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I attended a presentation by Yale Center for Business & the Environment  Tues, Jan 5th, 2021, at 4:00 pm.

Author Marissa King is an expert in social network theory. According to her new book, there are three main kinds of participation in social networks. In professional networks, people usually rely on one of these as their primary “type,” (and some may have secondary types). All three are necessary for a network to be capable of bringing about social or cultural change. 

Okay, let’s go from right to left. Because, why not?

Convening networks are densely connected and the individuals who populate them are mostly alike. They generally enjoy high levels of trust and reciprocity within the network, but can be hard to penetrate because of covert norms and coded or insider communication, for example, acronyms and other professional jargon. Typical Conveners have many friends and colleagues who are also connected to each other, forming a dense network. They possess knowledge of who to go to for what and tend to demonstrate progressive advancement in a single domain overtime. 

Brokering networks are capable of linking two or more convening networks to add capacity and value for all concerned. They possess enough cultural insight in two or more domains to be able to frame issues, present ideas and gain buy-in from people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. As professionals, Brokers are inclined to empathize with others enough to understand how the world looks from and feels from their points of view. Typically, they are skilled communicators and diplomats. Brokers’ contributions are essential to building coalitions. They know how to leverage and create value from what they already know, but their careers do not tend to follow a straight path. 

Expansionist networks are good at connecting vast territories at scale. They possess a macro-level – or, even a meta – lens for viewing the world and its networked relationships. In the professional realm, individuals with a primarily Expansionist style are good at recognizing emergent possibilities, and they like to introduce people who would never otherwise ordinarily meet. Because they function to randomize networks, they occasionally add extraordinary value through striking “discoveries.” They tend to stay on top of trends and see the road up ahead before others. 

I gained five main takeaways from the conversation between King and Vincent Stanley of Patagonia.

  1. It’s good to know your own primary networking style. For example, I’m a Broker, so it’s natural for me to take time to write these notes and want others to gain access to the author’s perspective. 
  2. It’s good to have friends and colleagues with all three styles. Especially if you’re tackling an ambitious project. 
  3. As a leader or manager, you can avoid difficulties by relying on others for what they’re naturally good at. Instead of forcing them into a box, build on their strengths.
  4. It’s possible to design a network as one of these types. Think about what the business needs are, and then save time and effort by following the correct pattern. 
  5. Before any professional networking event, take a moment to think about your goals and be intentional about which kind of person you want to meet, or which kind of organization you’d like to access. This will help lead you to the Convener, Broker or Expansionist who can match just the right energy for the moment at hand. 

In brief, we are social creatures and so a large part of our success is due not to the size but the quality and structure of the networks in which we participate. Thanks to this book, while networking, I will keep a clearer picture in mind of a connected world full of trust, reciprocity, cultural understanding, deep and accurate knowledge, and far-flung possibilities.

I find King’s research to be both fascinating and encouraging. Her overall message is that with these three different styles at your command, the world becomes much smaller, and therefore your dreams much closer than they appear!

Elinor Slomba

Verge Arts Group

Verge…it’s what’s about to happen.


We live in a visual culture.

Various forces continually assert their opinions and influence on what we should look at. What WE choose to look at matters.  When we develop our choices with intention we strengthen the act of seeing as a form of leadership.

When we make visual connections and create sets of visual relationships that express what matters to us, we make more available:

  • our curiosity
  • our enthusiasm and
  • our desire to discover more about others and the world we share

This process fulfills the very highest levels of human aspiration and deepest motivation:

  • Cognitive Needs
  • Aesthetic Needs
  • Self-Actualization
  • Transcendence

People from any professional background – inside, close to or far from the arts world – can strengthen their ability to tell stories visually and lead others in meaningful experiences by practicing what goes into curating an art exhibition.

The process of defining and exploring the aesthetics, point of view and context of an exhibition builds associative thinking skills. At the same time, managing an installation against a set timeline is a linear project. The world’s top business leaders agree that innovation springs from the right balance of both linear and associative thinking.

Curators have the ability to make surprising connections in ways that help, please and delight others. In the process, we strengthen relationships and gain new insight. By honing your vision, you can make what matters to you available to others with confidence, courage and a compelling voice.

[Arts Interstices will again be offering the three-part series “Open Your Curatorial Eye” on July 7, July 14 and July 18 at The Grove, 760 Chapel St in New Haven, CT.  Training for the three part series covers Aesthetics, Point of View and Technique, including the curator’s role after an exhibition is open and managing controversy.  If you want to sign up and can make 2 out of the 3 sessions but have a conflict we can work it out.

