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.
Complexity and Collaboration – implications for leadership and practice
Being part of a group engaged in a joint enterprise provokes all kinds of mixed feelings and responses in people: it can be uplifting and satisfying, while at the same time triggering frustrations and petty rivalries. Without other people it’s hard to get work done, while at the same time work would be easy if it weren’t for other people. Collaboration pitches us into the uncertainty of exploring our interdependencies with others. It has also become a buzz-word in contemporary organisational life and has been linked to idealisations of innovation, trust and high-functioning teams. But is collaboration more like happiness – we will know after we have collaborated successfully that we have done so, but the moment we set it up as a goal to be achieved instrumentally it will continue to evade our grasp? When are we collaborating and when are we colluding?
This year’s Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June at Roffey Park near Horsham UK , will take the experience of collaboration seriously and explore the implications for management, leadership and practice more generally. To support us with the task Prof Barbara Simpson has kindly agreed to be our key note speaker on Saturday 6th June. In the afternoon of the Saturday there will be workshops led by conference delegates linked to the conference theme. If you would like to put your name forward to convene such a workshop, please let me know.
On Friday 5th June there are two one day workshops. One is an introduction to the perspective of complex responsive processes, which informs the professional doctorate, the DMan, offered by the University of Hertfordshire. This workshop is suitable for people who would like a basic introduction to the ideas and is convened by Prof Chris Mowles. The second workshop, Improvising in the complexity of collaboration and conflict, introduces 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.
The conference booking page is now open and can be accessed here. Workshops and conference can be booked separately and together. The conference fee comprises all board and lodging.
‘…the most admirable thinkers within the scholarly community you have chosen to join do not split their work from their lives.’
C Wright Mills, Appendix to The Sociological Imagination.
In previous posts we have considered what it means to be critical. To bring one’s critical faculties to work can be unsettling for oneself and for others because it begins to reveal, and perhaps pick away at, power relationships. Perhaps Kant was the first philosopher to observe that to use one’s critical judgement involves subjecting authority to scrutiny and come face to face with the exercise of power. What we take to be given, taken for granted, which is one of the ways that power works in society, may suddenly appear to be less so. And there may be a cost in denaturalising the way things are done around here particularly if the dominant ethos in the organisation is appreciative, or sets great store by ‘alignment’. The cost might be to exclude oneself or to make oneself vulnerable. Continue reading →
This year’s Complexity and Management conference invited delegates to think about groups. In my response to the three previous speakers, Martin Weegmann, Nick Sarra and Karina Solsø Iversen I asked delegates to consider the importance of groups against a backdrop of an increasingly individualised age, where identification with groups, whether they be communities, trades unions, social movements or other vehicles of collective identification seem increasingly difficult to maintain. This is a phenomenon remarked upon by a wide variety of sociologists in different countries, for example by Robert Putnam in the United States in his book Bowling Alone, and to which I drew attention in last year’s conference summing up here. Last year I talked about the way in which we are invited to become ‘entrepreneurial selves’, a trend which Foucault was one of the first to identify as an inevitable consequence of the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism.
Although this is a very powerful way of thinking, this isn’t experienced everywhere the same as I think the two contrasting pictures of train carriages show, no matter how strong a global trend it is.
But the phenomenon which Elias in particular described, where we are invited to think of ourselves as closed off from one another is widespread and amplified by modern technology and social media. Our devices are helpful for communication but may also amplify the tendency towards a sense that we are monads: technology can increase individualising and alienating social tendencies which are already emerging, as Sherry Turkle documents in her book Alone Together. It is in this context that groups and groupwork become so important. Continue reading →
After a series of workshops in Australia a colleague observed to me that the perspective of complex responsive processes is very good at taking apart the dominant discourse on management. It does so systematically and methodically, and although making no claims to be the only school of thought which takes a critical stance towards instrumental management theory, it appears to offer nothing in its place. As my Australian colleague observed, ‘so what do you leave people with. What should they do?’ Continue reading →
For those readers of this blog outside the UK, and who may have a less detailed understanding of what has been happening here, contemporary British politics offers some perfect examples of individual and group behaviour at the extreme. This drama could be of great interest to organizational scholars, particularly in this exaggerated form because it gives the lie to the perspective that we are all rational, calculating individuals capable of calmly working out what is in our best interests and that of others, and that we are always in control. Rather it has been a story of manic action and reaction, no doubt accompanied by very strong feelings, which has mirrored a particularly bloody episode of Game of Thrones.
