OD at the Tate – Who gets to Speak and Why?

Notes from Vilma Nikolaidou from the Tate telling her OD story.  Magical.

Written mostly in Vilma’s voice.

Our challenges:

  • OD – building the new Tate Modern.
  • New building has greater variety of spaces.
  • Turbine hall still central.
  • Real story is not the building but the difference experiences of art.
  • How art has changed “A cold Dark Matter, an Exploded view Cornelia Parker… we had different discussions at the Tate – how do we show it, how do we light it, how do we install it, do we allow people to touch it?

We staged an experience in our galleries involving people and animals – we own the art, but we don’t own the people/the animals?  What’s the interpretation?  What does it mean for the organisation when the world around us is changing so much?

70% funding raised by the Tate, 30% raised from Government – this has lowered – we had to make up the short fall leading to a more entrepreneurial approach and changing the way we think about ourselves.

The real mission of the organisation – we want to take art to as many as possible and we want people to appreciate that art changes lives.

We didn’t want to cascade new vision, we got all staff together in rooms – what does this mean for us? A great deal of worry in the organisation – “what if people come up with the wrong stuff” – OD – trust – they will come up with the right stuff.

Of course what came out was our people really care – about the Tate, art – that’s why they get up.  These workshops were so significant; everything comes back to them.

Audiences – more people come, more people engage – ways in to art change – this created the case more than anything we have done before.

When we talk about alignment – we did a big piece of employee engagement – we did a lot of consultation, a lot of talking “people over here talked to the people over there”.  We some good stuff – we got some amazing data.  The data is a significant lever for organisational change – which we have to to do to build a different kind of museum.

We talked about performance – what does success look like, not just in terms of numbers –but the way we do things.  We wanted people to behave and think differently and we had to articulate what that difference would be.  We change – audiences will change.  The work has been at the middle of the organisation – working with key influencers in the organisation – not seniority.

Reaching wider audiences, more diverse – work around brand, voice, tone – are we accessible – or experts for the few?

Vilma read a book recently, I love Dick by Chris Kraus – the most important question is who gets to speak and why?  Some voices are loud, get heard.  Vilma likes to hear the voices that don’t get heard.

We don’t talk in ways that people understand.

How do we get different voices bringing a little disruption into the organisation?   “Disruption” made people feel nervous.

If you give people the space, they will come up with good stuff.  Idea Queer British Art Show – we kept focussed on the shared purpose about a broader audience, we got the funding.


Where OD happens in unexpected places – Tate Exchange “an open experiment”.

We have a dedicated space, create your own experience, hold your own events, get your audiences to interact differently.

It is a new way “when you have that flutter in your stomach” you know something is good.  People not knowing whether something will be successful; creates nervousness AND pride.  OD happens in rhizomatic ways – people start thinking differently.

Resistance is useful… where is the resistance – there are some interesting stories their; and unless you can hear these stories, you won’t be able to bring those people along with you.


“Conversations with magic”  Looking after ourselves.

Within the HR and OD team we have been looking after ourselves, our well-being, our competence and expertise, reflective practice, we use Slack – a dedicated place for our CPD, learning, sharing.  We want to create more opportunities for people to think, a la Nancy Kline.


Lessons learned:

It takes longer than I think it should, and then it happens unexpectedly.  Slogging away for years particularly about audience, inclusion, difference – and suddenly it happened.  It was magical and lovely, and now it really stretches us.  I believe in the emergence.

Pay attention the micro cultures of your organisation.  Working in visitor experience, very different from working in an office.  Their stories are different, and the combination of their energy creates something very different.

We give a lot of respect to different cultures.







OD – creating the conditions for possibilities


Some notes from Cliff Oswick’s talk at CIPDOD16 and a few mullings from me.

“Emerging OD – action, discourse, action, discourse, action, discourse reflection – Cliff Oswick, Cass Business School”


Key principles of emergent OD

Emergent OD – about looking forward – a whole raft of emerging techniques which go beyond tradition/contemporary.

Change as a blended/diffused process – don’t just focus on “let’s figure out the problem, or blue sky”– a process to mix it up, by taking real action, in a robust way, reflection, action, reflection – (Meg – an evolution of action research?)

We don’t just talk about it, we just don’t do stuff.  We engage in both.  Action without talk is meaningless, talk without action is meaningless.

Possibilities – create something more broad than improvement, things don’t just have to be better, can be different – learning, action, learning

Rhizomatic – nonlinear – like roots of plant, tree – branches grow where there’s light, a path, and it’s spontaneous – changing their path and direction according to the circumstances.

Doing stuff in the present. Taking action, reflection, taking action.


A summary of some of the thoughts that Cliff shared:

In our turbulent and socially connected world – digital connectness is changing everything.

Action is simultaneously unfolding in different locales.. We can be in more than one conversation at once; this is relevant to the way we do OD and how change unfolds.

Rhizomatic processes (non linear, emerging, developing – eg rhizomes move towards the light) – utilising dialogic methods e.g. World Café/AI – imagine these were an ongoing conversation always going on where people who are interested mobilise around together and create new realities.  More actions, more conversations.

Orgs will look more like social movements, as they become more networked, and less hierarchical – evidence that it’s a case of when, not if.

Bottom up and sideways rather than top down; people coalesce around things they are interested about.  Create the conditions that people who care about stuff have the space capacity and resources to do so.

Employee activists, a process of dialogue; create conditions for people not to resist but to activate and mobilise about things they care about.

White paper produced by New Horizons group Bevan and Fairman NHS, download PDF – sets out a process of change in the NHS.  AN amazing example of emergent OD.

Instead of power through hierarchy, it’s about power through connecting, the move from hierarchy to networks.  All organisations are starting to engage more with the networks, and playing down the influence of hierarchy; exploring networks in very meaningful way.

Shared purpose talks about what have we got in common, rather than vision, mission – shared purpose is a process.

To summarise:

  • Treat change as an ongoing process not as a punctuated activity
  • Create conditions of possibility where networks can flourish
  • Encourage managers to learn to let go
  • Actively promote radical autonomy
  • Seek to engage mavericks not just committed individuals

A potted summary of a rich and engaging session.  I think Cliff is talking to a room of people who are in, moving towards, curious about and loving this space.    I experience a work world in which the word emergent itself is counterintuitive; there is much invested in holding on to the hierarchy; organisations often only embark upon change when they are in some way forced to, sometimes when it’s too late.  A world that wants a tidy text boxed up solution.

I think OD requires courage for the practitioner/teacher and all others who trust the process.  It’s about letting go …….moving with the system.  It’s not letting go of reality, but recognising there are multiple realities.

It’s beautiful.