Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Building a Successful Team

At a roundtable event at the House of Lords earlier this week there was much talk about partnerships and sustainability. The topic was the use of museums to enhance health and wellbeing. An All Party Parliamentary group is currently undertaking an Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry and the event sought to showcase museum projects and to stimulate discussion and debate.

The view from the stairwell
The House of Lords
Most of us would agree that publically-funded institutions ought to be vehicles of social justice, placing public engagement at the heart of their activities. In fact the Museums Association have just signed up to an ethical charter promoting the very same. Yet the reality is that many in our communities feel excluded from toff's palaces, Lord Lupton's term, not mine. In the awe-inspiring surrounds of the Lords, the idea of institutions such as the British Museum, the Royal Academy, the Tates et al, building partnerships with the socially, politically and economically excluded, seemed more than a little surreal. Still, feeling the weight of the establishment supporting the burgeoning field of arts, health and wellbeing felt cause for optimism.

I was inspired as ever by the wonderful Gillian Wolfe who talked eloquently about the importance of relationship-building in achieving sustainable partnerships. She compared this task to constructing successful human relationships; they need time, trust and commitment. She knows of what she speaks. For over 30 years she pioneered innovative programmes for those deemed marginalised and excluded at Dulwich Picture Gallery, advocating public engagement well before the term was common parlance.

As she stated on being awarded an honorary doctorate at Canterbury Christ Church University in 2014: 

"I've been very lucky to have had the freedom to create innovative routes to engage non-traditional audiences such as disaffected youth, those with mental and physical disability, the elderly and notably those suffering early stage dementia and their carers. They are all embraced in enhancing cultural experiences every day of the year. The reward is always seeing the delight and joy it brings."

In a similar way, building a successful interdisciplinary team has been challenging yet rewarding. The freedom to think big without the usual restraints and frameworks of academic life, e.g. the Research Excellence Framework (REF), student satisfaction surveys, etc. has been liberating and has facilitated innovative and ambitious plans. Yet it is a challenge to bring a group together, and to embrace the differences in disciplines, training, and life experiences.

Some of the key elements that have helped build the team are:

  • spending time together in different contexts - this has enabled us to bond, shape ourselves into a distinctive group, and has given us space, generating the energy needed to be creative
  • listening to, and learning from each other - this has led to many fascinating conversations taking place, generating new ideas and approaches
  • good leadership - this has involved attending to task and social elements - to keep the team on track, and to engender a sense of belonging
  • sharing ups and downs - as with any relationship, things don't always have an upward trajectory, and here humour and acceptance has been valuable, to sustain team spirit and to and to generate trust. 

This blog is one way that we have developed ideas, initiated conversations amongst core team members, collaborators and the wider community, and is a record of a successful team building.

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