Home-working during Coronavirus – using the corners of our home for work, rest and play

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Back in 2017 Dr Harriet Shortt, Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at UWE Bristol Business School, wrote a piece for Work Wise UK about how the commute – be it on a train, a bus or in a car – offers an important space for reflection and escape. She talked about how the commute can be a space ‘in-between’ in which we can momentarily break away from the multitude of identities we seek to maintain in contemporary society, and temporarily find a sense of sanctuary in a working world characterized by change and fluidity. The commute, therefore, offers a ‘liminal space’ in which to momentarily dwell – a liminal space being one that is on the ‘border’, a transitory space somewhere ‘in-between’ where we can suspend social expectations – and just press pause. She also reflected on the liminal spaces of the workplace – like corridors, stairwells, corridors and toilets. Places in which, as her research shows, are usually used to escape the visibility of the office or shared workspace and become important territories for private conversations, quiet reflection, and inspiration and creativity (Shortt, 2015).

In her guest blog post with Work Wise UK last week, she talks about the loss of these spaces and how we can find them again in our current conditions working from home, which for many of us also includes juggling home-schooling with work.

Since the Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown, for many workers these spaces have vanished. We aren’t commuting, which is great for the environment and for a whole host of other reasons, but I wonder if there are some of you who are missing the space the commute created between work and home – that liminal space for reflection, decompression or planning. And, of course, many of us are not in the office, so those corridor conversations, those watercooler moments, those snatched minutes in a toilet catching up with a colleague are gone. All these informal micro-interactions at work that are so vital in the everyday life of workers have, for the time being, disappeared.

Instead, many of us are working from home. We have set up workspaces almost overnight and our homes have become workplaces and meeting rooms, classrooms and gyms, places of worship and places to rest. These changes in our domestic environment have taken some adjusting. We have had to negotiate with partners and children about how our home spaces are used, for what purpose and when, we’ve had to compromise our sense of privacy and open up our homes as personal backdrops on Zoom calls, and as the earlier blog from Stefanie Reissner and Michal Izak shows, we have had to think carefully about how we establish, manage, and re-adjust our work/ home boundaries.

All this transposing of work life into the home and sudden, rather dramatic mass shift to working from home has made me think more about the organisation of space at home, and in particular, the liminal spaces of the home. In all my research projects in both public and private sector organisations over the past 15 years, the significance of liminal space has always emerged – whether it be the cupboards in which hairdressers find respite from the visible work they do, the toilets where open-plan office workers go to have private conversations or the stairwells that nurses use to catch up with each other away from the wards. But what are the liminal spaces in our homes, how are they being used in the current crisis, and do they have any value? As a researcher of organisational life, I’ve seen and heard various stories over the past 8 weeks from UK workers adjusting to working at home, and I’ve had my own experiences as a mother and knowledge worker juggling full time work and home schooling a 5-year-old, and the corners of our homes do seem to be significant in a number of ways…

Firstly – liminal spaces for new working practices. I have spent a number of years researching the work of hairdressers working in hair salons and over the past 8 weeks or so I have been struck by how innovative some in this industry have been at adapting to working life at home, using social media (mainly Instagram) to do so. What has been notable are the uses of liminal spaces in their homes, that are now appropriated as new workspaces. For example, one celebrity hair stylist in London is seen in a walk-in wardrobe demonstrating an easy up-do (wife as model). Another hair stylist in Wales is pictured in a hallway by the mirror demonstrating how to cut a little boy’s hair (son as model). And another stylist in London is filmed in a toilet demonstrating a guide to toning your hair at home (self as model). These new workspaces are allowing them to still work, still connect with clients, but perhaps help them avoid exposing parts of their homes to others and somehow this protects their privacy. As we’ve seen in recent weeks, the new Twitter account ‘Room Rater @ratemyskyperoom’ has been set up to comment on and rate the backdrops and private homes of the rich and famous as they Skype and Zoom in the media. As such, the privacy of our homes has been comprised by new working from home practices and so we might reflect on how the liminal spaces in our homes might offer an alternative to putting our more dominant spaces – kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms – on display for all to see.

