more staff in the actual leadership of the process has been extremely slow and difficult. Building of staff confidence, despite our best intentions, has been hard. People enter their workplaces with notions of work formed outside of the immediate work environment, so the task of convincing a staff member responsible for cleaning and maintenance, for example, that they actually can use their life experience including their leadership expertise gained in their church groups, school governance or civic organisations, to lead workplace discussions, has been extremely hard. Confidence levels needed constant boosting and with a small management team leading this process, fatigue has set in;
• Some staff also seemed to experience what they called ‘group-work’ fatigue!;
• A part of SA’s workforce seem to have bought into the passivity required by employers to just come to work to do a job and not think about what they need to do. Interestingly, while most staff enjoyed the challenge of thinking outside of their job parameters, some resented this and just wanted to be told what to do without having to exert themselves beyond that;
• The same group sometimes had the attitude that they were doing the work of management, and were not being paid to do some of the thinking now required;
• Despite the challenges, it is a great way of working within an organisation and some of these methods we have used with other constituent groups: ex-residents, youth and other programme participants, to good effect;
• A challenge for me is how to make this more widespread in our methodology of working with other stakeholders: board of trustees, partner organisations, even funders, without making this method of working seem like an inexact, ‘touchy-feely’ method of organisational planning and growth, led by a 100% female management team
Any thoughts… thinking aloud?!


One comment on “INSCAPING

  1. What has become apparent to me through my experiences, having worked for huge retail giants and the “little guys”, is that people just aren’t enthusiastic enough about what they do for a living. I think enthusiasm is the key to breaking those barriers you faced with many of your staff members, it’s the lack their of that causes people to be undetermined/unmotivated/unimaginative. However I am not certain of any method that is effective when it comes to getting people to be more enthusiastic about what they do, despite their circumstances. What I usualy did to engourage my peers is to put on a happy face, eg: whenever I came into work I’d have a positive and determined attitude, I’d make this apparent in the way I spoke and interacted with everyone.
    I hope that this helps…

    In the end, happy people are productive people.

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