Pricing is discounted for Grove members and artists/curators with an existing exhibition record.  The pricing for non-Members and others is $250 to take the class and $400 to develop your exhibition for a 6-8-week spot on The Grove Gallery calendar. It is possible to arrange a payment plan or barter professional services.

This training can also be offered virtually.  Register or inquire by emailing artsinsterstices [at] gmail [dot] com.


Arts Interstices Connects the Creative and the Business Minded in New Haven, New Haven Register

Doors of Perception Probe Mental Health, New Haven Independent

Artist Amie Ziner Covers All the Bases


Let’s make MVP mean Most Valuable Product with your virtual team! 

Mary Brodie

Arts Interstices is very happy to welcome Mary Brodie, Agile UX Expert, as guest blogger in follow up to Self-Inventory for Distributed Teams. In this post she has tackles the first principle of the Agile Manifesto and what it means for virtual teams. Elinor Slomba and Mary Brodie share their perspectives on supporting great Agile cultures across distance in Sococo’s webinar series, based on our distributed culture self-inventory.

Agile Manifesto Principle 1:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

The first principle of the Agile manifesto seems pretty straightforward, except for the part about valuable software, especially with a virtual team. It’s difficult enough to define what’s valuable to a customer when the team is in the same location – how do you do that when there is a team across the country or around the world?

The word “value” and its cousin “worth” are probably some of the most subjective words in the English language. And their formal definitions don’t help clarify their meaning:

Valuethe regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.

Worth: the value equivalent to that of someone or something under consideration; the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.

Given how they both define themselves using the other word, understanding them is difficult. Additionally, value and worth are typically associated with costs and money, which is one possible measurement of them, but it’s becoming clear we need additional considerations to understand what’s valuable to a customer.

Especially when we have open source and free software options available.

Defining value and worth is an industry-wide problem – there aren’t many best practices for determining what’s is valuable. Even a Harvard Business Review article highlights how value and worth are no longer related to only money, but like the industry, it doesn’t really outline how customers determine what’s valuable.

However, that HBR definition does point out that customers will find a way to meet their needs by purchasing your product offering, your competitor’s offering, or by making it themselves. The latter two are part of what creates reference value, or the closest perceived substitute. And cost isn’t necessarily a factor when value is defined by need and use, especially with open source software options.

And in the days of open source, there is often a reference value of zero, which has significantly disrupted pricing dynamics.  The take away here is that you must get inside your customer’s head and understand what they see as the reference value.

–Phil Montgomery, How does a Customer Determine Product Value

So how do you get into your customer’s head?

This brings us back to the traditional questions we ask when first creating a product, whether we are in a virtual team or on-site together:

  • Who are we building this for?
  • What problems are we solving?
  • How are we making the users’ lives more convenient?
  • When’s the best time to deliver this? Deliver faster and you are first to market, which could offer customers a different perception of the direction where your product is going; deliver better and you may dominate because you exceeded expectations.
  • Do customers have confidence that the team can deliver? And trust that what they will deliver will be what they want?
  • Does the team understand the value to the customer?

Here are 7 ways to answer these questions and keep your virtual team engaged to make valuable software:

  1. Some might call this the “traditional” approach. Product owners will create a presentation deck that clearly outlines the value proposition of the product, the iteration, and the features. They will also outline who the target customers are, include personas, their goals, and bring the team into the vision, asking for their perspectives and ensure that the team understands the revenue goals and price/costs.

Most times, this will be presented to the team at once so everyone understands what they are working towards.

But that’s an ideal case and not true for all teams.

  1. Have the team describe the product’s value without using the words “value or worth.”

In this game, encourage the team to talk about what value the product gives customers and what it’s worth to them – without using those words. Let them brainstorm to more fully understand what they are building and why it matters. Some innovative perspectives may come from the discussion – as well as new features to add.

  1. Hold the team accountable to metrics they have defined to ensure that the team is creating valuable software.

How does the team know that they are meeting the mark? Metrics that are too granular may not show incremental results or the results of a single feature on its own (with no context), but not getting specific enough may illustrate general trends that doesn’t point to any specific result whatsoever. You need to find balance and determine what will indicate a customer’s behavioral shift occurred.

