Story 07: Managing the Organization

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Written by Elaine Heumann Gurian

The museum had the same pyramidal structure as most for-profit organizations of the time, rather than the flattened hierarchy favored by more left-wing organizations. It was organized in departments with department heads (managers), divisions with division heads (directors), and was led by the director of the museum (Mike Spock).

We had, I think, a particular view of hierarchy that did not accord the managers any additional respect or privilege save a modest increase in salary. The staff at the museum believed in the importance and relevance of every job regardless of its place in the hierarchy. We believed that each job had special expertise and a kind of leadership within its own sphere.

The notion of hierarchy was supported by most because it allowed for civil decision-making. However contrary to most corporate work places where leaders were accorded special deference, at The Children's Museum leadership was considered a job like any other. There was a belief that everyone should be making decisions in their own arena and taking responsibility for them.

Most staff believed that collective solutions were better and more creative then thinking through the problem alone. Group effort was to be admired and enjoyed. Personal eccentricity was tolerated and even applauded, but not if the individuals chose isolation and did not participate, or if they were too aggressive in a group and not respectful of others' input.

Recalcitrance, passive-aggression and delay, the mighty weapons of the no-sayers in many museums of the time, had no traction at The Children's Museum. If you tried to halt progress, the team would move on without you.

By and large people wanted decisions; and they wanted to get on with it. Staff would often complain about the slowness of the process but almost never about the arbitrariness of it. The path to decision-making was expected to be inclusive and transparent. There were very few secrets. The only exception anyone made was the respect accorded to the privacy of personal lives.

If the decisions or product someone had made proved to be flawed, there were almost never any recriminations. Mistakes were considered part of our learning experience in uncharted territory and things to be fixed and put right.

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