Secondly – liminal spaces for privacy and rest. The privacy issue is one that we have not really talked about during this crisis. The big focus, naturally, during isolation has been countering the feelings of being alone or separated, and as Reissner and Izak advised in their blog earlier this week, we need to stay connected. But just as I would argue that overly open, collaborative workspaces sometimes forget the need for private, quiet space in their designs, for those of us as home in lockdown with partners or families, we might think about how important it is to find just a few moments alone for rest, reflection and respite. One Bristol-based entrepreneur I am working with on research project text me a photograph of her on the roof of her house and said:

This is the only place I can get some rest…some peace and quiet. This is where I can just breath for a minute. It’s a beautiful view and a lovely skyline, all the trees and rooftops. I love being up here, I might do this more often’

Another young mother in Bath, who works in the public sector and is working from home with 2 small children said:

‘I find myself just sitting on the stairs to get five minutes peace. If I’m in the kitchen, the kids want snacks. If I’m in the living room I’m working. I just sit on the steps for a few minutes and get a bit of down time’

So, it could be suggested that liminal spaces are helping us, just as they do in the office, to find private quiet moments of respite from family, technology and being on show. The corners of our homes, or, as above, the rooftops and stairs, are being used in the practice of self-care and wellbeing during Covid-19.

And finally – liminal spaces for play. I have seen how liminal spaces are being appropriated for play during our home-based lockdown. My 5-year-old daughter has been at home with my husband and I, like many other children, for the past 8 weeks, and the den-making has been rife! My daughter has made a den on the stairs, under the stairs, under the table in the dining room, in the hallway, on the landing, on the kitchen step. Dens have been built in every nook of our house over the past few weeks and having spoken to a few ‘working-from-home-mum-friends’, it seems I’m not alone in noticing this. One working mother in Oxford told me:

‘Yes, I’ve noticed my kids have been making dens all the time during lockdown! Behind the sofa, under a tree in the garden, all over the place – but never in the actual playroom that’s specifically designed for them and all their stuff!’

This has made me reflect on children’s needs for privacy and ownership over space. They compromise all the time in relation to space, with their bedrooms perhaps being the only haven they might have in a home, and even then for the most part parents place restrictions on these places – no food, no drink, tidy up, make your bed. It is no wonder that children, whilst in lockdown with their parents who are desperately seeking their own spaces and managing boundaries for work/home-life, are claiming snippets of space. This is perhaps a child’s response to seeking solace, rest and privacy, much like the entrepreneur on the roof or the working mother on the stairs discussed above. And of course, this only serves to highlight how liminal spaces, used for privacy and individual territory, are important to everyone, not just grown-ups in the workplace.  

So, working at home during Covid-19 has shed some light on the liminal spaces of our homes and how they are emerging as unexpectedly useful. As a response to the lockdown, we have seen how the territories on the margins of the dominant spaces in our homes (those we have defined uses for, like living rooms or kitchens), are now in regular use in new ways. Spaces like cupboards, hallways and stairways have always been there, in our peripheral vison, used mainly for transitioning through the home, but they now come into full view and full use – for work, for rest and for play. In our post Covid-19 world we might reflect on the potential for these spaces; how might they be used differently? What value do they have and for whom? And how might they feature when we’re working at home?

These are all reflections and food for thought on home-working during the Coronavirus crisis. I invite you to reflect on how you are using the corners of your home; what have you noticed about where you are working? Have the stairs and landings featured in your working day and if so, how? And what value do they have? As Bachelard (1958/1994, p.136) reflected, corners are symbols ‘of solitude for the imagination’ – what spaces in your home offer moments for imagination when you are home-working?

Dr Jenna Pandeli shortlisted for SAGE Prize for Innovation & Excellence 2020

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We are delighted to announce that Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, Dr Jenna Pandeli, along with co-authors Michael Marinetto and Jean Jenkins, has been nominated for the SAGE Prize for Innovation and Excellence 2020 for their paper ‘Captives in Cycles of Invisibility? Prisoners’ Work for the Private Sector’.

The SAGE Prize for Innovation and Excellence is awarded annually to one paper in each of the BSA’s prestigious journals: Cultural Sociology, Sociological Research Online, Sociology and Work, Employment and Society. The prize will be awarded to the paper published in the previous year’s volume judged to represent innovation or excellence in the field.

Dr Pandeli’s article critiques a case of modern prison-labour by exploring prisoners’ attitudes towards the prison-work they undertake while incarcerated. The study is based at a privatised male prison in the UK, assigned the pseudonym ‘Bridgeville’. Bridgeville contracts with private-sector firms in providing market-focused prison-work – so-called real work – for inmates in some of its workshops. In exploring prisoners’ perceptions of this privatised prison-work, it is found that it mainly comprises mundane, low-skilled activities typical of informalised, poor-quality jobs that are socially, legally and economically devalued and categorised as forms of ‘invisible work’. At Bridgeville, such privatised prison-work largely fails in engaging or upskilling inmates, leaving them pessimistic about its value as preparation for employment post-release. Its rehabilitative credentials are therefore questioned. The article contributes to the debate around invisible work more generally by problematising this example of excluded work and the cycle of disadvantage that underpins it.

