Coming out at the end of November and turning on 7 types of complexity: thoughts about complex selves, complex action, complex knowledge, complex communication, complex authority and complex ethics, all arising from complex models. A plea for management humility along the way.
One of the great promises of an accelerated and globalised world, is that it would increase autonomy, freedom and choice. But that’s not how it has turned out, according to German sociologist Hartmut Rosa . Instead social acceleration has led to greater disorientation and fragmentation and a deficiency of resonance. We find ourselves in frenetic standstill. Nothing remains the same, but nothing essentially changes. The more rapidly changing circumstances oblige us to plan to keep up, the more we realise the plans we do make and our methods of planning are inadequate for the new situations we find ourselves in. Acceleration produces its own disruptions, traffic jams, outages and lacunae.
We are also remade in our relationship with ourselves and with the world. In rapidly changing times greater social advantage is gained by those who have fewer commitments, are more flexible in their sense of self and their convictions. The idea that we might have enduring principals, values if you like, to which we cleave, appears slightly old fashioned. Why would we stand firm for anything in a society which appears to value endless adaptability and flexibility? At the same time we encounter an increase in life events, but a hollowing out of experience, which can lead to depression and ennui, and an attenuation of resonant relationships. This makes it harder to gain determinacy, to recognise ourselves and others in a shifting world.
Are there advantages to be gained, then by waiting, by dwelling with events to transform them into experience? Is this an argument for staying put, for standing firm, for not rushing on to an idealised future, or at least not yet, but to reflect on what’s going on and to take the time to do so.
The online Complexity and Management Symposium is a good place to do this. The working title is: The Complexity of Waiting. It’s an online event for anyone who enjoys reflecting in large groups and small on the experience of being in relation in the early 21st C.
Enjoy the sense of irony that we have been kept waiting by the university for the booking site to go up. But , it may only be a week before you can collapse the excitement of waiting into the purchase of a ticket for the event. In the meantime, if you would like to offer a workshop in the afternoon related to the theme of the Symposium, please contact me on email@example.com .
I hope to see you there.
The complexity of waiting.
Your boss summons you for a meeting: she can be late, but it would be unwise for you to be. Or you pass your boss in the corridor as she is talking to another colleague: she asks you to wait while she finishes what she has to say, but the conversation goes on and on. You are doubly frustrated by having to listen to matters which don’t concern you, and by being delayed on the task you are on. Do you dare interrupt and negotiate a meeting at a later time?
These are trivial examples, but being asked to wait often reflects a power relationship, the membership or otherwise of a group, and an indication of social status. The groups of people who are likely to be made to wait the longest are the poor, the unemployed, asylum-seekers, and the otherwise marginalised, who face endless iterations of delay in their dealings with borders or state bureaucracy. Sometimes whole populations of people are asked to wait years, sometimes for generations for a resolution of their displacement and refugee status, like the Palestinians for example. There are hierarchies within societies and between societies and the length of time spent waiting is an index of powerlessness. We have recently witnessed long queues of people waiting to leave the airport in Kabul, while the majority of Afghans have no chance of leaving.
But if you have a first world passport you are unlikely to wait as long in the immigration queue as you are if you are a national of a country in the Global South. If you are a business traveller you are likely to board first and perhaps be accelerated through immigration on your arrival. Money, status, nationality, relationships with the powerful, can all make a difference to gaining access, to being let in, to avoiding bureaucratic entanglements, to getting justice. British citizens are already experiencing their change in status of choosing to leave the EU as they have their passports stamped and join the queue of ‘other nationals’.
But even the privileged have been unable to avoid the uncertain waiting that has afflicted us all during the pandemic. We have been locked down, endlessly waiting, for a resolution, a way out, for hope for the future. In a neoliberal age which privileges action, agency, the constant remaking of the self, we have all experienced, more or less, what it means to have our ability to plan our lives profoundly curtailed. Moreover, we have come to think of ourselves as infinitely networked, speeded up, able to gratify our desires instantly. In contemporary organisations and in normal times we are constantly speeding towards an idealised future. Instead, during the last period we have got used to living with the kind of radical uncertainty that populations in the majority world have long been used to. We are thrown back upon ourselves knowing that our plans are highly contingent on circumstances beyond our control.
In large groups and small, the Complexity and Management Symposium will consider the complexities of waiting, of dwelling in uncertainty. The day will comprise a mixture of small and large groups in the morning and workshops in the afternoon presented by Symposium delegates. If you have an idea for a workshop you would like to present, then please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will set up a booking site in the next few weeks on the UH website.
Looking forward to seeing you there.
Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19
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, equating to100,000 incidents a year, costing the National Health Service (NHS) around £1 billion (N.A.O. 2000). 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.Continue reading
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 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 9.00– 5 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.
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.
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.
11.00 Discussion groups on the key note.
2.00 Workshops convened and presented by delegates on topics related to the conference theme.
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.
11.00 Discussion groups
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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading
Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2020
If collaboration was that straightforward, wouldn’t we all already be doing it? Collaboration is another one of those motherhood-and-apple-pie words which are hard to argue against – is there anyone not in favour of collaboration? At its most simplistic, the invitation to collaborate can be an idealisation which encourages the belief that if we only put aside our differences and work constructively and positively, then everything will turn to the good – as if that were an easy thing to do. But to what extent does the taken-for-granted idea of collaboration encourage setting aside the very differences and conflicts which promote movement and novelty? Is the naïve discourse on collaboration really rather unhelpful?
The Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2020 will explore in greater depth what it means to collaborate together, with the intention of developing a more complex understanding. For example, from the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating, we do not start out by assuming that collaboration can just be based on harmony and achieving greater ‘alignment’. Rather it is likely to involve the interplay of identity and group membership which may complicate the process of staying in relation with each other, no matter how much we yearn to collaborate.
To help us reflect further we are delighted to have Barbara Simpson, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Dynamics at Strathclyde University, to be our keynote speaker. Barbara started out studying physics and working in geothermal energy, and then proceeded through international consultancy before embarking on an academic career. She specialises in studying processes of creativity, innovation and change in organisations and in particular in pragmatist philosophies in process research.
Before the formal start of the conference in the evening, this year we are offering two, one day workshops on the Friday 5th June. 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 run by Prof Henry Larsen and Prof Karen Norman. This second workshop is more suitable for participants who already have some grounding in complexity and management.
The conference itself comprises a keynote by Prof Simpson on Saturday morning, then workshops in the afternoon offered by conference delegates on aspects of organisational life related to the theme of the conference. On Sunday will we sum up key themes from the weekend and offer opportunities for further reflection.
The conference lasts from 7pm Friday through to lunchtime Sunday, and the price of the conference includes all board and lodging. The booking site will go live in early January 2020. Prices will be maintained at this year’s rates.