Look for metrics that are broad enough to show improvement, and narrow enough to show improvement due to a particular feature or function being added.

And this is necessary for a virtual team – there needs to be unbiased consensus that they are working towards the right goals. This will help them make independent, yet united, decisions each day, knowing they are working towards the same goal and the same measurement of it.

I was working on team with 5 developers, all working from home at different times of day. We all had our priorities and stories and understood the goal of the sprint, or so we thought. One of the team finished early and thought he would be helping by picking up new stories. However, it was work that the client didn’t need for that sprint – he would have been better off helping the other team members than starting new work. Luckily, he didn’t get a bunch done before the team noticed what he was doing (thank you version control!) and we met to refocus priorities. Talk about a near miss for getting derailed!

  1. Build consensus that the team is working to provide the customer the right value

The team needs to feel as if they are part of the business, and the best way to do that is to be sure that they understand their contributions to the customers. If the team has a sense of accomplishment and sees progress, they will be more engaged and invested than a team that is just doing a job to meet corporate goals.

Prioritization meetings will help facilitate discussions about product goals, what’s in the iteration, the target audience, and what they want to do. Be sure your entire virtual team is involved, contributing to the conversation and providing their perspective – don’t let anyone hide behind the veil of a conference call.

Once the team understands the customer’s perspective and the need for urgency to deliver, they will collaborate to deliver results.

  1. Use visuals for reference

We can discuss goals and personas all day, but until someone writes it down and we all agree on what we see, everyone will have a different image of the goals in their head. This is key to virtual teams. It’s like Plato’s ideal dog or ideal tree. When we think about a dog, we all think about a different type of dog – a Great Dane, a Pekinese, etc. It may be generally a dog, but it’s not the same dog.

And this can make a difference when creating software. If the team has slightly divergent views on what’s being built, or only see part of the story, you won’t successfully build a product. There will be no consensus, no unifying driver for the team to achieve a goal.

  1. If you can’t have focus groups, get to know customers in other virtual ways

Everyone on the team should spend some time getting to know the customers – either by witnessing virtual or recorded usability testing sessions, reading product reviews, or listening to customer service calls. Some of these customer feedback methods could be used metrics (higher ratings, fewer phone calls). This will give everyone on the team insight into the value the software gives the customer – or the value the customer wants to get from it.

And you don’t need to be in person with a customer to do this – you can do this on your own away from the team. But be sure to share what you learned with the team so everyone is aligned and they can work together to make valuable product.

  1. Build trust. If your team doesn’t trust each other – how will customers trust that they will build the right software?

Trust builds confidence, and without confidence to get the work done and deliver on-time, how will your team tackle the most challenging problems to achieve your goals? Let’s add to the challenge a multi-located team. They need to be able to trust each other, know that each team member has the other person’s back. And if the team doesn’t trust each other, how will other people trust the team?   

One of the best ways to build trust is built into Agile approaches – retrospectives (for virtual teams, try Retrium to help you out). Although they can be sometimes perceived as unnecessary, I love retrospectives because they make sure everyone is getting it all out there for discussion. If there was some weirdness in the previous iteration, the team works through it.  Sometimes we take open and honest communication for granted (I know I do often), but we shouldn’t. It’s key to building trust and a solid relationship with your teammates.

Beyond the retrospectives, try team building exercises and games to help your virtual team build rapport. Alternatively, work with the team to develop a virtual communication style and make sure that there are tools available to support that. Some teams work better with video, some voice only, some need chat, some require written documents. Slack works well for some groups; others need Skype or other tools. But the approach is unique to your team.

How we define value as a concept is a moving target; but which features and functions a software provides is valuable to a customer, isn’t one. Further, we need to build tightly bonded teams that are focused on creating valuable software for customers – especially when virtual. Being virtual encourages us to be more specific in our communication with each other, relying on visuals and setting target metrics to keep our focus on the final goals. Without those elements in place, achieving the first principle of the Agile Manifesto is almost impossible to do.

I had the privilege of speaking about the 12 Principles underlying the Agile Manifesto at Centare’s Agile and Lean Management conference in Chicago.  The specific topic I was invited to speak on was Distributed Culture.  Here are my slides.

In looking through the lens of cultural anthropology at how to support distributed teams working in an agile manner, my talk started with the concept of discourse, or culture that is observable through language.  I asked the audience to consider whether applied discourse analysis might be a useful way to reveal the implicit or unspoken rules governing how members of an Agile team interact.