Read the full paper here

The completion of ‘Captives in Cycles of Invisibility? Prisoners’ Work for the Private Sector’ followed a recent blog post for the American Sociological Association. The blog piece is a condensed article of Dr Pandeli’s paper published in Work Employment and Society. The research discussed in this blog post is based on a study conducted in the UK and is particularly pertinent in helping to understand the reasoning behind one of the largest prison strikes in US history last summer, where prisoners undertook nineteen days of peaceful protest. At the heart of this protest was a demonstration against imposed prison labour and the disturbingly low wages that accompany such work.

This approach to prison work, an approach where profit is becoming more prevalent and private organisations are becoming more and more involved in the prison system, is not isolated to the US. It is no surprise then, that as part of the UK Government’s ‘rehabilitative revolution’, a focus on work inside prison has been embraced. However, the rehabilitative potential of prison labour is dependent on its design. Given that it is situated within an institution that is in a constant state of conflict between punishment, rehabilitation and increasingly profit, its status is contested. The research explores how prisoners experience their prison labour, specifically, that done for private firms inside the prison system.

Read full blog post here

Continuing on this topic, you can also listen to Dr Pandeli in part of a panel discussion on the BBC World Service podcast ‘In The Balance’.

Alongside Nila Bala and Chandra Bozelko, both prison reform advocates from the US, they discuss global prison labour and its exploitative potential as well as offering potential solutions to develop prison labour into something that is rehabilitative and better for society. 

You can listen again to the podcast here

Leadership, Complexity and Change: Learning from the Covid-19 pandemic

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Guest blog: Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management and Director of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre

What a difference a few days make… Perhaps it’s the sunny Spring days after a long, wet winter; the dog walks spent chatting with teenagers who would normally be off at school; the unexpected free space in my diary with no expectation that I should be in the office; or because so much of what we take for granted has changed so suddenly.

At the time of writing we are in the fourth day of the lockdown called by the UK government to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus. It’s been a tense few weeks as the wave of infections grew ever closer – no longer focussed within a far and distant sounding part of China but causing havoc across Italy, France, Spain, the UK and now it seems, pretty much every part of the world. A quarter of the global population – a staggering 2 billion people – are currently in some form of lockdown, confined to their homes in order to slow the spread of the virus and, in so doing, allow time for governments and health services to prepare for the spike in patient numbers and the inevitable rising death toll.

Almost overnight UWE, Bristol – like universities, schools and colleges around the world – closed its doors and shifted from face-to-face to online delivery. Staff and students have responded with huge adaptability – revising delivery and assessment processes that would have taken months, if not years, through traditional channels. The speed and the scale of changes for organisations in every sector and location are unprecedented. Manufacturers have switched their operations to enable the production of essential items such as ventilators, face masks, hand sanitiser and paracetamol that are now in such high and urgent demand. Governments have drawn up detailed plans to support individuals and organisations at risk of redundancy/bankruptcy – casting aside the usual economic concerns to focus on social priorities such as protecting the vulnerable, supporting those in financial difficulty and strengthening core public services (particularly health and social care). And communities have rallied together in ways not seen since WWII – providing support and reassurance for the elderly and isolated, sacrificing personal liberties for collective benefit and finding new ways to connect, communicate and collaborate.

In the words of the Chinese curse we are indeed living in interesting times (1) – both fraught with risk and opportunity. The turbulence of the last few years has revealed deep divisions within society, as illustrated particularly clearly in the Brexit vote within the UK and Trump presidency in the US. The rise of populism has been associated with scepticism and distrust of experts and evidence, with social media providing the perfect echo chamber for amplifying the polarity of perspectives and questioning the nature of ‘truth’. Differing ideologies and beliefs have been positioned in opposition to one another – them and us, winners and losers, do or die – rather than as an inevitable and desirable characteristic of a diverse and inclusive society, which enables creativity, adaptability and resilience in times of complexity, uncertainty and change.

