Update- Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021

Whatever happens we still intend to go ahead with The Complexity and Management Conference 2021 4-6th June – The Complexity of Practice, with Professor Hari Tsoukas as our key note speaker. So will the introductory workshop on complex responsive processes of relating on Friday 4th June.

Previously we have been planning either for a face-to-face event, or to go online. However, it seems most likely that some will be able to make it and others will be prevented from coming. So to allow for both modes of participation simulataneously we are now organising for a hybrid event.

If you would still like to attend the conference in person the University booking site is open here. You will be asked to pay a deposit and then pay a second time to make up the full fee. In the event of our going online we will refund you the second payment of £700.

Those wishing to attend virtually for the in-person conference, a means of participation which will be available for Saturday 5th June only, will be able to book on the same site from next week onwards. The fee for virtual participation is £100, the same as the deposit for the conference. You will be able to live-stream Prof Tsoukas’ talk and participate in breakout discussions and afternoon seminars in virtual mode.

The Friday introductory workshop will not be available online unless everything is online. In other words, it is not being offered as a hybrid event.

Hope to see you there one way or another,

Do write if you are unclear about your options c.mowles@herts.ac.uk

Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021 – booking now.

The Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021 – The Complexity of Practice, is open for booking now. Here is the booking page.

This year we are delighted to have Professor Hari Tsoukas, who is well known to many of you,  as our key note speaker. Hari is Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Cyprus and Distinguished Research Environment Professor of Organization Studies at Warwick Business School. He is best known for his contributions to understanding organizations as knowledge and learning systems, for re-viewing organizational phenomena through the lens of process philosophy, for exploring practical reason in organizational contexts as well as the epistemology of reflective practice in management, and for bringing insights from Aristotelian, Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian philosophy to organization and management studies.

The staging of this year’s conference is no less an uncertain undertaking than last year’s. So we are organising for a face to face event, but at the same time preparing to go online. This means that the booking page requires you to make two payments. The first is a deposit (£100), and the second (£700) is to top up the payment to the full conference fee amount (£800). Should the face to face event be cancelled and we move online, we will refund you the top-up amount (£700) and keep the deposit as payment for the online event. This is the way the university best copes with refunds and it will save you going through the whole process again.

The event will, as usual, be highly participative and deliberative. If face to face, the conference begins on the evening of Friday 4th June with complementary drinks and gala dinner, and ends after lunch on Sunday 6th June. The conference fee covers all board and lodging for the event at Roffey Park Institute, Horsham UK. If we move online the conference will be just Saturday 5th June from 9am till 5.30pm.

There are limited places, so book early to avoid disappointment. I will send out an agenda early May once it is clear what kind of event we will be staging.

Whether face to face or online, the afternoon of Saturday 5th will comprise seminars presented by conference delegates emerging from some aspect of their work related to the conference theme on which they would like to convene a discussion. If you would like to convene such a seminar, please contact me.

On Friday 4th June, whether face to face or online, there is an introductory workshop to the ideas which inform the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme, a perspective we term complex responsive processes of relating. The workshop too will be very participative and discussive, drawing on delegates’ every day experience at work.

Looking forward to seeing you there, one way or another.

Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021

This is to remind you that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will be on 4th-6th June 2021, but with a changed speaker. We are delighted to have Professor Hari Tsoukas of Warwick and Cyprus Universities to give our key note. We are still discussing the theme of the conference, but it will be something to do with the complexity of practice. 

The conference begins @7pm on the Friday evening 4th June, and ends lunchtime Sunday 6th. We hope the event will be face to face at Roffey Park, UK but will plan to put it online if not.

A booking page on the university site will go up as usual later in January.

Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19 – Online Symposium/Practicum Nov 28th

Just a week to go before the Complexity and Management Centre’s online Symposium/Practicum exploring the role of conflict, particularly in the time of Covid-19. There are still a few places remaining, which you can book here.

