Hello and welcome to week two of developing an exhibition. This week was tough but I feel that at the end of it, my group and I have come out with a stronger and clearer concept for our exhibition which everyone is behind.
We started off the week with our first meeting where we all pitched a story idea based on the research that had been done by our research team. Everyone had thought of some lovely ideas which were all creative and there were bits in every single one that I liked and admired. We started to talk about what parts we liked and how we could link them together into a narrative. Our object is a Spanish Botija, which was used to carry food and basically everything over to the new world, the Americas. It just so happens to be called an olive jar (coined by an American in 1903). Because of this name we started to develop ideas surrounding olive oil i.e. Roman olive jars, cultures of Spain and Central America in the early modern period and modern olive oil products. I set half of my team to come up with some creative, hands on elements while the other half (including myself) worked on a kind of rough narrative. I thought this first meeting went well as by asking everyone to create a story idea which everyone could input and be creative with, a happy team could flourish. So I came home from that day believing it to have been a good meeting and that our team was on track.
However, on reflection of what we had, I started to worry that we were not on theme with our olive oil idea. I asked members of my family about the story that we had and they found it confusing and could not see what olive oil had to do with migration or the jar, seeing as we did not know that the jar definitely held olives/ olive oil and that the research was saying that they basically held anything! So I thought that I would put this to my group during a story developing session on Tuesday to see if we could tweek our story and bring it back to the central theme. This is ultimately what I believed my job to be. Making sure the project was on theme, on time and on budget.
Yet, when I put my concerns to my team, I felt that they were negative towards my concerns. Group members were saying that it was on theme and that the olive oil was the thing that is migrating and that food represents home. The latter part I wrote down in big because I thought, yes that is a good sentence to keep in our minds as we are developing our narrative. It will keep us on track. But I still had difficulty accepting the narrative of just using olive oil. Personally, I could not see past the fact that the jar could have carried anything and that we are meant to be talking about migration and home. The story idea that was being presented on Tuesday, I felt, did not fit the brief. It was off somehow. Moreover, I had had feedback from loved ones, none of whom do history or museum studies, confused by our basic idea and asking what olive oil had to do with migration and why had we picked it when we did not know that the jar contained it. Now I know, as one group member pointed out, that this is only an early phase. But it is within these early phases that narratives can be most easily changed and if we are already confusing an audience, I really felt that the idea needed tweeking.
I left the meeting accepting the concept of ‘migration of food brings home with you’ as it was a lovely theme that could incorporate the best of our ideas. Some members of my group came up to me after the meeting agreeing with my concerns about the story not fitting the brief, which was nice to hear that I had some support in my concerns. One member highlighted how the phrase olive jar was in fact an American invention according to her research. I was immediately concerned and resolved to do some research myself into the matter. Moreover, seeing as the discussion did get a bit heated and thus fast paced, certain group members who spoke English as a second language found it hard to keep up. I apologised profusely to them and again resolved on trying to stop this from happening again in order to ensure that they have a fair footing within the group. However Tuesday evening, I was severely upset because I felt that I was not being understood by my group and that I had let them down as a project manager. I was upset that people did not seem to take my ideas seriously and that anything I said was immediately batted away as being wrong or that creative ideas always had problems. I pulled myself back together and thought that I know that I am right in questioning what we are doing as it is through questioning that we can adapt and improve our concept. I am following my duty as a project manager to try and reign in all the creative ideas back onto the main tracks.
So to deal with communication issues, I brought a white board so that if the conversation grew too fast, I could write notes down to show to the foreign students so that they could keep up. I also ensured that I would keep checking with them that all was ok and they were happy and being involved. With the narrative issue, I entered Thursday’s meeting with a fresh mind and wanting to work with my group to develop it and sort out issues. And that is what happened on Thursday… eventually.
Whilst doing a chart that we had been shown in our lecture, the issue of the narrative rose again because olive oil came out as a prominent theme. Unlike last time, I had research to back up my concerns and I aired them to the group saying about the late coining of the name of the jar, the contentious nature this has and how our jar could have carried anything. Once again, from certain members of my group, I received a negative reception. Now it is important to note that on this day I was not feeling very well as I had had a headache since the previous day and was suffering with a cold. So I was not firing on all cylinders. But I aired my concerns and I was basically confronted with ‘you are against the whole idea of olive oil’ and that I was being negative all of the time. This was not true. Although being fed up with olive oil, I could see it was taken across the sea and that it was important to Spanish culture of the time. My issue was that we did not know our jar carried it and that just because now our jar is called an olive jar, did not mean that carried olives two centuries ago. I thought that once again, my concerns would be ignored if it was not for the member of my group who had come up to me after Tuesday’s meeting with the same concerns as mine, presenting the group with an image which showed that our jar in fact carried honey.
