Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2017

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:


Complexity and Management Conference 10-12th June 2016 – booking now open

‘What Mead is proposing is a different way of thinking about everyday social interaction, not as observers of experience but rather as participants in experience, the nature of which is self-organising sense-making. He is drawing attention to what we are doing every day in all our actions and arguing that we have developed the habit of ignoring it. How could this be possible? How could we become so blind to something so obvious? Mead’s argument is quite simply that we have developed the habit of regarding the present as something apart from the future and the past. It has become a habit of thought for us to think ourselves as also being apart from our experience as the present movement of time.’ (Griffin, 2002: 179).

The quotation above is taken from Doug Griffin’s book The Emergence of Leadership: Linking Self-Organization and Ethics which was published in 2002, and it points to the focus of this year’s Complexity and Management Conference 2016. As many of you will know, sadly Doug died on 17th December 2015 and we will be celebrating his contribution to the development of the perspective of complex responsive processes and the vibrant life of the Doctor of Management programme at this year’s conference. It was exactly to this area of inquiry, taking everyday complex experience seriously, that Doug was most committed, and the conference is another way of marking and honouring his work.

In this year’s event guest speakers will set out how paying attention to the everyday complexity of experience has made a difference to the work of their particular institution or area of research. The speakers are:

Henry Larsen, Professor of Participatory Innovation at Southern Denmark University, graduate of the DMan programme, ex- member of the Da Capo theatre company. His research interest is in exploring spontaneity and improvisation in the everyday processes of relating.

Professor Karen Norman of Kingston University and doctoral supervisor on the Doctor of Management programme. Karen was formally Chief Nursing Officer in Gibraltar and Director of Nursing for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH).

Mark Renshaw Deputy Chief of Patient Safety at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark facilitated a range of quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and co – led the BSUH falls reduction programme – an initiative that started after a patient died after falling in hospital. This work has reduced the incidence of patient falls by 48%  over five years.

Pernille Thorup – Pernille is on the senior management team of COK (Center for Offentlig Kompetenceudvikling), which is the strategic partner in public sector development for KL (Kommunernes Landsforening), the organization of Danish Municipalities. She has recently undertaken a three year strategy process within the company, drawing on insights from the complexity sciences, which has now involved COK’s clients.

We expect the usual richness and diversity of discussion at the conference.

The conference booking page is now live and can be found at: and as usual there is a discount for early-bird bookings.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics – 7th Edition

New edition published this month: the revised and updated version of Ralph’s textbook including sections on process organisation studies, new organisational  examples and more up-to-date references.

Stacey and Mowles

Can leaders change organisational culture? – alternatives from a complexity perspective. Complexity and Management Conference June 6-8th, Roffey Park. 

Early bird rate ends April 30th 2014.

Orthodox management literature contains many of the same assumptions about organisational culture: that changes in culture can be linked to organisational success and improvement; that culture is a mixture of the tangible (rules, behaviour, rewards) and the intangible (symbols); that culture can exist in an organisation and in sub-units within an organisation; that it can be ‘diagnosed’ and changed, perhaps with an ‘n’ step programme moving from existing to preferred cultures; that it is often precipitated by a leader having an inspiring vision.

For a discussion of alternatives from a complexity perspective come to the Complexity and Management Conference.

The key note speaker is Professor Ralph Stacey, one of the world’s leading scholars on complexity and management.

There will be lots of opportunity for lively discussion throughout the weekend.

Conference fees include all board and accommodation from 7pm Friday 6th to lunchtime Sunday 8th June. Book here.


Now booking! Complexity and Management Conference June 6-8th 2014

Can leaders change organisational culture? – alternatives from a complexity perspectiveImage

What do we mean when we talk about the ‘need to change organisational culture’? This is a way of speaking about culture which is now taken for granted, whether in relation to banking, the UK’s National Health Service or sometimes whole societies. What is organisational culture anyway, and to what extent can even the most powerful leaders and managers (or politicians) change it in ways that they decide? And if we were to conclude that it’s not possible to change culture, at least not in predictable ways, then why has this way of speaking and thinking become so widespread? What else might be going on, and what purpose does the culture-change narrative serve?

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference will follow on from last year’s discussion of leadership and will encourage the exploration of a term which is widely used but poorly understood. Participants will be encouraged to share their own experiences of organisational change, particularly when it is framed in terms of changes in culture. We will explore together the implications of the discourse of culture change for leaders and managers.

The key note speaker this year is Prof Ralph Staceyco-founder of the Doctor of Management programme at UH and a groundbreaking scholar with his work on the complexity sciences and their relevance to leading and managing organisations.

