A frequent complaint to be heard in many group situations is the remark ‘it doesn’t feel safe here’.
So common is this utterance that I wanted to give some time to exploring its implications for the dilemmas we face in working with groups of all types.
The remark is most likely to be heard openly voiced in the experiential setting of training and psychotherapy groups . However I suggest that it is a common phenomenon in the politics of all groups, often expressed more covertly as an internal dialogue or within a subgroup, which configures before and after meetings.
The questions raised through this complaint are therefore also relevant to the politics of the workplace as well as to the challenges of experiential group work. The remark concerning safety in the group setting is often spoken with a tone of admonition as if responsibility for feelings of safety lay elsewhere and outside of the participation of the speaker and often, although not exclusively, with some figure of authority such as a course leader, therapist, chairperson or parental imago.
The implication is that if only the ‘feeling of safety’ prevailed that full and uninhibited participation in the group’s activities would ensue. Continue reading →
I wanted to write about some of the themes at the CMC conference this year as an invitation to further discussion, and perhaps as a way of involving others. There were a number of things which happened during the weekend which I think made a strong case for the methods being developed by the Complexity Research Group at the University of Hertfordshire and the importance of paying attention to the experience of every day life.
So I was struck by a quite ordinary intervention by Iver Drabaek in the final plenary of the weekend. This was a session convened to explore what different conference participants were doing in their work and to ask whether insights drawn from the complexity sciences, or from complex responsive processes were proving helpful in what people found themselves trying to do. There had been a number of diverse observations about what was going on in the group: that the discussion didn’t seem to be leading anywhere, or that it wasn’t easy to speak into the big group, as we struggled to make sense of this particular way of meeting together. As Nick Sarra has pointed out, there often is a struggle in big group discussions, and sometimes this struggle is about avoiding the discomfort of recognising each other in this kind of context. Iver pointed out that for him it was different. It wasn’t that he was holding back but that every time he went to speak into the group he found that he had changed his mind about what he wanted to say, depending on what the last person had said. This for me was a very good example of what we are trying to describe on the faculty at Hertfordshire when we are drawing attention to the transformative potential of everyday interaction. Iver was displaying a patient attention to everyday experience, his own experience of the group, which then raised ideas of recognition, mutual recognition, identity and ideology for me. In drawing attention to the way that he was responding, to what was going on for him in the moment and articulating it, he provoked me (without of course realising it) into recognising myself in what he was saying. I would expect that for others it called out an entirely different response, or perhaps no response at all, but in that moment I came to understand my own participation in what was going on, recognising myself in the other, differently. Continue reading →
Complexity and the embodiment of power and identity in organisations
About the conference
The eighth annual Complexity and Management Conference of the University of Hertfordshire’s Business School will take place at Roffey Park starting at 7pm on Friday 3rd June 2011 and ending after lunch on 5th June. This event is a very informal conference where prepared papers and presentations are minimal and serve the purpose of introducing themes for discussion amongst conference participants. In organising this conference we seek to maximise the possibility of discursive conversation. The original purpose of the conference was to provide an opportunity for past, present and possible future participants on our MA/Doctor of Management programme to discuss their experience and ideas with one another, but over the years leaders, managers, consultants and academics who are interested in our work on complexity and emergence in organisations have also attended the event making it very vibrant and diverse.
This year’s theme
Much contemporary organisational literature is highly abstract and is replete with tools and techniques. There is very little acknowledgement that organisations arise from the interactions of thinking, feeling bodies engaged in conflict and co-operation in a particular context at a particular time. Somehow this central aspect of human experience is covered over, or denied. Does this partly arise because of the appeal to scientific method and the idea of management as science, with the assumption of the detached, objective observer? What has contributed to our suspicion of subjective experience and how possible is it to talk of ‘embodiment’ without in turn mystifying what we are talking about, or perhaps instrumentalising the body as a tool of management, in effect reaffirming Cartesian subjectivity rather than challenging it?
In this year’s conference we have decided to address what we consider this neglect of this core aspect of human relating and have invited Dr Ian Burkitt of Bradford University (Social Selves: Theories of Self and the Body, London: Sage, 2008; Bodies of Thought, London: Sage: 1999) to help us initiate our discussions on Saturday morning 4th June. In the afternoon Professor Ralph Stacey will respond to Dr Burkitt’s keynote with some reflections of his own. On Sunday morning Dr Karen Norman and Professor Henry Larsen will talk about a piece of work they have undertaken together using theatre and improvisation with groups of managers.
There will be parallel sessions following the keynotes, where conference participants will be able to explore themes which have struck them as being important in conversation with others. Between now and June we will be uploading posts on this blog to talk to the theme and to provoke discussion in advance of the conference. Anyone wishing to put forward ideas for parallel sessions is welcome to do so.