One of the remarkable consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic has been how quickly it has reset the dial on many of these issues – fostering calls for compassion, solidarity and collective action. At times like this it is our similarities rather than our differences that define us. This is as true for those in positions of power and privilege as those who are marginalised and/or find themselves living in precarity.  We are all susceptible to the virus, all have people we care about who are likely to become very ill or perhaps even die should they catch it, and will all be affected by the economic and social impacts of the outbreak – not just for the months that it lasts but for years to come. The capacity of individuals, families, organisations, communities and nations to weather the storm is not equal, however, with those with least access to financial, emotional and other resources most likely to bear the brunt of the suffering.

An unexpected outcome of Covid-19 is the impact on the environment. The reduction in pollution levels around the world during just the relatively short time in which travel, manufacturing and other environmentally damaging activities have been reduced demonstrates both how directly human activity impacts on the environment and the remarkable ability of the environment, and the animals and plants within it, to recover if given the opportunity. For those who have been calling for a step-change for policy, practice and behaviour towards a more sustainable way of life there is no more compelling evidence of the extent to which this is possible and the environmental benefits it would produce.

For those of us interested in leadership research, education and practice there are many important lessons to take from the current situation. I’m sure everyone will have their own take on events but as a starter for ten here are a few of my own takeaways so far.

  • Shared purpose – after winning a significant majority in the general election of December 2019 Boris Johnson and his government focussed on building a sense of urgency and commitment to ‘getting Brexit done’ that largely entrenched rather than unified opinions around this issue. With Covid-19 the focus has completely shifted to a shared purpose that unites rather than divides individuals and communities. It took a little while to get to this point but, for now at least, the nation is far more unified around a common purpose than it has been for many years.
  • Collective leadership – whilst there is a tendency to equate ‘leadership’ with the traits and behaviours of individual ‘leaders’ the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates the need for individuals and groups to work concurrently and collaboratively in order to achieve leadership outcomes. In daily news briefings, Prime Minister Johnson and members of the cabinet have stood alongside the Chief Medical Officer and other experts to provide clarity and direction to an uncertain population. Whilst this is perhaps the most visible ‘leadership’ at national level it is abundantly clear that it is dependent on significant acts of leadership elsewhere as well as the active ‘followership’ of those responding to calls for care and consideration.
  • Systems change – the Coronavirus pandemic is an inherently complex problem that requires expertise and effort from multiple domains to make sense of the issues and to mobilise timely and effective responses. The concept of ‘systems leadership’, increasingly advocated within public services, highlights the need to influence and leverage engagement across organisational, professional and other boundaries. Frequently this means needing to lead without formal authority – to work with principles of complexity and systems thinking to initiate new patterns of behaviour that spread from one context to another. It also involves dismantling and rebuilding systems, structures and processes – both physical and psychological – that constrain rather than enable transformation and change.
  • Sensemaking – in times of ambiguity and uncertainty leadership has a key role to play in helping people to make sense of the situation(s) in which they find themselves. The people who will be recognised as ‘leaders’ are those who are able to frame the context in a way that acknowledges the nature and severity of the issue(s), addresses the concerns of their constituents and which provides a degree of clarity about the actions/responses that are required. Within the US Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York, has emerged as key national figure in mobilising the response to Coronavirus – providing far greater clarity and direction than Trump and now being mooted as the democratic candidate for the next US election despite not even standing as a nominee.
  • Place based leadership – whilst many national figures have struggled to grapple with the scale and implications of the issues posed by Covid-19 local leaders have often responded far quicker and been more effective at mobilising public, private, voluntary and community groups and organisations to collaborate and respond. Place-based leadership is responsive to the context that surrounds it – drawing together multiple perspectives and expertise to address issues of concern to citizens within a particular locale – and will be essential not only in dealing with the immediate effects of Covid-19 but in the long period of rebuilding and recovery that will follow the pandemic.

These are just a few initial reflections and there is far more that could be said. Looking forward I have no doubt that the Spring of 2020 will be seen as a defining moment in our understanding of and engagement with leadership, complexity and change. I only hope that we learn the lessons and make use of them to create a stronger, healthier, kinder, safer world rather than defaulting back to the divisive and destructive policies, practices and behaviours that preceded the current crisis (2).

Richard Bolden

Bristol Leadership and Change Centre

27 March 2020

Notes

(1) Whilst often presented as the English translation of a traditional Chinese curse the phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ has rather more recent origins – see https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/may-you-live-in-interesting-times.html

(2) Please do share your own reflections and insights by means of the comments box at the end of the post in order to continue the discussion. Further reading and resources linked to the themes raised in this article are given below.

Further reading

Bolden, R. and O’Regan, N. (2016) Digital Disruption and the Future of Leadership: An Interview With Rick Haythornthwaite, Chairman of Centrica and MasterCard, Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(4), 438-446.

