1998, nearly 350 British Airway’s top sales executives, from 83 different
countries, came to Chicago for their world sales conference. This sales
conference was different. British Airways wanted to collaborate with a
non-profit to develop a conference which would bring to life their corporate
philosophy of "Inspiring People". Imagine Chicago was selected as their
partner. Together they designed an intergenerational cross-cultural
conference that paired the executives with 400 children from the Chicago
The day involved music, coaching and asking good
questions to increase focus, stimulate conversation and connections and
inspire participants. The conference was held at the Field Museum of Natural
History, a museum known for its educational emphasis on cultural
Preparing the Way Forward
Prior to the conference, each
executive received a package of information which enabled them to prepare for
the upcoming event. Knowing that they would be paired with children for the
day, they were asked to reflect on high points of their careers as airline
executives as well as inspiring stories in their local communities.
They were also asked to gather, and bring with them to Chicago,
objects from their home countries which would teach the children
about music-making, everyday life and inspiring community
activities. Additionally, they were asked to bring a gift for their
particular child. The executives arrived in Chicago well prepared to learn
with children at a museum, having already reflected on how you can
use objects to tell powerful stories.
Music, Education and Fun
conference began with all of the children singing to the executives as they
processed through the museum and into the theatre. Once in the theatre, the
adults and children met with their partner for the day. Seated together, they
participated in coaching sessions led by British corporate performance
consultants. Then they put their coaching skills to practice throughout the
museum, working in teams to understand how an exhibit tells its story.
At lunch, the coaching was up to the children who taught the adults
a South African freedom song. Some of the adults were anxious about
having to learn a song, believing that they could not sing. This
initial anxiety turned into a sense of wonder when they realized that
the collective sound was very good. Moreover, for the children it created
a sense of accomplishment that they could teach the obviously
competent adults something new.
After lunch, the children and adults
created their own‘inspiration’ exhibits from objects the adults had
brought from their home countries to teach about their cultures and values.
The objects reflected important aspects of everyday life, music,
and inspiration. To ensure that the afternoon was both enjoyable
and educational, IMAGINE CHICAGO and the Field Museum created an
activity guide. The guide, with written instructions and illustrations, took
the adults and children through key steps necessary to create a
museum exhibit. The embedded lessons also had applicability to
corporate coaching by reinforcing the importance of active
listening,team-building, imaginative thinking, drawing out vital
connections, and seeing the whole.
The child-adult teams gathered
questions and stories from each other which were combined with the objects to
create inspiring activity boxes from which children could learn about
cultures around the world. As a lasting legacy of the conference the objects
have now been organized into traveling exhibits within the Field Museum’s
Harris Loan Center collection. Area schools, parents, and community groups
use the exhibit boxes in teaching about different cultures.
of Children Creates an Inspired Learning Environment
The children, who ranged
in age from 8 to 17, were accomplished members of the multiracial and
multicultural choir, some of whom had toured internationally. The adults were
top sales executives throughout the world for British Airways.
choir members and the executives met on a common ground of mutual respect for
each other’s accomplishments. During the day, it became clear that combining
the children with the adults created energy and a highly active learning
The children were naturally curious and inspired the adults to
learn and to ask good questions. The presence of the children also allowed
the adults to relax and have some fun.
The adults stimulated the
children by asking them good questions that provoked them to think. They all
shared stories about their life and home which enriched the day’s experience
and created connections that have the potential to be
Effective Partnerships are Built
The day, described as
"magical" by the British Airways director of sales world-wide, met three key
criteria which IMAGINE CHICAGO has found to build effective partnerships:
The conference helped develop the individuals involved. The adults
and children learned how to ask good questions and they learned
about themselves and each other.
The conference developed the
organizations involved - British Airways,The Field Museum, the Chicago
Children’s Choir and IMAGINE CHICAGO -and helped each accomplish and extend
their particular institutional mission.
The conference built citywide
and worldwide connections that would not have readily happened.
far as British Airways and IMAGINE CHICAGO know, this was the first time that
executives were linked with children to develop management skills. According
to all of the participants, the conference was a great success. The
connections established resulted in British Airways sponsoring the Chicago
Children's Choir 1999 summer U.K. tour.