We’ve nearly reached the end of the summer internship. It has been quite a journey.
It’s hard to believe, but there you go. On Friday evening, I finally submitted the draft of the project report for the internship. It’s the culmination of nine weeks of research, 116 interviews, and the analysis of over 50 hours of comments from arts leaders across the country. There’s still work to do to get it ready for publication and to develop some tools for the organization, but this point marks the beginning of the end.
Which is not too far away now. In three weeks I will be in Milan, getting over jetlag and frantically coming to terms with my lack of ability to speak Italian (despite all the Duolingo). The time has passed quickly.
This weekend has been spent writing my assessment paper for the internship, a 20 page reflection on the project, the workplace and the skills that I’ve learned. After getting home on Friday night it was a real struggle to immediately turn around and start writing the paper. However, I ensconced myself in a café, started a running bar tab for espressos, and got to it.
The paper was a good chance to look back on the process, the challenges that have been faced, and the skills that I’ve sharpened as a result.
I have to admit that I was unsure of what to expect of the internship and of what I was going to learn. My internship was already being marked out as unusual, since the collaborative team project which normally forms a side project for interns was in fact going to be my primary project for the internship.
I was expected to plan and execute the majority of the project, overseeing the work of two other interns in ensuring that objectives were reached. This was the first time they had structured an internship in such a manner; the rationale was that the size and scope of the project, along with my experience and level of education, demanded a higher level of resource allocation than usual. It was a big responsibility, and in the end it lived up to its expectations as being a big project. There were many early morning starts and late finishes.
Naturally, it was also my expectation of the internship to undergo a process of personal and professional development. I expected to face challenges and have to learn lessons in overcoming them.
Perhaps the largest of the lessons that I learned throughout the internship was the inherent difficulty in developing and executing a process for social impact measurement. In this particular case, this was especially complicated by the fact that there was little to no precedent for work in this particular area within the arts sector. It was also complicated by the fact that we were limited to a short telephone interview, which meant that the depth and sensitivity of the questions was limited. Designing the interview to capture the best information possible was a challenge.
Another lesson that I learned was about the challenge of managing teams in the situation where there are competing priorities. Whilst I was assigned as the head of the project, I did not have supervisory authority over the other interns in the team, and their priorities were managed by their own supervisors. This meant ensuring that their supervisors were apprised of the project timeline and deliverables so that resources could be managed effectively. Even so, there were instances where projects clashed and compromises had to be made. I had to learn to be adaptable and to reorient my strategy to compensate for these changes.
One of the toughest challenges that I faced was trying to effectively manage and monitor staff remotely. This is a perennial issue for organizations generally, and despite advances in technology the ability to build and motivate teams across large distances (especially as more staff choose to work from home) remains a key and growing difficulty in management.
In my case, one of my team members was based in New York, and so communications were limited to phone calls, instant messaging, and the occasional videoconference. A lot was learned about the importance of careful language in written and telephone communications, particularly in ensuring that tasks were clearly specified and that the tone of language was not misconstrued.
Crucially, I have learned just how important careful organization and planning is in projects, both in achieving results and in managing expectations of stakeholders. This has been something that I have known from prior work experience, but to successfully face the challenges presented throughout the project strongly reinforced this point. As a result of this, it has given me confidence about my ability to lead projects and teams in future.
Ultimately, I feel that I have had a very positive experience in my internship. Americans for the Arts have provided a nurturing and positive environment that has allowed me to apply my knowledge and training, but at the same time helped me to improve my abilities as a manager and a leader.
The project that was given to me was challenging in its nature, demanded my full effort and tested my abilities. It also developed my skills in project management and in social impact research, and I will be able to apply this in future work.
Most importantly, the project I led is one that has already made a tangible contribution to the organization, and will have a significant impact on the work that it undertakes in the future. The recommendations for the report are being seriously considered, the tools that are being developed will be released in the coming months, and discussions are being had about how to surmount some of the challenges facing the arts sector.
And I think we can call that a success.
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.