Keynote Craig Larman had reviewed with us his fourth “law of organizational behavior:” Culture Follows Structure. If this is indeed the case, and Larman points to evidence gathered by another thought leader to suggest that it does, then choices made about how to support the structure of distributed Agile teams represent a unique opportunity.

Might it not be possible, in fact, to work backward, selecting structures which prioritize individuals and their interactions over tools and processes?  Can distributed configurations be set up primarily to address a team’s social needs in line with Agile cultural values?

First things first: where do we look to find these cultural values articulated?  We look to discourse, where we find abundant examples of actual spoken and written references to the Agile Manifesto by members of the Agile community.  For example, Big Apple Scrum Day 2015 culminated with a session that reinforced culture over tools when it comes to distributed teams.

We know from the discourses embedded in Scrum ceremonies that the practice of revisiting a set pattern of questions at regular intervals invites continuous improvement.  The following questions comprise an inventory any distributed team or team member can use.  As a whole, it is intended as a reminder to take a step back from tooling and inspect/adapt the communications structures we have selected to support Agile cultures.

#1 On Delivering Value

How are our trust levels with clients?  Within the team?  How does it feel when we deliver early and what’s holding us back from doing that more often? How do we let team members know that we care about improving communications with them?

#2 On Welcoming Changing Requirements

How do we presently track and manage our Product Backlog?  How well do we preserve the context around decision-making so we can reference it later?  How well do we work from the road and in transit?

#3 On Delivering Frequently  

How do we share our calendars? How do we manage Time Zones?  How do we discuss the time needed to complete tasks?  What is our expectation around real-time versus asynchronous communications, and have they been communicated and agreed-upon?  Do we co-design meetings to be productive use of people’s time?

#4 On Cross-Functional Teams:

Are we consistently using a shared drive for access to information?  Do we have groundrules for “pinging?” How do we account for the water cooler effect, i.e., what kinds of serendipitous encounters can people have within the network? How do we build unity and demonstrate that different functional roles are part of the same tribe? Why broadcast availability to connect as a cross-functional team (both formally and informally)?

#5 On Providing a Motivating Environment:

How do people  flag their interest in working on certain projects? How do we do we sense people’s emotions & gather their opinions? How do we share knowledge & insight?

#6 On Face-to-Face Communication

How do we see each other’s faces online?  How do we make the experience as context-rich and information-rich as possible?

#7 On Working Product

How do we build things together?  How well is this working?

#8 On Sustainability

What is the app that signals to others that we are “at work?”  What are the protocols for checking in & out?  How do we avoid burnout?

#9 On Good Craftsmanship

How do we recognize and track progress in skillbuilding?  How do we disseminate good examples of craftsmanship?

#10 On Simplicity

Are there things we must do over and over again that could be automated? What apps are out there that can help simplify reporting requirements (i.e. bug reports, status reports)?

#11 On Self-Organization

What choices do people have about how to collaborate?  How are meetings facilitated? How are shared working agreements arrived-at and stored (with version control)? Are there protocols about language and handling conflict?

#12 On Retrospectives

Have we trained or demoed with any of the numerous groups/communities/companies out there making this easier? How do we know we are headed in the right direction?  How are we integrating play, artfulness and humor into our team interactions?

Have you found solutions that work particularly well in a distributed context for expressing any of these principles?

After nearly two years talking with people who have specialized knowledge about distributed cultures and team mechanics, next I will go principle by principle and delve into some things others have found helpful. You can also answer these questions and see other’s responses in a Google Form – coming soon.

Please note that all solutions to be shared are provisional and not meant to be prescriptive.  As a whole, I hope they provide a touchstone and much-needed dose of encouragement that distributed networks are capable of expressing and reinforcing Agile principles throughout various communication channels.

Several site-specific artworks now form the core of a body of work that belongs to the Grove, in New Haven, Connecticut. They all highlight the unique features of the building which houses the first coworking community in a state that is now home to many spaces where people from startup/tech, nonprofit and creative worlds meet and collaborate.


Mark Williams

paint, paper, foamcore, wood and light fixture

Mark's wall piece

The site-specific installation above is something of a secret; it lives inside the wall between the kitchen and men’s bathroom. The imagery in the scene depicted is inspired by Luray Caverns in Virginia, where the artist traveled to do site research following a successful kickstarter campaign.  Originally part of a group show in Fall 2013 called “Navigate Complexity,” it was purchased for the Grove from the artist.

