They wanted to provide a range of voices from people at different stages of their ethnographic journey so the book includes chapters from PhD students just starting out with ethnography where their experiences are raw and new, as well as seasoned ethnographers who are able to draw on a wide range of ethnographic experience. This has been a real labour of love for them all and they are delighted that ethnography is clearly such a hit in the Faculty of Business and Law as two of the chapters are authored by fantastic UWE colleagues, Sarah-Louise Weller and Chloe Tarrabain.
They are really proud of this book and its transparent approach to talking about research methods and they have received some lovely reviews from John Van Maanen, Paul Atkinson and Sudhir Venkatesh.
‘Organizational Ethnography sets a new standard for scholarly reflection and theoretical inquiry. The editors have assembled a smart and engaging set of essays on ethnographic methods in diverse organizational contexts. Readers will find traditional topics assessed with a fresh lens, as well as some issues – exiting the field, studying sensitive issues – that have received far less attention than they deserve. For newcomers to the craft as well as seasoned practitioners, this volume on “hanging out” in organizations is a must read.’ Sudhir Venkatesh, Columbia University, USA
‘This is a carefully edited collection of fresh and lively accounts of various phases and stages of ethnographic research in contemporary organizational settings – from planning a study, to carrying it out, to exiting the field, to writing it up. Central to each of the selections are the troubles a particular ethnographic stance presents to the researcher – many unseen at the outset of a study – and the disparate ways researchers have come up with in dealing with these vexing difficulties. These are personalized stories about the practical doing of ethnography – tales that are typically elided from the rather condensed and sanitized renderings of how a given study was accomplished that appear in print. That canonical ethnographic means and ends are necessarily strained and stretched in the flickering, messy, chaotic, emotionally laden and initially unknown surroundings and circumstances that a study seeks to tame is a reoccurring theme in these accounts. This is a work that will appeal to seasoned as well as novice researchers interested how the ethnographers of various backgrounds have dealt with the inherent uncertainties of their trade.’ John Van Maanen, Emeritus Professor, MIT (Work and Organization Studies Group), USA
‘Ethnographic research is flourishing in a wide variety of social settings, and in an equally diverse range of disciplines. With a broad understanding of organisational ethnography, this collection of essays amply displays all that variety. It also captures the remarkable range of approaches – methodological and personal – that characterise contemporary field research. The contributing authors are frank in acknowledging the personal, ethical and intellectual challenges of ethnographic fieldwork, but they also convey the immense satisfaction to be gained from such research. They offer a close look under the bonnet, to see some of the things that lie behind published ethnographic research. Readers will be engaged, informed and confronted by the essays in this collection. It will be an invaluable resource for students and more experienced ethnographers alike.’ Paul Atkinson, Emeritus Professor, Cardiff University, UK
The idea of publishing a Team Academy (TA) book for me started back in 2017 when I began working in the UK, because I could see that there were many differences between how TA was run in Mondragon (Basque Country) and at UWE (UK). In November that year, I met with an editor from Routledge and shared some of my ideas which he became excited about. However, it was not until March 2018 that I really started to put some ideas together for the project. I was already in touch with Elinor Vettraino, co-editor of this series, at that time as we were working on several cross-university projects and I remember a conversation I had with her over dinner in Finland in January 2018 (Timmiakatemia’s 25th Anniversary). Essentially, we were discussing why it was that not many people knew about TA even within our institutions. How could it be possible that we were not using the amazing global network more effectively?
In June 2018, the Team Academy UK community had their annual meeting event – the TAUK Gathering. During this connection, a number of team coaches met and reflected together about how research could actually inform our team coaching practice, programme design, pedagogical thinking, etc. We were keen to organise a Team Learning Conference where we could invite people from TA but also other EE practitioners and academics to present their work and share their knowledge. At this point, we realised that we had an opportunity to pool our interests together and publish a book for dissemination as well as organise a conference to share knowledge and practice.
I was about to go on maternity leave so I thought… this is the moment! I need to do something during this time, so let’s work on the book proposal. I created a call for chapters and started reaching out to people from the network to invite them to send us an abstract. The response was great and we ended up working on a proposal that had too many chapters so Routledge suggested a book series instead. We didn’t want to leave people out of this so we thought let’s do it!