The morning comprises reflections in a large group setting to experience the significance of conflict to the everyday processes of getting things done together. In the afternoon there will be seminars run by practitioner-scholars who will invite delegates to think about what’s going on for them in their organisational setting as a way of further exploring the generalisability of their insights.

Our last post to warm us up for the event comes from Professor Emma Crewe, who teaches at SOAS and is a supervisor on the DMan programme.

When people fall apart

These days, as I bounce from one virtual room to the next, shapeshifting from my various research teams to a discussion about university finance to teaching PhD students, with no gaps and virtually no gossip in between, my energy drains away all too easily. We no longer have the ability to discern the subtle emotional signs or the cunning political tactics employed by those around us. We are becoming more ignorant of each other. I can’t say no to these conversations  in two-dimensional space because a pull towards collaboration draws me in; but often they leave me feeling empty – it is so hard to read each other and innovate together when we can’t meet, body-to-body, face-to-face, eye-to-eye. To innovate you need to move from separate, differing positions to a new relationship, understanding or action. My experience of Covid is that stuckness is more common than movement.

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Complexity and Management: Online Symposium/Practicum November 28th – now booking.

Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19

The Symposium booking site is now open and is available here . You can see the agenda for the day here.

The following is a post by member of DMan faculty Professor Karen Norman which speaks into the theme of the conference:

Exploring the complexity of conflict in organising in the time of Covid: washing our hands of a problem?

Infection prevention and control (IPC) in hospitals is essential at the best of times, but especially so in a time of Covid. From my previous experience as a Board Director responsible for Infection Control in hospitals, I understand the challenges facing staff in maintaining high IPC standards. In 2003, I was involved in a national initiative to reduce the incidence of hospital acquired Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Auereus, (MRSA) bacteraemias, because 9% of hospital inpatients had infections acquired whilst in hospital,[1] equating to100,000 incidents a year, costing the National Health Service (NHS) around £1 billion (N.A.O. 2000)[2]. The term ‘hospital acquired infection’ sits uncomfortably with me, given Florence Nightingales’ founding values that hospitals should ‘do the sick no harm.’ A significant causal factor in their spread cited was the poor hand hygiene of the health professionals when caring for patients. Thankfully, progress has been made in recent years, with the hospital I refer to in this blog meeting their target of zero cases of avoidable MRSA in the last year. But what I have noticed amidst the intense discussions we have been having of late with regard to stopping the spread of Covid, is how similar problems are re-surfacing to those we faced when reducing the spread of MRSA, most notably with regard to compliance with ‘best practice’ as set out in our IPC policies and procedures. I share the following narrative to help think about why implementing corporate values such as ‘patient safety’, or ‘doing no harm’ might not be so easy as people seem to think.

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Conflict and complexity in the time of Covid-19 – online Symposium/Practicum Sat Nov 28th. A few tickets still available.

There are still a few places left for the Complexity and Management Centre’s Symposium/Practicum on Conflict and complexity in the time of Covid-19, on November 28th. You can book here.

The day comprises large and small group discussion of the every-day practicalities of working with conflict in organisations. For more details on the programme, look here.

How are we as hosts of the Symposium/Practicum approaching the day in terms of our assumptions?

There are a number of ways in which conflict is understood in organisational literature.[1] The first perspective is to consider it an aberration for the high-functioning, aligned organisation which thrives on positivity and high trust. From this perspective, conflict should be overcome, or mediated as quickly as possible because it’s an obstacle to progress. As a worker in an organisation where this set of assumptions predominate, one might be invited to leave one’s bad self, or perhaps political self, at the door. This might be an idealising environment to work in where a premium is placed on charisma.

A second way of understanding conflict is to think of it as necessary to the exploration of difference as long as the organisation can optimise it to fulfil its aims. Optimising involves not too much conflict and not too little, but just enough. This Goldilocks equilibrium is achieved by managers intervening in the conflict to bring about the desired ends. The assumption here is that the conflict is amenable to intervention, that the manager doesn’t have a stake in the game themselves, and they are able to nudge the conflict into an optimised state. In this organisation the tools and techniques of leadership and management may predominate.

