By Kristen Mihalko
One of the toughest things about a new job is becoming familiar with colleagues and building relationships in the office. When I started working with the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, I knew that my challenge wasn’t just getting to know my internal coworkers but getting to know my colleagues throughout our 1,200 acre urban cultural park. Luckily, I entered an organization that already had a solution to this challenge: the Balboa Park Mix Up MeetUp. The Mix Up MeetUp is a program facilitated by the Balboa Park Learning Institute and takes place two times a year. This program allows for new and veteran Park staff to meet each other in an informal setting and on their own time. Now in it’s successful seventh session, the program has seen many professional relationships form and networks grow. Over the past three years, 495 networking relationships have been established, and employees who have already participated in the program continue to sign up.
Balboa Park’s Mix Up MeetUp program has been successful due to commitment of participating individuals who meet one new colleague each month for three months. The pairings are randomly assigned by the Learning Institute each month and communicated to Park employees. Mix Up partners are asked to meet for 30-60 minutes each month and to engage in an activity in the Park. Some of the suggested activities include visiting a new exhibition, taking a partner behind-the-scenes of their institution, or simply grabbing a coffee and taking a stroll. We encourage employees to get out of their offices and learn about each other’s roles in the Park, as well as the Park as whole.
Raya Greenbaum, Marketing and Communications Manager at the Museum of Photographic Arts took part in her first Mix Up MeetUp this season. She joined the program because she was a new employee eager to create connections within Balboa Park. After a successful first round, she knew she wanted to continue to be involved. Raya shared that Mix Up MeetUp is unique because of the people—whether someone is naturally an extrovert or introvert, she says it provides that first step to building park-wide interactions. “It’s easy to meet someone for a coffee or walkabout because everyone works in close proximity to each other here. It’s an opportunity to get out of the office, and enjoy the fresh air and beauty in Balboa Park. Combined with the conversation, it results in a positive boost for the work day,” she shares.
Participants meetup in Balboa Park for an informal picnic
The Mix Up MeetUp program allows for organizations in Balboa Park to enhance communication, collaboration, and networking which helps to create a culture of “One Park, One Team.” There are many benefits to having a program such as this, including, but not limited to: higher levels of collaboration, increased knowledge through exploration, enhanced customer service, and an overall improved attitude and appreciation of the workplace. Through this program many colleagues have learned about each other’s work and found new and exciting ways to collaborate. It also allows for Park employees to explore each other’s spaces and gain insight on upcoming projects and exhibitions. Through the knowledge gained employees are able to provide guests with more “insider” information about the Park, which then enhances the guest experience in a positive way. There’s also the benefit to organizations as a whole: by allowing employees to partake in this program, employees feel more connected to not only their organization but the Park as a whole. A connected feeling allows employees to take pride in their work and seek ways to improve the work environment around them.
While we have been successful in facilitation of this program, we understand the challenges of working in the museum world with each of us wearing many hats. It can feel impossible to create a program like this, but it is possible. In fact, we borrowed this idea from Los Angeles’ The Museum of Contemporary Art. Their program “MOCA Mates” is facilitated “organization-wide” and found success in allowing their employees to shake up their daily routine to learn about the work and impact of employees from different departments. Creating a program like Mix Up MeetUp can seem daunting at first—and with over 3,500 employees and 29 organizations represented in the Park, this program could have been a failure. However, due to the support of our organizations and the commitment of the participants, it has been a success and continues to grow each season. The current culture in Balboa Park couldn’t be better and our professional community grows more connected every day.
Kristen Mihalko holds a Masters in Strategic Communications from National University. She has been working as the Program Coordinator for the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership since June 2014. She has previous experience in the non-profit sector working with military youth and domestic violence victims. She is currently part of the Executive Committee for the San Diego Emerging Museums Professionals.