Bolden, R. and O’Regan, N. (2018) Leadership and Creativity in Public Services: An Interview With Lord Michael Bichard, Chair of the National Audit Office, Journal of Management Inquiry, 27(1), 45-51.

Bolden, R. and Witzel, M. (2017) Dis-united Kingdom? Leadership at a crossroads. In S. Western and E.J. Garcia (Eds) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis. London: Sage.

Bolden, R. et al. (2011) Exploring Leadership: Individual, organisational and societal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bolden, R. et al. (2017) Leadership Paradoxes: Rethinking leadership for an uncertain world. London: Routledge.

Bolden, R. et al. (2019) Developing systems leadership in public health: A scoping report. UWE, Bristol on behalf of Public Health England.

Bolden, R. et al. (2020) Mobilizing Change in Public Services: Insights from a Systems Leadership Development Intervention, International Journal of Public Administration, 43(1), 26-36.

Bolden. R. et al., (2019) Inclusion: The DNA of leadership and change. UWE, Bristol on behalf of the NHS Leadership Academy.

18th International Studying Leadership Conference

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From 13-15 December 2019 Bristol Leadership and Change Centre hosted the 18th International Studying Leadership Conference, which was attended by around 140 delegates from 13 different countries.

The conference featured three keynote addresses (Prof Peter Case from UWE, Prof Sonia Ospina from the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and Prof Elena Antonacopoulou from the University of Liverpool), a panel discussion at City Hall (chaired by Prof Robin Hambleton with contributions from Mayor Marvin Rees, Kalpna Woolf and Andy Street), five parallel streams (including almost 90 separate papers) and a gala dinner at the Marriott Royal Hotel on College Green.

Participants have been invited to submit their papers for a special issue of the journal Leadership on the conference theme of ‘Putting leadership in its place’, which will be edited by Neil Sutherland, Gareth Edwards, Doris Schedlitzki and Richard Bolden.

Managing Around the World: RoundTables for Experienced Managers

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“A tale of two cities” – that’s how a colleague described Bristol when I asked for an introduction.  There’s something ominous about the image of parallel universes inhabiting the same space. In the Charles Dickens novel, the two cities are Paris and London in the late 1700s as social order breaks down under the burden of inequality and industrial transformation. The political and industrial revolutions were tipping points from which unforeseen transformations followed around the world. We may be at a similar point now, and in April 2020 we will host a one-week ‘Round-Tables for Experienced Managers’ to examine what’s happening at the front line, in the experience of people who are leading, managing and organising businesses, public services, social enterprises and cross-sector initiatives.

Participants come from all over the world, with contributions from world-leading experts including Professor Henry Mintzberg and Professor Jonathan Gosling. In 2020 the RoundTables will be hosted for the first time in Bristol, in partnership with UWE’s Bristol Leadership and Change Centre. As well as those lucky enough to take part in the whole process there are opportunities for local organisations to host short investigative visits, when they will be subject to curious but friendly scrutiny – always a source of intriguing insight and provocative questions.

Titled ‘Managing Around the World’, the programme concentrates on the challenges that each person is facing. In structured, progressive peer-to-peer exercises we analyse and re-frame those challenges, bringing fresh insights and broader perspectives. We visit local organisations (in multi-national teams) and delve into the dynamics of ‘two cities’ Bristol.

The outcomes are likely to be personal and practical for most people because of the focus on each organisational predicament. Most of the activities are readily adapted to use in organisational and community settings. Equally exciting is the opportunity to pool all this experience of leading, managing and organising towards fresh insights of what’s happening on the ground, around the world and in Bristol: are we really at a tipping point? Where are tangible and significant responses to the climate emergency, artificial intelligence, post-colonialism? What are the most hopeful of these, and what more could each of us do?

The RoundTables programme has previously inspired significant projects, such as Professor Peter Case’s work with front-line health services in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Eswatini. Eliminating malaria is a real possibility after years of successful control; but success depends on active intervention on a case-by-case basis. This in turn relies on local knowledge, resourcefulness and cooperation across health and community activists, and on the ability to invent customised responses in unpredictable and complex environments. Because ‘Managing around the world’ combines systemic perspectives with focused attention to each actual challenge, and does so with the front-line people involved, it has been a means for organisational re-invention – in humble, particular, humane ways, and demonstrably effective. In fact the model developed in Zimbabwe has now been adapted again to support the integrated care process in several parts of the NHS.