The rest, as they say, is history!
What is it about?
The series includes more than 35 chapters from contributors all over the world (Spain, UK, Finland, France, Tanzania, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Switzerland, etc.). The aim of the series is to compile the different research, experiences, and stories about the Team Academy phenomenon throughout its worldwide network.
Book 1, Team Academy and Entrepreneurship Education examines the place and purpose of the TA model in entrepreneurship education, and indicates how and why the model has grown in popularity and interest over the last 3 decades.
Book 2, Team Academy in Practice focuses on different contexts and learning environments in which TA pedagogical and cultural practices coalesce, through the stories, experiences and research of those engaged in the practice.
Book 3, Team Academy: Leadership and Teams, investigates topics such as the ways in which learners on programmes based on this learning-by-doing model attempt to navigate the complexity of leadership and team dynamics, whilst understanding their place and impact on the processes involved.
Book 4, Team Academy in Diverse Settings offers the readers critical considerations on how TA has inspired different settings and how it has been implemented in different contexts (disciplines, industries, non-HE settings, etc.) and cultures, creating a legacy by those who have engaged with the process.
As one year comes to an end and another begins, we take a look back on 2021 to share some of the highlights from Bristol Leadership & Change Centre and the interesting projects members have been involved with.
Professor Peter Case secured a prestigious Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant (in collaboration with the Malaria Elimination Initiative research centre based at the University of California, San Francisco) to assist the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MOHCC) in Zimbabwe to improve HIV prevention.
Dr Gareth Edwards, Dr Harriet Shortt, Professor Doris Schedlitzki from London Met University and Dr Sylwia Ciuk from Oxford Brookes University were successful in securing funding from the British Academy of Management (BAM) and the Society for the Advancement of Management (SAMS). The £145,000 fund will enable them to research leadership and language through visual representation over the next two years. They are hoping that this piece of research can encourage leadership studies and other organisation and management disciplines to take language more seriously in their research with the objective of becoming more inclusive.
Katie Joyce, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies completed her first Principal Investigator role following a successful research bid. She project managed and chaired the workshop: ‘Digital Methodologies – principles and practice of researching online’. The bid was approved by the Society for the Advancement of Management Studies. The project team also included Dr Harriet Shortt, Prof Katrina Pritchard (Swansea University) and Craig Lennox (RBI input and event intern).
Professor Carol Jarvis, Dr Hugo Gaggiotti, Dr Selen Kars and Kay Galpin were lucky enough to receive Higher Education Innovation Funding for The Unleadership Movement, to run a series of collaborative workshops in 2021 to start to understand more about the dimensions they’d identified; Paying it Forward with Kindness; Living with Imperfection; Catching the Wave and Confident Collaborating. The Unleadership Movement has gone from strength to strength in 2021 – from an idea to a movement! Since beginning with curiosity about leaderly practices in the pandemic and reflecting how both the state of exception and our consequent returning to a sense of normal they have learned so much this year.
Nottingham & Nottinghamshire Integrated Care System (ICS) is leading the way on integration to close the gap in health and wellbeing outcomes against a backdrop of limited finances, increasing population numbers and increasing numbers of people living in ill health. To support this, partners are working as an Organisation Development (OD) Collaborative across the whole system to develop well supported, informed and involved leaders and services that have the ability to influence the wider system into working effectively with partners across health, social care and the voluntary sector to provide joined up patient/service user care. In preparation for the introduction of ICS’s on a formal footing in 2022, Professor Carol Jarvis, Rob Sheffield, Professor Richard Bolden, Selen Kars and Margaret Roberts were commissioned by NHS Midlands Leadership Academy (Leadership and Lifelong Learning) to conduct a pre-diagnostic study. This research seeks to develop recommendations, grounded in a robust investigation of current and best practice, that will support the implementation of a sustainable, system-wide community of practice, with an emphasis on cultural development; service improvement/innovation methodologies; and leadership and in support of providing joined up patient/service user care.
