Following the range of meetings Jo and David attended last Tuesday, they each wrote quite different reflections that conveyed very similar sentiments. In their various conversations with staff and students across King’s, they found there was a pervasive sense of stress and strain that most people felt under.
Interestingly, this is very similar to what we found in the two organisations that we piloted the 53 Million Artists research project in 2014. We noticed that many workers had to be ‘given permission’ to do something creative or make time for play. It seems at King’s there is comparable feeling in that staff and students feel the presence and absence of control, which is arguably both real and imagined, affecting how people act.
In 33kEA staff meetings, we’ve often joked about the notion of ‘the beast’, an entity that is all powerful and controlling that works behind the scenes at King’s and makes staff feel the way they do. Jokes aside, it seems there really might be something in this term – something or someone to blame when one is feeling stressed, stretched or busy. As such, we’ve come to use the term quite a lot as it appears to have some currency in the context of a large organisation where it is unclear where or who the power lies with. We’re unsure if ‘the beast’ is a construct to make people work harder, or if it really does represent senior management in some way, or is simply an expression of people’s concerns and fears. The mythology of ‘the beast’ has been an interesting and useful tool for talking about aspects of King’s life and is something we need to explore and understand further.
As a way of tackling ‘the beast’, or because it would be good to do anyway, Jo identified five key areas that 33kEA would ideally make an intervention in. These include: celebrating the individual; giving permission; challenging notions; making space; and purpose/leadership.
Celebrating the individual – this would see us working towards an inclusive environment where everyone feels recognised and valued. One way of doing this would be to develop an online repository (photo and brief profile info) that celebrates all the individuals that make up King’s.
Giving permission – we’d remind people they can act freely and encourage them to just ‘do’ and grant them permission to play.
Challenging notions – It’s important to challenge the notion that King’s culture is fixed so this assumption needs to be gently prodded, poked and questioned. Linked to the two above interventions, we need to empower people and give them a sense of agency so they can co-develop and co-build a culture that is creative, enriching and sustainable.
Making space – this is a tricky one for us to address as the lack of physical space is an issue all London universities are having to deal with. However, hopefully we can find a way of cracking this by using existing space in a different way, for example a hub area for exchanging of ideas or a quiet place to reflect.
Purpose/leadership – this is a big one but it would be great if we could mobilise as many people as possible to work towards a shared sense of purpose. Although unifying an organisation of 33,000 people in three months is unlikely, making people feel as though they’re working towards a goal collectively, will hopefully enhance student and staff morale and build a stronger allegiance towards King’s as a place to study and work at.