What does it mean to ‘design’ complex organizations?

In this post I am curious about a set of approaches which seem to have family resemblances with, and claim to be at least partly based on, insights from the complexity sciences similar to ones taken up and developed on this blog. As with the last post I try to understand the methods in their own terms before offering a critique.

I take together the holacracy method, the sociocracy movement, which appear to be mutually informing to a degree, and Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations[1]. All three offer a partial critique of contemporary management practice and promise a more effective way to structure and run organisations based on principles of ‘self-organisation’. Holacracy in particular claims to offer ‘a complete packaged system for self-management in organizations’, while Reinventing Organizations claims to offer a new worldview. I do not intend to explore the similarities and differences in great detail for fear of losing both myself and the reader, but try to cover some of the main assumptions in each. As with Clear Leadership, there are quite detailed prescriptions as to how to fully realize the perspective. (readers can listen to a recorded telecall here where one of the proponents of sociocracy, James Priest, describes what he sees as the similarities and differences between the different approaches, and includes reflections on Agile and pattern language, which I do not address). Continue reading “What does it mean to ‘design’ complex organizations?”

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 c.mowles@herts.ac.uk. Booking begins early 2017.

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.

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

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.

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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.

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Continue reading “The entrepreneurial self and the social self: reflections on the 2016 CMC”

Complex responsive processes in Denmark

The following post is written by Karina Solsø Iversen, who is a senior consultant at Attractor in Denmark and a student on the Doctor of Management programme at the University of Hertfordshire.

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It is a Friday night at7.30. The sun is shining outside in the beautiful garden of Roffey Park Institute which is the location for the quarterly residentials on the doctorate program (DMan) of the complexity and management research group. I sit in the lounge together with my new colleagues whom I have just met a few hours ago. This is my first residential. One of my new colleagues, Mick asks me: What are you doing as a professional? Happy that someone is interested in getting to know me I reply that I work as a consultant. He asks me what I do then. I tell him that I am a process consultant working with organizational development. He looks at me in a mischievous way and asks me once again the exact same question – what do I do then? Somewhat irritated and a bit insecure about what is going on, feeling like I am taking part in a test, I reply that I facilitate conversations between people coming from different departments, professions or hierarchies in order for them to create solutions together. Mick smiles and asks me once again what I then actually do …

A few months ago, my DMan colleague Pernille Thorup and I published a Danish introductory book on complex responsive processes. In Danish it is called: Leadership in Complexity. An introduction to Ralph Stacey’s theory about organization and leadership. Continue reading “Complex responsive processes in Denmark”

Complexity and Management Conference June 2015 – themes and agenda

At the Complexity and Management Conference this weekend (5th-7th June at Roffey Park) we will be discussing a variety of themes concerning power and politics in organisations. As a small contribution to the discussion I offer the following:

There are two managerial tendencies in contemporary organisations which in my view work against the exploration of difference, and cover over the opportunity for collective reflection.

The first is the increasing prevalence of instrumental reason in the shape of rhetorical appeals to ‘what works’, or what ‘adds value’ or is best for effectiveness and efficiency.  This is not to argue in favour of inefficiency or ineffectiveness, or allowing employees to do whatever they want, but if we start from the premiss that there is no one best strategy, then all options about what employees might do together to improve organisational outcomes will bring with them advantages and disadvantages. It depends when the evaluation is made, and who is judging.

If the future is uncertain then we can never be sure what will work and what will not until we try something together, and even then we may disagree about what we find. So it may be worth exploring the merits of different courses of action and tolerating dissent, disagreement and contestation before we embark upon something.

The second tendency can arise as a direct result of the first, that there is a lack of shared experience of deliberating together, and therefore a greater reluctance to consider it. All kinds of reasons are given for not thinking together: because there isn’t time, because it will open a can of worms, because it will be just a talking shop, because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, because we’re an action-oriented organisation. In effect what then happens is a closing down of opportunity to seek different perspectives which prevents bringing about what Hannah Arendt referred to as ‘enlarged mentality’, the possibility of experiencing human plurality. The ability to consider the perspective of others was of prime importance to Arendt, since it enables us to decentre ourselves and avoid narcissism, as well as preventing tyranny where there is only a hearing for one point of view.

Another aspect of deliberating together in public, particularly when we are face to face, is that the intimacy of being together obliges us more actively to find ways forward. But confronting each other with our differences can be painful, and it isn’t always easy to do.

These are some of the themes we will be struggling with, more or less painfully,  on the weekend, and here is the rough agenda for the discussions.

Look forward to seeing you there if you have registered, and if not we will try and post some reflections on what happened afterwards.