A third perspective conceives of organisations as a market place where lots of autonomous individuals try to maximise their interests. The conflicts arising from competing interests are mediated by contracts and social control mechanisms to maximise efficiency for the organisation. Competition between individuals is to be encouraged if it leads to greater efficiency in the organisation, if you assume that all individuals can compete equally. In making this assumption this economic perspective on conflict denies power inequalities and hierarchies. This kind of thinking often predominates in financialized organisation driven by metrics as ‘price mechanisms’.

Meanwhile, a critical perspective, and one which we adopt as a faculty group in shaping the agenda for the forthcoming Symposium, always creates the possibility for conflict because it calls into question the taken-for-granted. There is no assumption that the way things are is the way they need to be, or that they are inevitably that way, or that we should aim towards some kind of ideal of positive cooperation. There is no assumption that a manager is somehow outside of the ebb and flow of both cooperation and competition which ensues when people try to get work done together, nor that they are unaffected by it, nor that they can intervene to bring it to any equilibrium state. A critical perspective tries to take into account history and power relationships, and assumes that as social beings we are not autonomous, rational individuals trying to maximise our utility. Instead a critical perspective assumes that we act on the basis of a plurality of motivations which raise a variety of ethical questions which can only be considered in concrete situations with particular actors. At the same time there is no attempt to deny that there are broader social trends which advantage some social groups and disadvantage others, sometimes for long periods of time.

If this last perspective on conflict is of interest to you, then it would be great to see you there on the day.


[1] I found Alessia Contu’s article (2017) on Conflict and Organization Studies,  in the journal Organization Studies, April, 1–18 really helpful, although Professor Contu is not responsible for the way I have mangled some of her ideas and added my own.

Online Symposium/Practicum November 28th – now booking.

Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19.

The Symposium booking site is now open and is available here . We will send participants a link at least 48 hours before the event begins.

Here is the agenda for the day. The Symposium/Practicum will be a combination of group reflection on organisational dilemmas in the morning, and workshops/seminars in the afternoon where contributors will bring something which preoccupies them in their workplace.

10.00- 11.00    Complexity and Management Centre colleagues start with an open discussion of some key themes, followed by small groups.

11.00-11.30    Break

11.30-13.00    Large group meeting continuing the exploration of the above.

13.00-14.00    Lunch

14.00-15.30    Practice-based seminars offered by Symposium participants I.

15.30-16.00    Break

16.00-17.30    Practice-based seminars offered by Symposium participants II

17.30-18.00    Final plenary.

As a contribution to the discussion in advance of the event, faculty member Dr Karina Solsø Iversen has written the following:

The pursuit of meaning through political action

When Corona virus struck some months back many of us suddenly found ourselves working from home in ways that we hadn’t thought was possible prior to this crisis. For me as an organizational consultant, some activities were postponed while others were moved to an online format.

In the following I will draw on ideas from the philosopher and political thinker, Hannah Arendt to make sense of some of the difficulties that I feel Covid-19 has created, and then conclude by drawing attention to aspects of this crisis, which leave me with a sense of hope.

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Complexity and Management Centre. Symposium/Practicum Saturday November 28th 2020.

Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19.

The following is a contribution to the discussion leading up to the Symposium from Professor Nick Sarra, who is a member of the DMan faculty and a Consultant Psychotherapist in the NHS in the South West of the UK. Nick also teaches at Exeter University.

The booking page for the Symposium/Practicum will open to the public from Weds 14th October.

The potential for conflict in the clinical setting and in the time of the Covid pandemic.

Multiple narratives arise from all clinical situations. We have the narrative of the patient or those receiving care. We may also have narratives from all those involved in the patient’s life such as partners and relatives.Then again there are the narratives of the health care professionals involved and perhaps other agencies such as social workers or the police.