The whole circus has been amplified because it takes place in the public gaze and is subject to minute by minute commentary by media and social media, and is not subject to the usual smoothing over by public relations techniques which imply that everyone knows what they are doing and has a plan. In many ways the amplification is a classic example of what Anthony Giddens meant by the ‘double hermeneutic’ – observations, interpretations of what is unfolding get taken up by the actors themselves, and so shape as well as describe what is happening, forming and being formed. Continue reading →
What practical difference does it make to take every day organizational experience seriously?
What ways of working may help better illuminate how we co-operate and compete to get things done?
How helpful is it to understand the patterning of human interaction as complex responsive processes of relating?
If you are interested in hearing about some concrete examples where taking a complexity perspective on improving practice and developing strategy has made a difference in organizations in the UK and Denmark, then there are still some remaining places at this year’s conference. This is an opportunity to listen to others, to participate in conversations, as well as to talk about and reflect on your own work situation.
We can also promise a diverse and interesting group of delegates and good food. The conference fee includes all board and lodging, and the conference begins Friday at 7pm and ends on Sunday lunchtime.
Complexity and Management Conference June 10-12th 2016
This is a reminder that there is only one month to go to claim your early bird discount for this year’s conference. You can book your place at the conference here: http://tinyurl.com/hougy85
At the conference we will be commemorating the work of Prof John Douglas Griffin who was one of the founders of the Doctor of Management programme at Hertfordshire Business School, and a key contributor to the body of theories we refer to as complex responsive processes of relating.
The conference will be held in the deliberative tradition which Doug loved. The focus of the conference involves exploring practical problems in organisations in the pragmatic school of thought. That is to say it is concerned with what people are doing when they create and recreate their work together, how they think and talk about their work, how we as participants in the conference might think about this further, and gives examples of how thinking, talking and participating differently sometimes brings about changes in patterns of working.
There is an inaugural drinks reception and dinner on Friday night, 10th June @ 7pm. Then there will be two keynotes on Saturday by our guests Prof Henry Larsen, Mark Renshaw, Dr Pernille Thorup, and faculty member Prof Karen Norman who will draw on their experience of trying to get things done in organizations. There will be lots of time for deliberative exploration after each keynote, and many opportunities for agreeing, disagreeing and exploring further. We will also hold a commemoration for Doug in the early evening. On Sunday we will review some of the key themes of the conference and reflect on them some more.
The conference attracts very diverse participants, practitioners and academics, from a wide variety of countries. The conference fee includes all board and lodging.
Crouch’s thesis is that the financialisation of public institutions reduces the meaning of what they do to a limited number of numerical targets and performance indicators often of a financial kind. This has the effect of also reducing the spectrum of knowledge we need fully to be employees, citizens and customers and constrains expert judgement. It has the effect of trumping all other valuations of particular organizational or social problems with one supposed truth, that of the bottom line or a financial target.
One example he gives of the consequences of financialization from the UK is the monetary incentive offered to GPs to refer more patients with suspected Alzheimer’s disease for further medical tests. The incentive is problematic on a number of fronts: although it is offered on the basis of encouraging behaviour which politicians deem to beneficial to the public as a whole, it nonetheless implies that GPs would not refer patients without such a financial reward. It enacts a theory of motivation at odds with the medical profession’s own values: the overwhelming majority of doctors would not consider it either necessary or desirable to be offered money to refer someone for tests who needs them. Additionally, in Crouch’s terms it has the potential for corrupting expert knowledge as well as creating perverse incentives. Crouch is not implying that professionals need no scrutiny or don’t need managing, but he does argue that financial targets, and numerical targets more generally, are a crude measure of what is really important in specific situations when the work is complex. It is a very crude, mistrustful intervention to bring about a greater focus on potential Alzheimer’s sufferers. Continue reading →