Teach us to sit still.
An interview with Richard Atherton from the Being Human podcast.
Teach us to sit still.
An interview with Richard Atherton from the Being Human podcast.
What’s irritated me about the whole direction of politics in the last 30 years is that it’s always been towards the collectivist society. People have forgotten about the personal society. And they say: do I count, do I matter? To which the short answer is, yes. And therefore, it isn’t that I set out on economic policies; it’s that I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.
Margaret Thatcher Sunday Times, 3 May 1981
I worked with a group of senior managers in a higher education establishment to help them think about their ways of working while they discussed strategy. A pattern emerged in discussion about current difficulties and in anticipation of future changes that drew on ideas of an education marketplace, and which drew forth economic language. Managers were concerned about ‘buy in’ to plans and strategies, they worried about brand, they were anxious about their students’ customer experience, they wondered how they would act if their institution were a supermarket, a supermarket like John Lewis for example. They were anxious about competitive threats from the Chinese, they wanted to make business cases for change, they were concerned about their products. Education needed to be as flexible as possible so that students could consume whatever, whenever they wanted. They were worried about student satisfaction. These notes of market vocabulary were the clearest melody, although there were also contrapuntal themes opposing them – some argued that being business-like isn’t the same as being a business. Continue reading
My colleague Nick Sarra and I were asked to work with some practicing managers and leaders in what is usually described as a ‘fragile state’ in Africa. The country has been plunged into conflict for decades, and this has had a profound effect on social relations and the ability to get things done. Conflict still breaks out sporadically, making parts of the country off-limits, potentially reactivating the tensions which still exist between groups living elsewhere in the country, especially in the capital. The government struggles to provide basic services, so the country is dominated by international aid agencies, development organisations and the representatives of international governments who each have their own sets of policies, procedures and priorities. This becomes visible the moment one steps off the plane: the airport car park is full of 4x4s, each sporting its own logo, and often there to meet, or disgorge development workers with their wrap-around shades and desert fatigues. Without the agencies this country would not be able to survive, but at the same time it feels a bit like an occupation. Continue reading
Recently I have been involved with a team of researchers in researching so called ‘transformational change’ in a not-for-profit sector. I suspect the research has been commissioned on the understanding that transformational change is something which senior managers choose, and can, to a degree control. We are at the beginning of the research but the process itself has thrown up interesting insights into research methods , but also how the idea of transformation is framed and understood by our commissioners, and by the respondents. This helps us researchers understand the term anew too, but makes it no easier to think and write about. Continue reading
What are the pressures in contemporary life which make it difficult to be in groups?
A couple of weeks ago I worked with a group of senior managers from a British university. They told me about the changes they had noticed in the undergraduate student population over the last decade or so, which point to greater alienation and distress amongst students. Undergraduates seem to have much more difficulty in getting to university on time, in organising themselves, in handing in their work complete and in order. The new student accommodation, which this particular university has recently built, has communal spaces which are largely unused. Mental distress seems much more prevalent, and a higher proportion of students seems to lack the ability to communicate with their peers or with teaching staff. And when students are asked to work in groups they struggle to do so; one lecturer had asked his students to work in teams on a task and found some students trying to evict weaker members of their group so that that they could get better marks. Students were rather nonplussed that they were required to co-operate together.
Is this just a tale of inter-generational misunderstanding, a middle-aged lament about the decline in standards? Or are we witnessing the effects of longer term individualising processes, amplified by technology, which leaves us less skilled in groups and less confident in the art of conversation?
The Complexity and Management Conference 2017 will explore some of these themes in relation to the everyday activity of organising together: we discuss in groups as a way of thinking about being in groups.
There are only ten days to go before the end of the early bird discount, which ceases at 5pm on Friday 28th April . You can find the booking page clicking this link.
The conference begins at 7pm with a drinks reception and dinner on Friday 2nd June, following the one day workshop on complexity and management.
Our first keynote speaker, Dr Martin Weegmann, has written extensively about the potential of groups and group therapy in addressing what he terms ‘modern dilemmas…as new forms of anxiety replace older forms.’ (2014). He will be speaking at 9.00am on Saturday 3rd June. Thereafter we will divide into smaller discussion groups to think about what Martin has said.
After lunch on Saturday, Dr Karina Solsø Iversen will present some of the consultancy dilemmas she faces in her work in collaboration with Professor Nick Sarra. Again, in the later afternoon session we will divide into smaller groups to think and discuss.
The work of the Saturday conference will finish at 5pm and dinner will be at 8pm.
On Sunday morning at 9am Prof Chris Mowles will draw together some of the themes of the preceding day, and participants will once again divide into smaller groups.
The conference ends with a final plenary between 12pm and 1pm on Sunday followed by lunch.