Climbing Ivy

Giada Crispiels

paper and wire

climbing Ivy

The piece above is a prototype for customizable eco-friendly decor for the home or office.  The ivy is made from upcycled newspapers and magazines. It is a metaphor for how creativity survives and grows organically in the “in-between spaces” of urban environments. Part of a larger body of work called “Urban Shadows of Nature,” the work is on long-term loan by the artist.

Pixellated Portrait

Dan Gries, Danielle Kefford, Dan Bernier

colored foam


Marilyn Monroe’s iconic image has been reconstructed with slices of pool toy noodles! This piece was conceived for the show “re:Generate – Art Based on Code” after artists did a walk-through of the space and saw the grid-like cage structure housing what is commonly known to be the state’s oldest working elevator.  A visual riddle more easily resolved by digital camera than the human eye, the work is likely to be dismantled at some point in 2015.  After that it will go into storage and be available for future re-installation and/or loans to other sites.


As the facility expands so do the ideas amongst its collaborators!  I am inspired, honored and humbled to curate art for my coworkers as a part of The Grove’s programming fabric, and to help grow our circle of guest curators to include many new voices and perspectives.

Entrepreneurs who create lifestyle brands and concept stores often dream of opening their own storefronts and perhaps scaling from there. Because it offers less risk and up-front expense compared to a permanent commercial space, the “popup” has become an increasingly popular way for such entrepreneurs to test out their business models in an actual marketplace, connecting with customers on a temporary basis.

Evan Nork

Evan Nork

How is a popup designed?

1. It has a Timebox.

First, it is temporary.  This feature makes the popup more like an art exhibit or an urban festival than a traditional retail store. This structures the workflow and creates a pull for visitors who are curious, adventurous and like to be in-the-know.

2. It inspires an Inner Circle of Storytellers.

It is fun to fall in love with a work-in-progress, help it grow and see the results – more fun than being a regular customer! Because of the compressed timeframe, ambassadors and enthusiasts who can get word out quickly via “word of mouse” achieve special status. Their stories serve as fuel to sustain and grow an online community in-between popups.

4. It is, in itself, an Iteration.

How many long-term entrepreneurs wish they could start over and create their businesses from scratch, improving the underlying design and organization?  Through popups, progressive artfulness becomes evident as each iteration improves overall fit-for-context.

3. It is tiny and well-crafted.

Popups manifest a specific creative intent – they cannot do and be everything. What’s not appropriate or practical for one popup opportunity may well be for another.  Those “extra” ideas and the suggestions of well-meaning advisers go on the backlog, where they won’t get lost and can easily be revisited.


5. It is a simple means for Validation.

Startups often use landing pages and Google ad words to validate their assumptions about customer behavior before investing in buildouts.  Popups transfer the same kinds of practices onto the street level.  A tiny window display, for example, can direct people to an online destination.  A nook just big enough for an ATM transaction can be transformed into an intimate shop, where retailers can converse with shoppers one-on-one about preferences and predilections.

6. Retrospecting comes with the territory.

With just a short amount of time to make an impact, entrepreneurs are typically motivated to make the most of it.  They reflect on the artifacts produced from each popup, seek feedback and come to the next opportunity ready to improve in many ways.

7. Everything you know is subject to revision. 

This mindset makes entrepreneurs fiercely adaptable. Need to reroute a floorplan, shift around inventory or change hours of operation?  Someone who has orchestrated their share of popups takes a lightweight approach to such things, even after acquiring their own long-term space.  They know that, after all, all businesses are really popups, in a way.

8. What’s Most Important?

People, people and people!  People like to tell stories.  They like to belong. The space where a retail business takes place is only important to the extent that it enables these functions.

Here are some of the popup people I’ve been involved with this past year:





Art & Design 

And here’s the latest, that got me thinking about these things today. Special thanks to my client, Project Storefronts, a program of the City of New Haven, Connecticut.

Taxonomies are useful tools for visualizing culture.  Cultural categories are divided into “domains,” each of which have their own “folk terms.”  For the ethnographer or student of culture, the job is to uncover, clarify and reveal underlying taxonomic structures by mapping out the domains and folk terms of the people being studied.


In this mapping process, the ethnographer learns a lot by asking “what are the kinds of…,” “what are the steps in…” “what are the parts of…” or “what are the ways to do…” X according to what is being studied.