The conference will be informal and highly participative, as in previous years. The conference fee will include all accommodation and food. The conference will be held at Roffey Park Institute in the UK: as usual.

The booking page can be found here. There is a discount for early-bird bookings before May 1st 2014. A more detailed agenda will follow but the conference begins with a drinks reception @7pm on Friday 6th June and ends after lunch Sunday 8th June.

Participants wishing to set up a particular themed discussion in a working group during the conference should contact Chris Mowles:

The Paradox of Consensus and Conflict in Organisational Life

Today’s dominant thought collective[i] of practitioners, consultants and academics concerned with leadership, management and other organisational matters is characterised by thought styles[ii] which, in a completely taken-for-granted way, equate success with positives, sharing, harmony and consensus. Leaders are called upon to communicate inspiring, compelling visions of desirable futures shorn of all problematic features. Followers are to be converted to sharing the vision and committing to the mission so that everyone ‘is on the same page’, ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’, ‘climbing on board’, ‘on the message’ and ‘a team player’. This whole raft of idealisations is taken even further when it is accompanied by a relentless emphasis on the positive aspects of all situations. There seems to be a scarcely-concealed dread of ‘negatives’, such as conflict, and a half-expressed conviction that success can only be achieved when all share the same view, with breakdown as the consequence  of not doing this. If conflict is noticed it is immediately followed by calls for the practice of ‘conflict resolution’ or approaches which rapidly move people from anything negative to a focus on the ‘positives’. A popular example of the prescription for positive consensus is provided by Appreciative Inquiry. Proponents[iii] of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) point to how the dominant approach to leading, managing and changing organisations focuses attention on problems, deficits and dysfunctions. They argue that this approach is demoralising and ineffective in bringing about change and call, instead, for a focus on opportunities and what is working because focusing in this appreciative, positive way raises  morale and promotes generative inquiry. It is claimed that AI generates spontaneous, transformational action on the part of individuals, groups and organisations which leads to a better future. Critics[iv] of AI problematise the focus on positiveness, arguing that positive and negative feelings are intimately connected and conclude that AI is a method whose proponents show little self-reflection or evaluative critique of what they are proposing. In response, Gervase Bushe of the Segal Graduate School of Business has published a paper titles ‘Appreciative Inquiry Is Not (Just) About the Positive’.[v]  Bushe agrees that AI can become a form of repression when it suppresses dissent and focuses on the positive as a defence against the anxiety of dealing with reality. However, he then immediately goes on to say that when AI is used in appropriate ways, which he does not identify, then people do not wallow in mutual pain but tell each other uplifting stories instead, which sooth tensions and release energy. Instead of focusing on conflict, bridges are built between conflicting groups.  In his view, people who want to talk about what they do not like should not be stopped from doing so but they should not be asked to elaborate on these matters. They should be encouraged, instead, to talk about what is missing, what they want more of and what their image of their organisation ought to be. He talks about small group meetings where everyone reads the same story together. Much the same points can be made another positiveness movement called Positive Deviance which is basically an idealised form to ‘benchmarking’ and a sanitisation of ‘deviance’.

This unrelenting emphasis on the positive, on harmony and consensus functions to cover over conflict, difference and real-life attitudes towards deviants because to bring these matters out into the open is to reveal patterns of power relations,  the dynamics of identity-forming inclusion and exclusion and the ideologies sustaining current power figurations. As a consequence, public discussions of organisational life take the form of a kind of rational, positive fantasy that focuses our attention on only a small part of what we ordinarily experience in our daily organisational lives. People continue, as they always have done, to disagree and subvert what they disagree: organisational life is characterised by ongoing conflict in which, at the same time, people normally manage to achieve sufficient degrees of consensus, tolerance and cooperation to get things done together. In order to understand what we are ordinarily engaged in during the course of our daily organisational lives we need to avoid thinking in terms of a duality of consensus and conflict, where we can decide to move from the one to the other, and think instead in terms of the paradox of consensus and conflict: we engage in, we are heavily invested in, organisational games displaying the paradoxical dynamics of consensual conflict or conflictual consensus. Continue reading

On Being Managed. Ethics as conflictual process.

In going about my work doing organisational consultancy for the healthcare community,I have recently been struck by increasing references to managing as some kind of self evident right as if the term itself was incontestable and represented a quasi divine ordering of things reminiscent of the feudal .

Last week I was asked by managers to engage with three separate 
situations in which this right was apparent at the outset of the conversation.

In the first I was told,

‘nobody in this day and age can say that they don’t need to be managed’.

In the second and third situations I was offered the explanation that team difficulties were caused by,

‘not being used to being managed’

and that

‘they have got away with doing their own thing for far too long’.

Continue reading