What We Did
Tonic suggested that focusing in a particular aspect of our internal communications might reveal a lot, and meetings sprang out as an interesting thing to dissect – the NT has a large staff and works with a lot of freelance artists, so much of our work happens in meetings.
We took a sweep of the different regular meetings – artistic, operational, departmental etc. – and asked Tonic to sit in on them and make forensic notes about our behaviours. Tonic also conducted interviews with a range of staff from across the organisation to hear how they experience and perceive meetings at the NT.
What We Learned
The way we run meetings – who speaks and when, how decisions are made, how we discuss problems – often go unquestioned. Big groups of people working to tight deadlines need to ‘get stuff done’ and quickly, and this seemed to result in a particular way of running a meeting. We began to question whether this tendency towards speed of thought meant we were giving more airtime to authoritative, decisive voices. We noticed that those authoritative voices often carry perceived male behaviours – louder, more confident, invoking action rather than discussion, more about talking than listening. It was particularly fascinating to consider the way we communicate through a gender lens.
What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned
We’re at the very beginning of this research, and so the initial actions and outcomes are only just emerging. We want to dig a bit deeper, extending this research into more departments. It will be interesting to observe whether there are different patterns in our different fields of work – in Technical, or Production, or Commercial Operations for example. We’d also like to look at how we communicate with freelancers. As a result, Our Senior Management Team are undertaking training into meeting facilitation, and we’re looking into how other cultural leaders run their internal communications. In beginning to analyse our meetings and how we communicate in them, we’re becoming more mindful that the meetings structure and culture that we currently work to is a construct that is open to being questioned and evolved. It’s not an orthodoxy, and that feels very freeing.
Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?
This work with Tonic has made us realise that for a creative organisation, we haven’t been thinking particularly creatively about how we conduct meetings. Over the coming year we will be dedicating proper resource to scoping out, innovating, and trialing alternatives. In particular we want to consider how the creativity, playfulness, and attention to detail with which we make our productions can be applied to how we run our meetings. In part this work will be focused on understanding how the NT can get better at hearing from a range of voices, by being more open to and supportive of the different ways that people communicate. It’s also about us developing a variety of ‘settings’ that we can operate on and switch between deftly so that we have a wider palate of meeting structures and styles to work from, and which will better underpin the broadness of our outputs. We know, for instance, that historically we’ve been good at being swift, decisive, and forthright and in regards to certain aspects of what we do that has been absolutely appropriate. But we’re now recognising that some ideas and projects require a longer germination period, or mature more gradually, and that we therefore need to also develop a slower, more contemplative approach to discussing these things in meetings.
And of course, how we conduct the business of the organisation – and meetings are perhaps the primary structure through which we do this – has a direct relationship with the work we produce on stage. It informs the stories we want to tell, who tells them, and how.