The increasing negotiation of these narratives in online environments adds further complexity.The compulsive tendency to keep on ‘self view’, the ability to see yourself along with others on the screen, amplifies a performative preoccupation which may lead to overly mannered gestures from participants. This sense of there being an environment of many eyes without the intimate communication of the directly experienced gaze leads to a quality of the Panopticon, the all-seeing other whose gaze  can  never directly be ascertained, but which may nonetheless always feel present.This panopticonic quality undermines the fullness of communication through the filmed theatrics, and the experience is impoverished through the absence of live bodies.

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Online Symposium/Practicum November 28th 2020 – Conflict and Organising in the Time of Covid-19.

The Complexity and Management Centre offers a one day Symposium/Practicum on Saturday November 28th to explore the experience of conflict during a time of radical uncertainty. The day is intended as an opportunity to bring practical dilemmas to a community of engaged inquirers, to reflect together and think out loud. In reflecting on conflict at work, we will also take seriously the experience of being together in an online forum.

Why do we think it is important to focus on conflict, and how do we understand it?

A variety of contradictory patterns are emerging in organisational life in the wake of responses to the pandemic. Changes in working practices which may have been considered ideal improvements at some point in the future have happened almost overnight. Everyone has had to be very creative to develop workarounds and innovative ways of being together. The usual negotiations, objections, reflections, adjustments have gone by the board and organisations have shifted rapidly from one way of working to another. This has taken cooperation from managers and staff in exceptional times: a unified response to a shared crisis. Most schools and universities have moved teaching online in record time, staff have dramatically reconfigured services in the health sector, and managers’ ambivalence about remote working have melted away, at least for the foreseeable future. Necessity has been the mother of invention and if my own organisation is anything to go by, many people feel justifiably proud of what they have achieved. Scrutiny of micro-detail, which is one of the hallmarks of managerialism, has not been possible and managers have had no choice but to let staff get on with it.

At the same time removing the opportunity for reflection and deliberation also takes away the possibility of practising every day politics, by which I mean both the public and hidden engagement with difference and the possibility of generating plural points of view. Video conferencing is a flat medium where it is very difficult to discern what’s going on and to develop a felt sense of the other. The accidental and incidental sense-making which takes place after any meeting to decide things has to become more deliberate if it is to happen at all. Since video conferencing can be enervating, meetings can get truncated with the encouragement to become ‘focused’ and ‘business-like’. In doing so it is easy to pare away the human messiness of complex communication. Nuance, doubt, clarification of what is being proposed may all disappear. As a consequence, it has become much harder to organise in resistance, formally or informally, or to lobby to influence the outcome.

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Complexity and Management Online Symposium – Sat November 28th 2020

Following the success of this year’s online Complexity and Management Conference on Leadership and Collaboration, and with the encouragement of the delegates who attended, we have decided to hold a one day Symposium this November 28th 2020. The event will also be online and will mark the half way point towards next year’s conference, which we intend holding face to face as usual at Roffey Park, UK, June 4th-6th 2021.

We already have a speaker for next year’s conference 2021: Lyndsey Stonebridge who is Interdisciplinary Chair and Professor of Humanities and Human Rights at Birmingham University. Professor Stonebridge is an international authority on Hannah Arendt and has a book coming out on her work soon.

We ask you to save the date of the Symposium if you are interested in participating while we work up an agenda for the day. The day may well include:

  • Opportunities for delegates to bring current organisational dilemmas to present in a workshop or simply to discuss in break-outs.
  • Contributors to the forthcoming Complexity and Management series of edited volumes might want to rehearse the key themes of their chapters in workshop to see what resonance they have with others.
  • An experiential group.

If you have any other ideas you would like to discuss, or if you would like to present some research, please get in touch. I will communicate more details about the event in the autumn.