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5.2 Disruption and Incorporation: Managing Radical Change

 

At the beginning of April 2010, on the eve of the launch of the main body of the project, the Trust's five-member core staff team consisted of four people who had worked together for thirty years, and a fifth who had been part of the team for a decade. All were part time, and the archivist, who was also the project director and would soon have responsibility for the three new full-time members of the project team, had worked virtually alone in the Archive, apart from volunteers, for the better part of ten years.

 

The inevitable and radical change involved in injecting three new full-time staff members into such a long-established and close-knit team, doubling the full-time equivalent in the Trust's staffing overnight, threw up four immediate and primary requirements: 1) To support the project director in his learning curve in managing a new team, in a dynamic project whose time-frame required the project to hit the ground running; 2) To facilitate the integration of the new project team as a team, and to facilitate their learning curves in taking possession of a rich and complex project, while running, and 3) To facilitate the integration of the "old" and the "new" teams, ensuring good communication within the whole of the on-site team, 4) Without distorting or unbalancing any aspect of the Trust's ongoing work and the transitions in leadership described above. As the project developed, and as the Trust clarified the future direction it wished to pursue, the project team was also asked to take on a fifth 'primary requirement': to support and facilitate the Trust's plans for the future.

 

The nature of the challenge for the Trust as a whole can be seen in the specific position of the project director. As the founding archivist for the Trust's Archive and Study Centre in 1989, he had been central to every aspect of the Archive's development for 21 years: Designing spaces, ordering and installing racking, painting walls, creating databases and information-management systems, negotiating for archives, even drilling the many holes for the air conditioning installed throughout the store rooms. For better or for worse, and despite the help of talented volunteers and the full-time help of a qualified Assistant Archivist in the early 2000s, the Archive and its systems necessarily reflected his strengths and weaknesses, as well as containing the sedimented consequences of changes in staffing, volunteers and resources over many years. As the archivist/project director reported later:

 

The introduction of new members of the team has been progressively opening up every aspect of the Archive and its practice to ongoing review, question and critique. In a sometimes painful, but nevertheless essential process, the members of the new team are discovering and helping the Project Director to recognise and respond to a variety of inconsistencies, unstated assumptions, anomalies, lacunae and idiosyncracies which have built up and which, left unresolved, might tend to limit or impede the fullest realisation of the project's potential, as well as the future potential of the facility as a whole.

 

It was known in advance that similar remarks could have been made about many aspects of the Trust's organisation and work. The approach adopted by the Trust was to see and to welcome the incoming project team members as positive and necessary agents of change. Indeed, the strength of motivation driving the application to the Heritage Lottery Fund was precisely and in large part the prospect of the new eyes and the changes they would stimulate: with the recognition that change can be painful, but that part of the Trust's task was to manage that change creatively and productively.

 

Work on welcoming, integrating, and incorporating the members of the project team began well before there was, in fact, a project team. Advertisements for the positions, the additional information on the website, the job descriptions, and pre-interview contact with prospective applicants aimed to be enthusiastic, as detailed and informative as possible, welcoming, open, engaging and realistic. Each interview involved the Executive Director of the Trust, another Trustee and Project Management Group member, as well as the project director, giving each interviewee a sense of the team with which they would be working, and vice versa. When interviewing for the Oral Historian position, Cynthia Brown, a member of the Advisory Panel and a professional oral historian, joined the interview panel. When interviewing for the Secretary/Administrator position, Maureen Ward, the Trust's Secretary and Finance Officer, who would be working closely with the appointee, joined the interview panel. The ambience created, the questions asked, the openness for mutual discussion during and after interview, were all designed to create a sense of welcome, challenge, and the beginning of a possible journey together. With the Open Day and formal public launch of the project a matter of weeks away, each interviewee was asked, genuinely, for possible ideas, and to think about and suggest what they might have to offer to an Open Day: By the time they had been appointed, accepted, and completed work at their former jobs, they would have at most a fortnight as a complete team to come together, help to organise, and manage a major event.

 

Ideally, in the original conception and as part of the process of building a unified team, the three appointees were to have started together on the same day, and on a common practical task. Work/life realities intervened, however, and in the event Frances Meredith, the project archivist, began on April 6th; Gemma Geldart, the project oral historian, on April 12th; and Chris Long, the project's secretarial/administrative support/transcriptionist, on April 22nd. All were together for a meeting of the Project Management Group on April 13th, but their working life together as a full project team did not begin until April 22nd, when the May 8th deadline for the Open Day focused the project team's minds on an immediate, practical set of shared tasks, as intentionally foreshadowed in the employment interviews. Further concentration of minds was provided by the imminence of the first Archive "Weekend", coming less than a fortnight after the Open Day - from May 17 to 21 - , for which the project team was entirely responsible, but which was an entirely unknown quantity to the three new members. There was a great deal to do in a short period of time.