But back to Bristol – can this one-week programme be an effective catalyst for the ‘two cities’, and for the way we organise, lead and manage? A catalyst is a temporary architecture that enables new realities to emerge. That’s our aim for ‘Managing Around the World’, which will take place at the MShed on Bristol’s historic harbourside from 26th April to 1st May 2020.

As the local host, we pleased to invite current and former students of UWE, Bristol and members of our networks to join the programme at a discounted rate, or to accommodate visits from the programme participants. The programme will be co-directed by Anita Gulati, a long-term associate of UWE and lead for the Bristol Leadership Challenge programme delivered across the city in 2017-18.

To find out more about the RoundTables and register your interest please contact Lucy Wilson at UWE and visit the programme website here.

A practice perspective: Facilitating a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshop

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Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Enterprise, Pam Seanor recently hosted a workshop for NMI, a payment solution company, in Lego ® Serious Play®. Read her account below:

Written by Pam Seanor

Between practice and theorising

Serious-playing with Jayne Purcell, Service designer, we facilitated a day workshop with NMI – “You’ve probably used NMI’s software when booking a train ticket, paying for parking, ordering a burger or most recently making a contactless charity donation, without realising it! NMI develops the most trusted payment software for mobile, online, and in-store payments that is relied on and used by millions of people worldwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” ( https://bristolcalling.com/company/nmi/ ).

As such, the organisation has explicit creative processes and outputs that come together worked on by differing teams. Further, NMI have recently been engaged in a merger and are now part of global organisation with offices in Chicago, IL, New York, NY and Salt Lake City, UT. The Bristol office wanted to try out LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® with the intention to come together over their working within a changing work culture, how they work and how they are going forward as the organisation grows.

We created a space to exchange ideas and develop awareness of differing perspectives and complex themes that encompass social aspects of group practices and activities aiming to reach out to the members of the organisation (Nicolini & Monteiro 2017). Based this encounter, we address the following applying a practice-based approach to entrepreneurship (Nicolini 2012) in part using Lego bricks to play seriously and in part to reveal collective critical reflection.

LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a process underpinned by theorizing and there is increased interest of how academics are using it and more widely serious play with a purpose (Statler et al. 2011). For instance, Gauntlett (2015) stated “it is a playful method of differing applications to help gain insights in to personal and collective understanding of a problem as well as imagine possible futures”. The process has common ground rules/ etiquette: posing the question – the purpose of the workshop; constructing models; sharing and listening to others; reflecting (White paper on LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® 2013). Both Jayne and I are trained LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitators. Where Jayne has been a Certified facilitator for a decade, I became an LSP facilitator in January. We have been collaborating to devise skills workshops and structured tasks and prompts for learning ePortfolios in my enterprise & entrepreneurship modules with undergraduates – so I had been practicing playing with Lego with large numbers of students. Even so, it was a little daunting taking a low-tech tool like Lego to a creative/high tech organization, including members of the Chicago office who travelled over.

And, as a critical researcher I want to speak to how challenge is a central part an LSP workshop. Statler et al. (2011) noted the paradox of serious play as a process of working through paradoxes rather than removing all tensions and contradictions that arise in everyday work practices. On the one hand, I am really interested in working with organization to create “other” spaces for play (Hjorth 2004), on the other hand I am hesitant to promote play as an outcome similar to how organizations like Google seem to be using it managerially to keep people at work to be more productive (Ashton & Giddings 2018). However, as a facilitator, my role is not to intervene, nor to promise participants specific organizational outcomes from the workshop.

It was not possible for all members of NMI to take part; the workshop was 5 groups of 10 participants at each table. These groups were arranged by a member of the NMI team as they often work together on projects in the organisation.

The workshop offered an opportunity to engage in play activities that they would not normally do in work and differing types of social encounters (e.g. to the worst holiday model build we had one participant share a poem of this family holiday – An ode to a dead cat).

We had initially intended to move members of teams around during the day; however, we felt some flexibility was needed and discussed this with the organiser and chose to keep within teams to better draw people out. After the morning practising how to play the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® way, the afternoon was focused on play and “the spirit in which we do what we do, the feel of the team”.

Taking care not to include any people in these images, photographs were taken of models metaphorically representing some of the real-world concerns about working at NMI. The focus is the model. Each post-it note is a few words to describe the key point of their model. Prior to the photos being taken by one of the members of the NMI team, permission was asked to use them in this blog.

Anyone not wishing to be included was asked to speak with one of us as facilitators. And, the draft of this blog was sent for approval prior to circulating. In the spirit of participants telling their own stories, rather than me as a researcher crafting the narrative, the following are examples of differing metaphors to represent their ideas.