All board and lodging is covered by the conference fee. Any conference delegate wishing to convene a sub-group to present a paper or talk about their work can do so by writing to me and putting forward a suggestion.
Look forward to meeting you there.
Weegmann, M. (2014) The World Within the Group, London: Karnac Books.
Working in groups: what practical difference does it make to take complexity seriously?
One day introductory workshop on complexity and management Friday 2nd June.
2017Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2017.
The booking page is now live and can be found by clicking this link. There is a £50 discount for booking before April 30th 2017.
‘The present historical situation shows clearly that human problems cannot be solved in isolation but only through concerted effort of the whole of humanity. The future of the human species may well be made or marred according to whether or not it is able to grasp this fact and act upon it while there is still time. Anything we can learn as to the relationships of persons towards each other, and of groups towards each other, is therefore, or great therapeutic significance.’ (Foulkes, 1947/2002)
Foulkes encouraged us to think about the importance of groups and ways of relating 80 years ago in the wake of the WWII – I wonder what he would have thought of our current predicaments. With increased social division, the rise of the far Right and demagoguery, we would be naïve to think that recent political upheavals in Europe and America do not also show up in different forms in organisational life.
Foulkes invited us to be more scientific about groups, seeing them as a resource, as a means to liberate ourselves from unhelpful, repetitive behaviour, which may be informed by our primitive responses to each other. He thought it possible that we could learn better to adjust to each other and gain insight into our often stuck and unhelpful behaviour. But by ‘adjustment’ he did not mean that we simply conform mindlessly. Rather, adjustment is made possible from our insight that we are interdependent and through the development of more helpful, negotiated ways of going on together.
The 2017 Complexity and Management Conference takes inspiration from Foulkes, but broadens his thinking by drawing on perspectives from organizational theory, sociology and philosophy. Our intention is to explore the complex responsive processes of relating in groups and to think about their relevance for our everyday experience of organising.
This year we are also offering an additional one day introductory workshop on Friday 2nd June. This workshop is suitable to anyone who would like to attend the conference but has had little exposure to the ideas informing the perspective of complex responsive processes. It is an opportunity to learn some of the basic concepts and to think about them in relation to your experience at work. The workshop is freestanding, and there is no requirement to attend the conference afterwards.
The conference itself runs as usual from 7pm Friday 2nd June till after lunch on Sunday 4th June. The conference fee includes all board and lodging and will have its usual mix of key note speeches, break-out discussions and informal socialising.
Key note speakers this year are:
Dr Martin Weegmann, who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Group Analyst, and has specialised in substance misuse and personality disorders and is a well-known trainer. His latest books are: The World within the Group: Developing Theory for Group Analysis (Karnac, 2014) and Permission to Narrate: Explorations in Group Analysis, Psychoanalysis & Culture (Karnac 2016).
Dr Karina Iversen is a graduate of the Doctor of Management programme and an experienced consultant working in Denmark. She has co-authored a Danish introductory book on complex responsive processes of relating, which has gained a lot of attention in Danish communities interested in complexity. Karina is also an external lecturer at the Copenhagen Business School.
Professor Nick Sarra is a Consultant Psychotherapist working in the NHS and a group analyst specialising in organisational consultancy, debriefing and mediation within the workforce. He works on three post graduate programmes at the School of Psychology, Exeter University and is a Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire.
If there are any queries then please contact Prof Chris Mowles: email@example.com
Chris Mowles is visiting Australia the week beginning 12th December and will be running a two day intense workshop and a breakfast meeting with 10000hours .
The two day workshop is entitled:
LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY – 13/14th December
The workshop is suitable for experienced leaders, managers and consultants from all kinds of organizations. It includes a mixture of seminars, break-out discussions, and real time exploration of examples from participants’ own organizations.
Chris will draw on insights from the complexity sciences developed by Ralph Stacey in the perspective known as complex responsive processes, which informs this blog.
Participants can expect to gain basic insights into the complexity sciences understood in social terms, and to experience the importance of reflection and reflexivity in relation to their particular organizational contexts.
To find out more follow this link: http://10000hours.com/chrismowles/
Breakfast meeting Thursday 15th December
10,000 Hours will host a breakfast meeting for experienced leaders, managers and consultants wishing to hear about the what difference understanding organisational life as complex responsive processes of relating can make to the task of leading of managing.
Evening seminar UTS Thursday 15th December
Chris will give a seminar hosted by UTS to interested academic colleagues about some of the difficulties of sustaining critical management education in the UK. He will talk in particular about the contribution of the Doctor of Management programme at the university of Hertfordshire.
Lunchtime seminar RMIT Melbourne 16th December
Chris will give a similar seminar to interested academic colleagues in Melbourne at lunchtime in RMIT.