Video: Behind the Scenes at the Innovation Lab for Museums Retreat

This past April, three teams participating in the EmcArts Innovation Lab for Museums attended a 5-day Intensive Retreat.  The retreat is an opportunity for the team (composed of 8 to 10 staff, board, artists, community members, outsiders and experts) to accelerate their projects by getting away from the stresses of the daily grind.

We’ve found that these Intensive Retreats prove transformational.  Teams have been able to do six months of thinking in a week, and deal face-to-face and immediately with the conflicts that inevitably surface as change begins to look real.  They achieve unstoppable momentum in a way they say would never have happened otherwise, and have therefore been able to construct a plan for implementation that maximizes their chances of success.

The short video above features interviews with team members from The Nelson-Atkins MuseumYerba Buena Center for the Arts, and a consortium that includes the Levine Museum of the New South, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the Atlanta History Center, as they reflect on the Intensive Retreat experience.

Here’s some themes that came up in the video and in the interviews:

  • Balancing advocacy and inquiry allows for constructive two-way communication by exposing our reasoning and allowing others to challenge and probe our argument. Advocacy is stating your views, supporting your viewpoint with a relational argument, and remaining open to alternative views.  Inquiry is about raising and answering genuine questions about reasoning and conclusions.  Read more about communication techniques for teams here.
  • Embracing ambiguity allows the team to not feel the sense of urgency to arrive at a decision too quickly. The Intensive Retreat enables this by encouraging team members to disconnect from the rapid fire, decision oriented pace of office culture.  By lingering in ambiguous moments, teams can arrive at bold new ideas and surprising conclusions.
  • Facilitators play a vital role in fostering effective team work and helping ensure that the team does not devolve into group behavior, including clashes of role preference and problems of coordination and motivation. A facilitator provides perspective and distance from the process while team members are deeply immersed, holds the group in ambiguous space, provides a framework so that teams can trust the process, and motivates rapid decision making when necessary.

We’ll be posting updates on all of these projects as they unfold, and more about the process of organizational innovation.  Stay tuned!

Karina Mangu-Ward is the former Director of Strategic Initiatives at EmcArts.