Author Archives: Chris Mowles

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.

Complexity and Management Conference and workshops 5/6th June 2020

Complexity and Collaboration – implications for leadership and practice

The booking sites for the workshops on Friday 5th June and the Complexity and Management Conference on Saturday 6th June are now open to the public.

The workshop Improvising in the complexity of collaboration and conflict on Friday 5th June 9-5pm will explore the enabling constraints of ‘working live’ whilst remaining socially distant from colleagues. The workshop is likely to be most beneficial to delegates who have previously attended one of our programmes or conference, or are familiar with our way of working. Access to Zoom and a desk based PC plus a phone or a tablet is required.

The workshop  is convened Prof Karen Norman, Prof Henry Larsen and colleagues from the Universities of Southern Denmark and Hertfordshire and is open to 20 participants (with a wait list if oversubscribed).

The booking site is here.

The workshop An Introduction to Complex Responsive Processes on Friday 5th June 9-5pm is on the main principles of the perspective of complex responsive processes, which we offer every year. It is a highly participative introduction to complexity and its organisational implications drawing on delegates’ workplace experience, and is offered by Prof Chris Mowles. Maximum 30.

The booking site is here

This year’s conference entitled Complexity and Collaboration – implications for leadership and practice is on Saturday 6th June 9.005 pm and we are delighted to have Prof Barbara Simpson as our keynote speaker from first thing in the morning. The rest of the day will be highly participative and discussive, involving break out groups to discuss the keynote. In the afternoon workshops will be offered by conference delegates on aspects of their work related to the theme. Members of faculty will sum up some of the key themes of the day in a final plenary which will be as participative as the size of the conference will allow online. Maximum 60 people.

The booking site is here.

Looking forward to seeing you there. Apologies if you have already received this information elsewhere.

 

CMC June 4-7th 2020 to move online

In the light of the Covid-19 crisis we have decided to cancel the 2020 Complexity and Management Conference as a face-to-face event. This is partly due to the fact that on current trends the pandemic will be at its peak in the UK in May/June, and probably across Europe too, and partly because the uncertainty has already begun to affect the numbers of people booking. Every year probably 50% of our delegates come from overseas, and a good proportion of UK delegates and overseas delegates are consultants who are preparing to lose almost all of their business over the coming period. I have had a number of people write to me on the one hand expressing their desire to come to the conference, yet on the other acknowledging that they cannot commit the resources to doing so given how much they are going to have to retrench.

We do intend to hold at least a one-day event online – we think it is important to do something in response to the new times we all face. The conference is, after all, supposed to be about the idea of collaboration, which is something to think about whether we meet face to face or not. And we are a research community interested in making sense of the experience of acting in conditions of uncertainty. For these reasons we need to respond in some way by finding alternative opportunities for making meaning from what we are all going through, the complex responsive processes of acting into this particular set of unpredictable circumstances.

We are investigating how we might host online discussions and other inputs. We are also thinking about whether we can offer the one-day workshops planned for the Friday as online events.

So if you are still interested in participating, please don’t fill up your diaries with anything else, at least for the Friday (if you have signed up for the workshops) and Saturday.

I have written to those of you who have already signed up for the event letting you know that I have triggered a refund from the university.

I will write to you soon with our ideas for hosting an online event, or series of events.

 

Complexity and Management Conference 5th-7th June 2020. Outline agenda.

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference on the theme of Complexity and Collaboration – implications for leadership and practice will be highly participative, and will involve lots of conversation about the everyday experience of trying to collaborate with others.

The outline programme is as follows:

Friday 5th June            9.30-5.00

Workshop on the main principles of the perspective of complex responsive processes: a highly participative introduction to complexity and its organisational implications drawing on delegates workplace experience – Chris Mowles.

OR

Improvising in the complexity of collaboration and conflict, a workshop introducing techniques of improvised theatre through ‘working live’ with professional actors on participants’ stories from their workplace. The workshop is convened by Prod Henry Larsen and Prof Karen Norman.

7.00pm            Reception and conference dinner.

Saturday 6th June

9.00am            Key note speech by Professor Barbara Simpson on the dynamics of collaborative leadership.

10.30               Break

11.00               Discussion groups on the key note.

12.30               Lunch

2.00                 Workshops convened and presented by delegates on topics related to the conference theme.

3.30                 Break

4.00                 Workshops convened and presented by delegates on topics related to the conference theme round II.

5.30                 End of day.

Sunday 7th June

9.00                 Response to key themes emerging from yesterday.

10.30               Break

11.00               Discussion groups

12.00               Plenary

13.00               Lunch then conference ends.

It is possible for delegates to attend the workshops and not the conference, as well as the other way round. For those attending the Friday workshops only, lunch is included but not accommodation. For those attending only the conference, the conference fee includes all bed and board. The conference is held at the Roffey Park Institute.

You can book for the conference here.

Looking forward to seeing you there.