Yale Union-Management Partnership

Yale Union-Management Partnership | Human Resources & Administration

Profiles In Collaboration:
Yale Center for British Art

Union Co-Chair: Keven Derken
Management Co-Chair: David Mills
Facilitator: Lorraine Skibitcky

Everyone pitches in to design a better workflow

Initially, the Joint Departmental Committee at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) was formed to address scheduling problems in preparation of museum exhibitions. When one department failed to meet a deadline, the effect rippled throughout other departments.

British Arts

The Director and Associate Director chose five Management and Professional staff (M&Ps) to be on the JDC, and the union stewards chose five Clerical and Technical staff (C&Ts.) The C&Ts immediately commented that there was no curator on the committee, so the Director appointed a curator, and the C&Ts added another member for balance.

The committee agreed it was better not to have the Director at JDC meetings because, as the ultimate authority for the Center, her opinion would carry too much weight. Instead, they committed to a process of soliciting all possible ideas for solving a problem, fashioning them into a consensus opinion and submitting a proposal to the Director who must authorize any policy changes.

The YCBA soon discovered that conflict is more common between internal departments than between labor and management. For example, the installation crew may be running behind schedule which then prevents the custodial staff from cleaning the galleries.

Best practice recommendations began to flow out of monthly JDC meetings. The first impact was moving monthly staff meetings from the staff lounge to the lecture hall, and the agenda of the meetings became more business-like. Next, in the interest of better communication, the YCBA created a shared space on their computer network that contains an organizational chart, staff directories, staff photos and job descriptions, building floor plans, emergency plans, and a long-range exhibition schedule.


George Conte, Building Operations Manager, and Lori Misura, Library Services Assistant.

One change initiated by the JDC concerned how new positions are posted. The C&Ts felt that the job duties were being overstated so that the jobs would be classified as M&P. Subsequently, Yale was cited under the Fair Labor Standards Act for creating exempt positions that should be “overtime eligible,” and five positions at the YCBA fell into this category.

As a result the YCBA created a “job posting review” process. Once a hiring supervisor has drafted a new job description, the YCBA has an open discussion with both labor and management from related departments. Although the University human resources department had serious reservations about this process, the meetings have been extremely productive with absolutely no conflicts. Staff size at YCBA has been increasing steadily, and this open, transparent job posting process helps everyone to pause and take note of where they are headed and how they need to cooperate with one another.

Scheduling problems are still difficult to solve, however. The installation department now uses Microsoft Project to manage a calendar of deadlines, and other departments are becoming more conscientious in observing their deadlines. One stop-gap had been the production of wall labels. After members of the JDC spoke with each contributing department, they were able to identify a few changes in protocol using the museum’s collection database as the single source for information, which greatly improved the process. In turn, those changes added value to another project that will provide images for a central university database.

“It gives everybody— management and C&Ts—a voice in the workplace. The way we use Best Practices, it allows us to avert conflict because we’re willing and able to talk about it first.”
- Kevin Derken, Senior Museum Preperator, Yale Center for British Arts

Recently, the JDC recommended a Post Review process to improve the work flow surrounding exhibitions, symposia and special events. After a large event all departments contribute statements on “preparation” and “execution”—what went well and what could have been done better. With the intention of highlighting great ideas and learning from mistakes, they hope to produce a simple review document that allows all the internal departments to see how their work impacts other departments. It also allows the person responsible for the event to see how his or her planning played out. So often we just know that in the end everything got done not knowing that it could have been accomplished a better way.

Beyond the projects directly influenced by the JDC, the best practices concept at the YCBA has taken hold in other areas. They see more often that managers are seeking advice from front line workers when they are planning departmental changes, whether it has to do with workspace alterations or staffing changes.

To encourage other departments to consider a best practices approach and to form a JDC, they would like to assure managers that it is not a method of rule by committee. Decisions remain in the hands of those who are responsible and accountable, but those decisions are much better informed when influenced by those who do the work.

And they would like to assure union members that Best Practices is not lip service designed to assuage disgruntled workers. Although union staff may not get the exact desired result in making changes, they certainly influence changes.

At the YCBA, as the JDC proves to be a valuable resource to the Director in her decision-making process, we see more and more staff members come forward with ideas they want to promote through the Best Practices process.


Last Updated: April 14, 2009 (kp).