When complete, a taxonomy will have a set of strictly contrasting or binary categories.  This phase of the process comes down to testing many variations of this question: “how do you know that this is this, and not that?”


Here’s what a binary taxonomy looks like describing simple objects:

Taxonomy sample

I have the privilege today of facilitating a community retrospective of a four-year public arts project.  We will use this worksheet to uncover the first phase of taxonomic structures:


blank taxonomy

The purpose of this exercise is to find out how the community categorizes itself, which may not be the same as how it has been categorized in the past by funders, city agencies and other outside entities.  Cultural studies like this one rest on a foundation of respect for the insider’s viewpoint.  The results will inform future programming and fundraising efforts so as to contribute maximum value to the community on its own terms instead of just “good PR.”


A great resource for further information is The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society by McCurdy, Spradley and Shandy.



I am preparing to give a talk by telepresence!   Lisette Sutherland has arranged for us to speak together via a BeamPro at Spark the Change, a new management conference in London.

Yesterday the Suitable Tech crew in Lyon, France invited me in for a practice session.  Here are some pictures of my jaunt through their headquarters.

They kindly set me up to practice in front of a mirror.  The theory we will test is that the BeamPro offers the ability to move around on stage, turning slightly to the right and left to connect with the audience, surpassing the human features of most “head on a screen” video presentations.


Lyon 1

You can see by the blue lines on the bottom that the device tells you which way you’re heading and enables you to scan the floor for obstacles which might be in your path.


Lyon 2

After practice I went roaming and stumbled upon the guys playing foozball.  They assured me this was just a regular day at the office, receiving guests beaming in!

We chatted about a few things, including the World Cup.  They congratulated me on the US team’s valiant efforts on the field all the way up to their defeat by Belgium in overtime.  You can see I was still a bit tender on the subject.

Lyon 3

Then I tried to go back to the docking station.  In the world of telepresence, this is only polite to ensure that it’s charged up for the next person.  Unfortunately, I got lost in the hallways of Suitabletech.  Anyone who knows me understands that navigation is not my specialty.  It was not far at all and the guys had directed me.  However, still this disorientation was fairly predictable.

Lyon 4

Luckily, a friendly face saw  me wandering around and decided to help!

Lyon 5

Ah, finally I made it back to civilization.  Roaming around an unfamiliar office is something I have done a million times, but never remotely.

Lyon 6

I like the way in which occupying physical space helps to order one’s experiences.  My roaming  had a beginning, middle and end.  Each stage required reflection and some introspection on what I wanted to accomplish, how things were going and what I was prepared to do next.

I always recommend a walk to clear the head and get centered.  Now I am ready to present my talk in London!

My favorite projects are ones in which the goal is clear but the path is uncertain. Finding the best way to proceed becomes a “we” thing – surpassing any individual’s view of reality.  Enlarging my own ideas about what’s possible is the joy of collaborating.  Leading a group through this process has at times felt sublime as outcomes emerge which none of us could have predicted.

Photo Credit: Mufid Bohorquez

Photo Credit: Mufid Bohorquez


The work I do with teams is storycraft.  This means there is a story to be told about a community, and the product is an experience to be crafted which – if successful – will propel that story forward.  Reflecting on some of the most satisfying of these projects, I am struck by a consistent pattern of iterative teambuilding as a narrative practice which supports emergent outcomes.


Iterative teambuilding can be visualized as the building up of a team in concentric circles outward from its most invested members to progressively involve various sets of participants and stakeholders.  Structured communications keep everyone aware of these relationships.


Narrative practice is a term borrowed from social work recognizing the power of stories to regulate our experience of satisfaction.  I use it to mean keeping people in the same conversation long enough to get something “Done” together.  As individuals build a mental model of their origin as a group, the factors contributing to their complex challenges (what I call the “mushy middle”) and what they hope to accomplish in the world (their finale or conclusion), they co-create value.  This value is derived from their ability to improve the quality and clarity of the stories they tell, often attracting energy in the form of new resources and commitments from an enlarged circle of stakeholders.