 

By the end of May 2010 project consultant Patrick Webb OBE was able to write:

 

I was most pleased to see the positive development that had gone on within the project team led by Craig Fees. At my last visit, which was certainly in the early days of the team being assembled, I was rather uncertain about the dynamics within the group of three / four people. However, in the time which had elapsed, it was clear that there was an openness of communication and a willingness to share the workload. The success of both the Open Day and the Wennington Weekend had given the team a boost..." and "What was clear is that there is a thirst to succeed within the Project Team..."

 

The rapid and successful integration of the project team within itself, its identification with the project and the work of the Trust, and its integration with the wider organisation is evident, almost to the point of self-evidence, in numerous indicators throughout the project, not least in the overall targets and outcomes. This could not have been taken for granted - indeed, the project consultant's remarks quoted above indicate his early uncertainty.

 

What was known from past experience and other projects was that an open and close-knit project team was essential to a realisation of the project design. The first task of the project was to establish its foundations, and a key function of the project throughout its course was to enable and allow the project team to deepen its working relationship as a small community of independent individuals, within the wider community of the Trust of which it formed a part, enabling it to work effectively, closely, and with the complexity of the children's communities with which the project was concerned, in the brief and intense working communities set up and then dismantled in each Archive "Weekend", and, again, within the encompassing community of the Trust as a whole.

 

In this project of integration and incorporation, Trustees, Project Management Group members, members of the established team, and, indeed, everyone involved in the project, had and made contributions. Not the least of these contributions were the shared Tuesday lunch-times:

 

Breaking bread together: Very shortly into the project Vicky Theyer, cook and kitchen manager, with the support of Executive Director John Cross, suggested that a pre-project tradition of shared Tuesday lunches be extended to include the four members of the project team. The tradition of a shared cooked lunch had grown up among the Trust's office and domestic team, who were each part-time, with schedules which only coincided on Tuesdays. A meal together then gave them an opportunity to stop and catch up with the comings and goings in the Trust and with one another. As a consequence of Vicky Theyer's suggestion, during the course of the project the entire on-site team (along with any volunteers or researchers who might be working in the Archive), came together weekly for a Tuesday cooked lunch, with all of the benefits which are a natural consequence of sharing meals together: each individual naturally becoming a part of the wider team, and communication flowing more reliably and fully.

 

There was a proliferation of meetings involving project team members: Following the success of their participation in the Project Management Group meeting in April, the whole of the project team was invited to join as full participants in the first section of each subsequent Project Management Group meeting, and where appropriate in complete meetings. Very quickly and naturally, project team members were incorporated into the long-standing weekly meetings of the established core team, which gave rise to working groups in which old eyes and new eyes began to make changes together in the Trust's facilities and presentation. As the new Chair of the Trust, as well as Chair of the Project Management Group, Richard Rollinson insured full liaison between the project and the Trust by instituting bi-weekly meetings with members of the project team, as well as with the project director individually, and these were complemented by regular meetings with the project consultant.

 

Regular meetings of the project team were the key instrument of its work. The risk assessment carried out as part of the application process had mandated weekly meetings, to ensure the greatest possible coherence and ownership of the project. In the formative early months of the project - and at crucial times throughout - , project team meetings, some open-ended, were held almost every day in which virtually every aspect of the project, the work, and the situation was examined, discussed and questioned. Each day was also marked by numerous informal meetings, as one project team member shared discoveries with another, or liaised and consulted about some emerging aspect of the work. An in-house social networking site was set up, confidential to members of the project team, instituting a tradition of weekly and sometimes daily blogging which was maintained more or less consistently throughout the course of the project, and made it possible for members of the team to share experience, thoughts and events which might otherwise have been forgotten or lost entirely in the rapid flow of events. The benefits were expressed in a report:

 

The regular project team meetings, as well as regular communication throughout the day, and a tradition of blogs in which we keep one another in touch with what we are doing, thinking and feeling, have established an open-ness and ownership within the team which is reflected in a variety of situations: In the team's capacity to adapt with care and alacrity to the unpredictable array of variables which arise in the course of each Archive Weekend, from gremlins in the technology to upsurge in emotions; to the potentially disastrous loss of the RAID storage system; to unexpected arrivals and unplanned work demands.

 

In addition, following discussions after Project Management Group and Trustee meetings, Trustee Rosemary Lilley agreed to conduct regularly scheduled meetings with the project team designed, without agendas or themes set in advance, to allow team members a protected reflective space in which to raise and explore together any emotional, practical, or other issues which might arise, the first taking place in January 2011. These were seen as part of the team's Continuing Professional Development training, and had a character not unlike an internal Assessment, Training and Advisory Event.

 

As a further team building exercise, in March 2011 the team travelled together to Lincolnshire, where they worked together over three days with project consultant Patrick Webb OBE and Director of Transition Richard Rollinson on ensuring the successful completion of the project; considering ways to ensure everything possible was learned from it; and to begin to reflect on the potential team and individual roles within the Trust once the project had completed. The possibility of extending their employment beyond the end of the project had been added to the dynamics of the team mix.