Culture and change

A year ago I started a new job, and expected to be opening a new museum in April, before spending this summer hopefully relaxing and taking a bit of time off. Obviously, that didn’t happen as planned! But, in the midst of the turbulence of the last few months, an opportunity: having talked at various points over the years about how museums and libraries have much to learn from each others’ complementary approaches, I’m now starting a new job as Director of Libraries and Museums. Merging the library and museum teams will take some care, especially at the moment when everyone has been through so much already this year. I’m sure that there are some people who are nervous that I’ll jump in and make rapid changes – but, that’s not the plan. Instead of starting with strategy or structure, I’m starting by thinking about culture.

Peter Drucker’s quip that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is now so well-known that it’s almost passed into cliche. That said, it’s also very true. Talking with a a group of other museum leaders at the Getty Leadership Institute a couple of years ago, almost everyone had experience of difficult teams or workplaces. I certainly know that in a past work context I realised too late that strategy and good ideas weren’t going to be enough, because a team’s culture was so troubled. But, this isn’t that blog, and this isn’t that situation.

Looking for an approach to thinking about cultures within teams that are working well, I found this HBR article setting out eight different types. Looking towards a future merger as well as at working more closely together in the next few months, it gives pointers to identify internal cultures within teams, as well as where coexistence and collaboration is likely to be easier or to need more active support. One of the things that I like about this model is that it’s about different strengths, and about alignment and complementarity of approaches. But, importantly, it isn’t about creating a monoculture, in which cultural ‘fit’ ends up stifling ideas and discussion, and hindering diversity. Libraries and museums are starting to reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, and we’re preparing to welcome students back to universities in a few weeks’ time – but we’re not finished with the problem-solving yet. We’re going to need those different voices and views to help us work out – together – how to navigate the coming year.

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