Here are three projects to which I’ve applied a narrative model for teambuilding in the past year:


  • curating and producing a tour of New Haven’s “innovation district,” the historic Ninth Square, for The International Festival of Arts & Ideas


  • connecting local start-ups and youth to the New Haven Museum for a state-funded humanities program called CT@Work


  • crafting a new senior management position to work closely with the Executive Director and supervise a growing staff for an after-school arts program spanning several school districts


Here are steps we went through in each instance:


Name the original team.  A team is a unit of two or more individuals who agree that a project should happen, combine resources to make it happen and possess the ability to evaluate its adaptive fit.  For example, a visionary plus a funder can be an original team.  Being clear about who sits in the center of the circle provides fuel for teambuilding because it orders relationships and gives the project a point of origin.


Name the occasion.  An occasion is a combination of a goal and a timebox.  “Getting married on June 8th” is an occasion.  So is “involving local youth and entrepreneurs in two public programs at the museum in February.”  What is unique and/or compelling about this occasion?  Will the story come true in time to create value?  These central questions are relevant and applicable to every project.  I find they create narrative suspense to get people interested in participating.


Name the tools to use for communicating.   A combination of synchronous and asynchronous communications works best, including:

  • a central place where everyone can put notes. typically a shared GoogleDoc
  • a regular meeting schedule with a set cadence for getting things done in between, say every Tuesday at 10am


Name the protocols for using these tools.  Open space technology – provides great inspiration for encouraging people to trust the emergent outcome.  It helps to say or post these principles: “Whoever shows up are the right people.  Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.  The Law of Two Feet Lives Here. and When it’s over, it’s over.”


Everyone can check the notes document and add ideas, comments and feedback. Decisions get made in the meetings, and these decisions are not revisited but built upon to move the project forward.  Attendance at the meetings is optional, however opting out of any given meeting means opting out of the decision-making process while agreeing to respect any decisions that get made.


Invite various groups to participate.  One group inviting another amplifies the importance of the occasion.  Museum staff invites design professionals from the start-up community.  Design professionals invite youth.  Youth invite their teachers.  All of these relationships enhance the project’s storycraft because many stories get embedded into the one, central story.  People understand why they are participating and how their relationships fit in with the others.


Another example is: The Board President invites the Executive Director to explore possibilities.  This pair invites the Executive Committee to review their findings.  The Executive Committee presents these findings to the other Board members.  The Board as a whole invites the staff to help flesh out an action plan.


A team that builds iteratively becomes invested in its own success as a team.  The original team takes responsibility for orienting and integrating new members.  New members take responsibility for understanding the whole vision and building upon what has already been established within the narrative sequence.  Relationships become part of the mental model of a project according to when and how various groups are invited to participate.


A worthwhile goal plus a realistic yet challenging timebox create an occasion for people to become an awesome team together.  I enjoy watching outcomes emerge as a newly-established or re-energized team finds its way through a project’s beginning, middle and end.


Artists’ intelligence is now valued by business at the competitive edge. Two years ago I came to suspect that what I was learning about Agile software development could be mapped onto what artists and arts administrators had revealed about creative practice. In collaboration with clients, colleagues and co-workers, I’ve been using these insights to address a response to the question:  can I be Agile even if I’m not part of an Agile team?  Artists tend to function as a cross-functional team inside of one headspace.

Here are my slides from a presentation I gave on this topic at Agile India 2014

Tobias Mayer, author of The People’s Scrum, says, “I’d love to be in the audience for this one. It’s very inspiring.”

And here are some of the highlight Tweets:

Bernd Schiffer ‏@berndschiffer Scrum of One session with @artsint at#agileindia2014 Lot’s of hands-on exercises to organise and grow
Ellen Grove ‏@eegrove  be FLAWSOME! Invite reaction. Let people know your standards for technical excellence and ask for feedback. @artsint #AgileIndia2014
Kevin Austin ‏@kev_austin  ”Trust in emergent outcome” @artsint #AgileIndia2014
Rae Abileah ‏@raeabileah  Scrum of One with @artsint is interactive and introspective. ❤ this session already. Art meets Management! 



“I like your Scrum of One idea.  Your work and your thinking seem very aligned with my own.” – Tobias Mayer, author, The People’s Scrum 

“Scrum of One”

Artists tend to function in ways that are intuitively Agile.  Working closely alongside arts leaders for nearly twenty years before becoming a Scrum Master, I have devised a set of practices that solopreneurs, freelancers or anyone working without Agile support in a larger company can practice to become more productive and contribute positively to organizational culture.  I have been putting this into practice for managing deliverables with my own clients as a consultant.

your friend in artfulness, Elinor

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