Working in groups : what practical difference does it make to take complexity seriously?

Complexity and Management Conference 2017 – 2nd– 4th June: Roffey Park Management Centre

Human beings are born into groups and spend most of their working lives participating in them. Groups can be creative and improvisational, transforming who we think we are, and they may also be destructive and undermining. They hold the potential for both tendencies.

Many employers emphasise the importance of teamwork, yet employees in organizations are often managed, developed and assessed as though they were autonomous individuals.  And although many organisational mission statements include aspirations to be creative and innovative, it is a rare to attend a  meeting without a particular end in view, where participants feel able to explore the differences and difficulties that arise when they work together.

Meanwhile organizational development (OD) literature tends to idealize, and assumes that the best kind of organizations are those where staff ‘align’ with each other and learn to communicate in ways which bypass power and politics. They are offered step-wise tools and techniques to help them communicate with ‘openness and transparency’, so they can speak the truth and understand each other harmoniously. Conflict and power struggles are then topics that are avoided or ignored. The danger of the individualizing and idealizing tendencies in organisations is that they may leave employees feeling deskilled and unconfident about how to work creatively in groups.

At the 2017 Complexity and Management Conference we will discuss practical ways of working in groups, which assume that human interaction is necessarily imperfect, ambiguous and conflictual, and this contributes to the complex evolution of organizational life.

Keynote speakers this year: Dr Martin Weegmann, Dr Karina Solsø Iversen and Professor Nick Sarra

Martin Weegmann is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Group Analyst, who 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). He is currently working on a new edited book, Psychodynamics of Writing.

Karina Solsø Iversen is graduate of the Doctor of Management programme and an experienced consultant working in Denmark. Karina’s consultancy work is based on the practice of taking experience seriously as a way of working with leadership and organizational development. She has co-authored a Danish introductory book to the theory of 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 Copenhagen Business School.

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.

Further details from Booking begins early 2017.

Can we ever be clear with each other?

Over the past couple of months I have come across Gervase Bushe’s Clear Leadership method being promoted by a number of OD practitioners and institutions, so I thought it would be worth spending a blog post discussing the ideas that he puts forward and to offer a critique from the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating. By inquiring into this set of methods I am interested to know if there is anything genuinely knew in what is on offer.

Clear Leadership – the basics

Clear Leadership is a set of tools, techniques and practices which promise to change the culture in organisations. They help turn organisations away from management methods more suitable for outdated notions of command and control management, which do not promote collaboration, and into flattened organisations where genuine partnership and collaboration are possible. A student interested in learning to exercise clear leadership can do so in a four day course, and the methods  can then be cascaded throughout their organization.

What are the basic premises of Clear Leadership? Firstly, Bushe argues that it is not possible to create organisations where genuine partnership and collaboration can take place without changing the leadership culture. Secondly, changing the culture means clearing away the ‘organizational mush’, by which Bushe means the inevitable miscommunications and misinformation that is generated in any organisation by people making up stories about each other which are not true, and thus creating distrust. They do this because they are frightened to say what they are really thinking about each other, or they do so unskillfully by making judgements and putting others off. He adduces research to claim that four out of five conflicts in organizations are due to people making things up about each other: ‘people need to be able to get conflict out in the open, uncover the real level of alignment or lack thereof, get clear about what everyone really thinks, feels and wants, and clear out the mush.’ [1] Continue reading

Emotions in group life – insights from political turmoil in the UK

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[1], 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’[2] – 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

The entrepreneurial self and the social self: reflections on the 2016 CMC

Here are a series of articles which illustrate the way in which business vocabulary has entered into our way of talking about ourselves and our relationships:

This is from Forbes magazine and suggests you treat yourself as a product and a brand.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.38.12

This is from the Wall St Journal and shows a family who have pinned a mission statement to their fridge and have agreed targets for each other.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.44.19

Continue reading

Last few places remaining – Complexity and Management Conference June 10-12th 2016

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.

The booking page is here.


Taking complexity seriously – what difference does it make in organisations? 

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:

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.

Learning to talk to one another – politics and practical judgement

I went to hear Prof Colin Crouch promote his new book The Knowledge Corrupters: Hidden Consequences of the Financial Takeover of Public Life at the Institute for Government.

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