This was such a relief moment as we had more research to back up my claims and it was this piece of evidence that, I think, shook people into seeing my concerns of if we say the jar carried olive oil and it in fact did not, we are technically lying and misleading our audience. As a project manager I could not, and morally would not, allow this to happen. The majority of the group saw the issue and we all started to discuss how this could be rectified. We talked about how we could incorporate the new material and we have ended up with an idea where we acknowledge the different types of jars, what they carried, still centring on the food and home idea but still incorporating olive oil. Thus, we have ended up with a narrative which all of us agree on and like, that I feel fits the brief really well and will allow us to be creative and come up with an immersive atmosphere.
Now reflecting back upon these meetings, I wanted to know what I had done wrong, how I could improve etc. I think my main concern is that I did not put my point across well. Perhaps because I was not very well and could not really think of solutions then and there, members of my group saw me as a blocker rather than a constructive criticiser. This is not what I intended to be at all. I was not trying to be negative. I was simply trying to ensure we were on theme and also listening to other members of the group who had issues with it. If I had just let certain members dominate the group and push forward the olive oil idea, then around half the group would not have liked or been behind the narrative because they had concerns with it. Furthermore, I would have been letting down that half as, as a project manager, I have to represent my group, whether it be one person or all of them. Thus, I feel that raising my concerns was the correct course of action , especially because I can now see the great result that has arisen from the difficulties. I would say that I could have had more research on me, however, I did have some research and the work done by my research team. Moreover, I cannot always have all of the solutions to all of the problems. I do not believe the problem was the research. I feel that it was group members being unwilling to compromise. Whether this is because of myself personally or, returning back to the idea of how I presented the information, I am not sure. I think in future, I will try and have research on me to back up my claims but perhaps what I could do is ask why they are unhappy with my concerns. What parts do they disagree with? Perhaps then can I explain myself more clearly and thus show them my issues.
The last meeting of the week was the best. We all brought pictures of food that represents home for us, maps, food in general, etc. so that we could arrange them into a rough narrative. We went down to look at our case to see the space that we had; to see how we could lay things out and which ideas were/ were not going to work. By lunch time we had a rough idea of the case design/ story and what was going to happen outside of the case. I also asked my group if there were any questions for Tom, a man coming in from the art department, to talk to us. It would be within this meeting that we would get a better sense of budget and thus what ideas we could realistically do. Throughout this meeting I was also writing down issues or ‘gaps in our knowledge’ that we came across throughout the day. At the end of the meeting, I decided we should go back over them to see if we could fill them in now, take action over the weekend, or whether they would have to wait until after Tuesday’s meeting with Tom. I felt that I finished the session as a good team leader, informing my group of what we need to do over the weekend (also publishing this on our Facebook group for future references), adjusting the Gantt chart to show the new tasks and when they need to be completed by.
Overall it has been a tough week but one which has made me reflect on managing groups within difficult situations. I think I have learnt that I should stick to my guns if I believe that there is a problem and that working as a team, we can discuss issues and come to a compromise that is better than before. I am now more aware of those with English as a second language and I am trying my best to ensure that they can understand our meetings and are involved throughout. I am also now reflecting on how I present my views. I am trying to develop my listening skills and become more of an active listener and I am also trying to think of how can I phrase or put my point across. Lastly, I believe that I have learned some valuable skills in leading a group through a difficult time and I think if a situation like this arose again, I would have approach the situation in a more calm way, putting my point across clearly and not get upset and feel like my group is against me or that I am causing problems.
Next week, we will be developing our exhibition further and I am just about to start the planning for what we are aiming to do each day and what our aim/ goal for the overall week is. I feel that my organising, structuring and planning of the task is going really well and I am pleased that we are on track and in a good, strong place by the end of the second week.
See you next week!
 Mitchell W. Marken, Pottery from Spanish Shipwrecks 1500 – 1800, (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994), p. 41.