Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2020 – details of the improvisation workshop

Complexity and collaboration – implications for leadership and practice

The contemporary emphasis on collaboration in organisational discourse is counter-cultural. Managerialism depends a lot on metrics which emphasise and scrutinise the individual. It is very rare to find a process of performance appraisal, for example, which takes into account teamwork. Ordinarily staff may be invited to be their ‘best selves’ at work, to make good individual choices, and to align with the values.collaboration

The new interest in collaboration might be understood as a movement towards groups, perhaps a reminder to reconsider what we have always known. It is ironic that all the texts which are currently being written linking the importance of collaboration for innovation, say, are offered breathlessly as though this is both a novel and deep insight into the human condition. We have always, and always will collaborate. But collaboration doesn’t just lead to the good – people also collaborate to resist, subvert, and to block. Nor is collaboration the only thing which is going on in a group when people are trying to get things done together. The moment we make conscious the intention to collaborate, then all kinds of other motives and activities may come to the fore, including competition, rivalry and anxiety.

The 2020 Complexity and Management Conference will explore the idea of collaboration more intensely with the guidance of Professor Barbara Simpson of Strathclyde University as our keynote speaker on the morning of Saturday 6th June.

In the afternoon of the Saturday delegates are invited to put forward ideas for workshops exploring the conference theme.

Before the formal start of the conference in the evening of Friday June 5th, this year we are offering two, one day workshops during the day. The first is an introduction to the key tenets of complex responsive processes, which is suited to participants newly or not yet exposed to the ideas taken up on the Doctor of Management programme. The workshop is offered by Prof Chris Mowles.

The second workshop will be on the use of improvisation and theatre techniques in organisations and is entitled: Improvising in the complexity of collaboration and conflict.

The workshop introduces techniques of improvised theatre through ‘working live’ with our professional actors on participants’ stories about collaboration and conflict in the workplace. We then reflect together about these as our actors play a selection of your (anonymised) work situations live on stage. Informed by theories of complexity, we will reflect further on how improvisational skills may be useful for leaders and consultants in their everyday practice.

This approach draws on our research, which found that theatre techniques can be a useful way to develop our own skills, and those of our staff (or clients), when acting spontaneously in complex situations. The workshop offers techniques that help us to explore different ways of improvising in the face of uncertainty, i.e. when we find ourselves in situations when things don’t turn out as planned and are unsure what to do next.

Our intention is that you will leave with a richer understanding of improvising when faced with uncertainty, collaboration and conflict, some improvisational techniques you may wish to try out at work, and a network of other practitioners interested in working in this way for further collaboration. You will also receive the first edition of our theatre resource pack – which we hasten to add is not in the usual tradition of a facilitator training manual!

Facilitators and Actors

The workshop facilitators and actors draw on  their extensive experience of working with theatre in a range of organisations in the public and private sector.

Henry Larsen is Professor of Participatory Innovation at University of Southern Denmark and a graduate of the Doctoral Programme at the University of Hertfordshire.

Karen Norman is Visiting Professor, Doctorate in Management Programme, University of Hertfordshire,  Visiting Professor, the School of Nursing, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and a Non Executive Director, Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Nicholas Sarra is Visiting Professor, Doctorate in Management Programme, University of Hertfordshire, Member of the Institute of Group Analysis and works as an organisational consultant both internally within the NHS and independently with other large complex organisations

Elena Strøbech Actor is head of “theatre lab” at University of Southern Denmark

Wafa Said Mosleh Postdoc at University of Southern Denmark, engaged in working with theatre methods for organisational change.

A booking page offering the full range of options, day workshops only, workshops and conference, or conference only, will go up on the university website in January 2020.



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