Before, I want to highlight that we offered a day for the workshop 9.30AM – 4PM to give participants the opportunity to get used to playing and to play. Even with this time, we could not cover all that we hoped, and we agreed with the organiser that this was a useful starting point from which he could take forward ideas emerging.

WELCOME – A model of feeling welcomed – a few participants newly joined the team – of the team engaged in their open plan office and sitting with their computer screens in front of them and of taking the time to be welcoming.

BRISTOL FOOD & DRINK – This model depicts the area near the office. The location is in the harbourside reflected with the bridge and one of the harbourside cranes created to show the value of being able to go out for coffee/lunch in these areas and of the value of regularly seeing sea birds (and of socialising after work).

COMPASSION – this model holds 2 key metaphors, the rainbow towers and the ladder above as bridging together the organisation. This also reflected other models that were of diversity and balance and valuing members of the team – here represented by many mini figures.

KNOWLEDGE & WISDOM – A concern of change for one was nurturing and maintaining the knowledge and wisdom shared by people who have long worked in the organisation represented by this tower/library build.

At the end of the afternoon, every shared model was placed and presented first one, then the next, and then next, on an empty table and briefly explained by a member of the team creating it. All participants were asked to gather round the table, to listen and once every model had been presented to have a look round. This process was to allow space for all ideas to be heard. These models can be seen in the link, motion image of the shared models created by all of the teams.

Learning -awareness- collective reflecting

Gutzan and Tuckermann (2019) noted “Although scholars have begun theorising the social notion of collective reflection in organisations, empirical studies illustrating these often-neat theoretical conceptualisations are still rare”. Through the use of Lego, as above, a few common themes were raised and heard – one of the members of the Chicago office commented that she had no idea people felt these ways. Feedback after the workshop was generally positive (NMI created a quick and dirty survey to capture participant views).

We did not assume that collective reflecting would only occur on the day. Instead, that it would be ongoing to improve organizing at NMI. Rather than my words, I offer an email from one of the management team who organized the day of listening to the messages from the day and reflecting afterwards –

In short; the event was a great success.  We were really encouraged by the feedback and the response.  Both during the day and afterwards.  Personally, I think it was a 10 out of 10.  I don’t think I could have hoped for much more.

Having discussed it with a few people, they did find it difficult to transition from literal to symbolic.  Maybe it’s related to the type of people that computer science and maths attracts – I’m not sure.  Irrespective, many broke through and it was clear that as the day progressed people were increasingly engaged (…) By the time that we reached the final model everyone has loosened up and were contributing something.  The final model “build” where everyone put something on the table and spoke was really interesting.  There was a great feeling of culture, purpose and it highlighted to myself and Matt what was important to the staff at this time.  Clearly culture and location!  Our office move was always going to be about maintaining our identity and culture, and it was clear that location would be very important, however during that particular session the real importance came to the surface.

We may well buy some Lego for the office.  It’s on the list of things to discuss …

As such, NMI are not only seeking new location and also creating “other spaces” for play. Too, we are discussing the possibility of further serious play sessions for other members of the organisation. One aspect that somehow escaped mention in planning conversations and a meeting before the workshop was of the intended move of the office location. In hindsight we might have built more in to the intention of the day in this seemingly contradictory objective of a move and of the challenge of creating an “other” space.

This blog has been written to grapple with the paradox that Matt Statler and his colleagues speak of in serious play that might bridge between theory and practice and to provide a point of contact for future research of how we might make the challenges in theorising of serious play and collective reflection more useful for practitioners, and what we as academics might learn from practitioners. If you are interested in discussing these ideas of how serious play might contribute to critical approaches to organisation studies and/or creativity throughout the organisation to address challenges as part of the stream of entrepreneurship as practice, please contact Pam Seanor – pam.seanor@uwe.ac.uk

Thanks to Nigel and Emily for the use of his photographs and for inviting us to work with you and members of the team at NMI Bristol.

Dr Jenna Pandeli takes part in BBC world service podcast

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Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, Dr Jenna Pandeli was invited to take part in a panel discussion on the BBC world service podcast ‘In The Balance’.

Alongside Nila Bala and Chandra Bozelko, both prison reform advocates from the US, they discuss global prison labour and its exploitative potential as well as offering potential solutions to develop prison labour into something that is rehabilitative and better for society. 

