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.