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.








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