You can listen again to the podcast here

Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement Conference

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On Tuesday 25 June Bristol Business School hosted the ‘Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement Conference’ in collaboration with Engage for Success, CITB and ILM. This was the first Engage for Success conference hosted outside of London, and it was fantastic to hold it here at UWE Bristol welcoming over 170 external delegates to the Business School.

The main theme of the event was around harnessing the skills of people and resources to reach new levels of engagement to boost productivity and save costs. There was also a focus on creating and sustaining employee engagement during challenging times, and with limited budgets, as often experienced by SMEs.

The event was chaired by Dr. Gareth Edwards, Associate Professor of Leadership Development at UWE Bristol, whilst Noordin Shehabuddeen, Director of Bristol Business Engagement Centre at UWE Bristol, welcomed the delegates, who came from a variety of professions from within the South West including the construction industry, accounting and finance, and local government.

The conference was treated to some excellent keynote speakers focusing on the necessity for employee engagement now more than ever, to case studies from baby food manufacturer Ella’s Kitchen to Wilmott Dixon, a local construction company, who were recently ranked the 4th Best Company to work for by the Sunday Times.

There then followed a series of interactive workshops led by invited guests who are also ambassadors for Engage for Success, and a rather intriguing energiser event led by the Creator of Joy at Inspire me, who was able to create a credible rock choral version of ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ in just 20 mins – definitely an occasion which you had to be part of to actually believe.

The event concluded with a keynote address from Andrew Sandiford, Managing Partner of local accountancy firm Bishop Fleming, followed by a panel discussion to answer questions submitted by the delegates throughout the day. It was evident that employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility, and many of the questions centered on how to do this if given little or no budget, as well as strategies as to how to gain support from the cynics and buy-in from senior management. Support was certainly gained by everyone present, and we were delighted to have hosted such a fantastic event.

Notes on the International Conference on Clusters and Industrial Districts and the VI International Conference of MOTIVA

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Guest blog post from Berrbizne Urzelai Lopez De Aberasturi, Lecturer and Team Coach Team Entrepreneurship

CLUSTERING 2019

I am part of the Organizing and Scientific Committee of Clustering: International Conference on Clusters and Industrial Districts. This year we organized the 4th edition of the conference in the faculty of Economics of the University of Valencia, Spain (23th-24th May).

The event includes a variety of activities around local contexts and globalization, the phenomenon of geographical agglomerations of companies and individuals, and organizational models such as industrial districts and clusters. One of the differentiating elements of this conference is its interdisciplinary nature. It focuses on clusters but from very different perspectives (economy, marketing, history, geography, internationalization, sociology, etc.).

This year the conference included Pre-conference activities, Roundtables, Conferences, Doctoral Workshop and Parallel Sessions, and gathered 100 participants from 20 countries. In this edition, we were especially interested in work that focused on the Human and Relational Resources of the territory. The different papers presented intended to show that, in a globalized and virtually interconnected world, clusters and people are determinants to explain the heterogeneity observed in the growth of companies and regions.

On 24th of May I presented my paper “Managerial perceptions on the value of Country-of-Origin Clusters” in a parallel session around Multinational Companies, and Global Value chains. After my presentation I was a speaker in a roundtable around “remote workforce connected and sharing knowledge”, along with Barbara Covarrubias (University of Applied Sciences, Vienna, Austria) and Alejandro Sanchez Cuenca (Deputy Head of Arcelor-Mittal). The session was chaired by Lourdes Canós-Darós (Polytechnic University of Valencia).

MOTIVA 2019

I was invited as a keynote speaker in the VI International Conference of MOTIVA (28-30th May). This year, it is the 20th anniversary of MOTIVA, and the focus of the conference was on young Enterprises and the role of universities in promoting this. There were 42 papers presented, and 100 participants from 12 countries.

MOTIVA is a Spanish and Latin American network of academics that want to promote entrepreneurship and enterprises that contribute to the social welfare in those countries. It was created in 1999 and now it gathers academics from various countries: Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile and Spain. This network aims to:

  • Promote an entrepreneurial culture
  • Organize international gatherings and conferences
  • Share and transfer entrepreneurial projects and successful cases
  • Develop teaching methodologies and resources around the creation of enterprises and entrepreneurship.

My presentation was on 29th (11.30-13.00) and the title was “Experiential learning: Team Entrepreneurship”, as it was focused on teaching experiences, practices and methodologies. I talked about Team Academy, our TE course in UWE, and the fundaments and pedagogy behind our teaching and learning philosophy. The session was chaired by Marisa Quintanilla (UVocupació, UV, Spain).