Category Archives: complex responsive processes

What leaders talk about when they talk about transformation.

What exactly is transformational change, and what kind of leadership qualities are required if one finds oneself in charge of a project which claims to be transformational? What might we learn about leadership from studying a sector, the Higher Educations sector in the UK, where there are profound changes going on, introduced by successive governments?

These are some of the questions I and colleagues, Dawn James, Jana Filosof, Kevin Flinn,  Rachelle Andrews, Phil Mason and Nigel Culkin from the University of Hertfordshire were commissioned by AdvanceHE (formerly the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education) to ask of the top teams from 6 UK universities. The report we produced will be published very soon. Continue reading

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Complex responsive processes – 4 pillars of thought, 5 key insights.

Before starting this post, and for those readers interested in attending the next Complexity and Management Conference, next year it will be slightly earlier: 17-19th May 2019.

Introduction

This post is the theoretical introduction to the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating, which I gave in the afternoon of the one-day workshop preceding this year’s Complexity and Management Conference. It informs a whole raft of publications written and edited by Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Patricia Shaw and myself along with all the theses of graduates of the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme at the University of Hertfordshire, who now number 72 (60 doctorates and 12 MAs). The perspective has also been adduced by a wide range of consultants, scholars and graduates of other programmes. I mention this at the beginning of the post because I often get asked ‘what next for complex responsive processes?’, or ‘what or who constitutes the complex responsive processes community?’ I think the question is sometimes aimed at asking who decides what the perspective of complex responsive processes is, to which the answer must be, the original authors, everyone and no one. The glorious thing about ideas is that once published, they belong to everybody, irrespective of whether they are reproduced or developed in ways in which the ‘original’ scholars would recognise. And when other people develop the ideas in their own way, then this just leads to opportunities for further discussion. This is not to suggest that as far as I am concerned ‘anything goes’. The point about having an intellectual position is that you are prepared to argue for it, whilst acknowledging the perspectives of those you argue with.

The perspective of complex responsive processes rests on four pillars of intellectual tradition: it draws on insights from the complexity sciences; it is based in Norbert Elias’ processual sociology; it takes up key ideas from pragmatic philosophy, particularly from Mead and Dewey; and it borrows from the group analytic tradition as set out by SH Foulkes, particularly in terms of the working methods which we adopt on the DMan programme. What all four have in common is that they are concerned with phenomena in a state of flux and change over time, and they are focused more or less on how global patterns arise from micro-interactions, or how micro-interactions embody global patterns. Our particular interpretation reads paradox into the working of complex adaptive systems models (CAS), just as see paradox deployed by Mead, Dewey, Elias, and to a lesser degree, Foulkes. In other words, and in the perspective of complex responsive processes you can see Heraclitan dialectic running through our interpretation of CAS, in the work of the pragmatists and Elias, which draws on Hegel, and perhaps more falteringly in Foulkes. Elias and Foulkes are also informed by the thinking of Freud. There are links, then, between the four pillars of thought which underpin the perspective. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference (CMC) 8th-10th June 2018 – Taking Complexity Seriously.

Here is the link to the public booking page for the June 8-10th Complexity and Management Conference 2018. This year’s theme is: Taking Complexity Seriously: Why Does It Matter?

At the conference we are marking Ralph Stacey’s retirement from the DMan programme and the University of Hertfordshire after an academic career of more than 30 years.

I’m afraid the site is a bit clunky – for example, if you want to book both the conference and the workshop you have to choose the conference first then continue and book the workshop on the next page. All board and lodging is covered in the cost of the conference fee, but there is no accommodation included in the workshop fee.

Both workshop and conference will take place at Roffey Park  Institute. However, Roffey Park only accommodates 60 people and we are expecting over 100 delegates, so those who don’t stay at Roffey will be placed in a hotel nearby. Transport to and from the hotel will be provided free of charge.

The one-day workshop on Friday 8th is an introduction to complex responsive processes as a body of thought: how did it develop, what ideas underpin it and how do we take up the ideas, for example, on the Doctor of Management programme? Participants will have lots of opportunities to link the ideas to their everyday experience at work through discussion. This one-day workshop is probably not suitable for anyone already very familiar with the perspective. The one-day workshop is introduced by Ralph Stacey and Chris Mowles.

The inaugural drinks reception and supper will begin at 7pm on Friday evening and is included in the cost of the conference.

The conference comprises:

The first key note speech on Saturday 9th June in the morning from Ralph Stacey outlining the development of complex responsive processes, followed by Q and A.

Small group work on the ideas arising from the keynote.

Lunch

In the afternoon there are parallel workshops, which will run twice, convened by members of the broader community of practitioners, academics and other interested parties who would like to discuss some aspect of complexity thinking that they have developed. A full list of the workshops will be circulated closer to the conference.

Supper will be at 8pm.

On Sunday 10th June Chris Mowles will try to give an overview of some of the key themes which have arisen during the conference. Thereafter there will be further group work and a concluding plenary.

Lunch is at 1pm on the Sunday, after which the conference closes.

Hope to see you there.

Complexity and Management Conference (CMC) 8th-10th June 2018 – Taking Complexity Seriously.

Here are the outline arrangements for next year’s CMC, which is held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey after more than 30 years at Hertfordshire Business School.

IDL TIFF file

The conference begins as usual on Friday 8th June evening at 7pm and finishes after lunch on Sunday 10th. The conference fee covers all board and lodging, and the theme  this year is:

 

Taking complexity seriously – why does it matter?

A more detailed agenda for the conference will follow, but in outline:

  • Ralph Stacey will give the primary key note on Saturday morning 9th.
  • For the afternoon keynote slot there will be a variety of break-out sessions suggested by conference delegates and informed by the theme of the conference.
  • Chris Mowles will respond to themes which arise during the conference on Sunday morning .

On Friday 8th, there will be a one day introduction to complexity and management for those who have not yet come across the ideas  similar to the one we ran this year.

The one day workshop will be run by Ralph Stacey, and Chris Mowles. You can see a list of their publications on this blog.

The one day workshop on the 8th June will require participants to bring examples of some of the dilemmas they are facing at work. The workshop will start at 9.30am and will cover the following.

Session 1         Some key insights from the complexity sciences for thinking about    managing organizations. Ralph Stacey

Session 2         Participants discuss these ideas in relation to their practical experience at work.                        Plenary.

Session 3         Some key theories from the social sciences: power, process and communication.  Chris Mowles          

                        Q and A.

 Session 4         Experiencing uncertainty live: reflective group to consider the dynamics of this particular group in relation to the theories which have been explored during the day.

A booking site for both events will be uploaded onto the University of Hertfordshire website in early January 2018.

Accommodation for the one day workshop is not included in the fee, but separate arrangements can be made with Roffey Park by those delegates who will need to arrive the night before.

 

 

Working in groups – an overview of themes from the 2017 Complexity and Management conference.

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[1], 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[2].

Screenshot 2017-06-10 15.35.57

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.

Screenshot 2017-06-10 15.33.58

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[3]. It is in this context that groups and groupwork become so important. Continue reading

Complexity and Management conference 8-10th June, 2018 – Roffey Park

This is to give  early notification that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will take place at Roffey Park between 8-10th June 2018.

The conference will be held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey from the university and from the faculty of the Doctor of Management programme.

There will be more details in the autumn to give more details of the conference topic and the other key note speakers in addition to Ralph.

 

Complexity and Management Conference 2nd-4th June – Agenda

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.

Conference Agenda

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.

 

References

Weegmann, M. (2014) The World Within the Group, London: Karnac Books.