Another research highlight for Professor Richard Bolden in 2021 was working on a project for the NHS London Leadership Academy into the experiences of healthcare workers through the pandemic and the implications and learning for leadership practice and development. The project was delivered entirely online and involved a diverse team of staff and visiting faculty including Anita Gulati, Addy Adelaine, Charlotte von Bulow and Conroy Grizzle. They also worked with a professional artist, Julian Burton from Delta7, to bring the participants’ powerful stories to life. Whilst the report is not yet in the public domain it is informing discussions within and beyond the Academy about how best to support and develop individuals, organisations and the wider system now and into the future.
Teaching & Learning
Professor Peter Case supported the delivery of a two-day face-to-face training workshop in August 2021 for nineteen Zimbabwe healthcare professionals enrolled on the FBL Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL). The students are working as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates funded project co-led by Peter to restructure and improve HIV/AIDS prevention in Zimbabwe. The PPCL module is designed to enable students to combine their studies with experiential workplace learning.
A teaching and learning highlight for Professor Richard Bolden was setting up and running the Leadership, Complexity and Change in Healthcare module for the Advanced Clinical Practitioner Degree Apprenticeship programme. This has now been delivered to over 60 participants in two cohorts (May-June and October-November 2021) and will continue as a core module on the programme. He delivers it alongside Gina Burns and Rob Sheffield, as well as colleagues from the Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences.
Katie Joyce has enjoyed a number of teaching highlights in 2021, including module leading the ‘Professional Practice in Change Leadership’ (PPCL) which was an excellent example of highly effective teamwork and partnership working across continents, despite complex challenges faced due to the Covid19 pandemic. Katie has also been working in collaboration with HAS, leading on the coach education aspect of a trailblazing undergraduate programme titled: ‘Student Healthcare Leadership Programme’ (SHLP). Students on this programme are allocated to a coach (a senior healthcare leader), and undertake x3 one hour 1:1 coaching session with the aim of developing their leadership capabilities. Developed by the Council of Deans of Health in 2016 and funded by Health Education England (HEE), UWE are one of the first universities in England to run a health-specific coaching scheme of this kind.
Inspired by the pioneering Finnish ‘Team Academy’ approach, UWE Bristol was among the first to introduce this programme to the UK. Our award-winning BA (Hons) in Business (Team Entrepreneurship) is an innovative degree course that allows students to develop practical skills by working in teams, creating value for organisations, forming ventures and ultimately learning how to manage themselves to become effective problem-solvers. A new Routledge book series outlining case studies and research from the Team Academy around the world has recently been co-edited by Berrbizne Urzelai Lopez De Aberasturi, one of the Team Coaches at UWE, and provides valuable insights for those looking to find out more about this approach. There are four books in the series, including: Team Academy and Entrepreneurship Education, Team Academy in Practice, Team Academy: Leadership and Teams, and Team Academy in Diverse Settings.
Dr Jenna Pandeli, Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, had her research featured in an article in the Financial Times titled ‘Orange Collar’ workers are not the best solution to labour shortages. An excerpt of the article follows. Jenna was also delighted to discover that her UWE colleague had read the article in the Spanish Financial Times whilst travelling in Barcelona!
‘Much of the work that does take place inside prison workshops, even for private sector companies, is poor preparation for life outside. Jenna Pandeli at the University of the West of England spent 10 months observing and interviewing male prisoners involved in privately contracted prison work such as breaking up electrical items for recycling, putting stickers on parcels and sorting through waste. The work was mostly boring, monotonous and low-skilled, she found. Indeed, these jobs were disappearing from the world outside the prison gates because they were being offshored to cheaper locations. In England and Wales, the minimum pay for prisoners who work is just £4 a week.’
With Palgrave Macmillan which will be coming out in Spring 2022. Offering fresh insights for leadership students, researchers, and practitioners on the challenges of working in uncertainty, the book offers a novel perspective on Negative Capability as a way of being. Each chapter explores an aspect of Negative Capability through the accounts of leaders and managers who had the courage to explore this way of being and share the stories about its powerful impact. Ultimately, this book explores how a practice of attention can lead to new ways of understanding the role of purpose, leisure, and passion in leadership practice. They’ve received some wonderful endorsements.
Arthur, Gareth and Harriet (plus a colleague, Catherine Latham from South Wales) worked together for seven years to pull together data that they had been collecting from programmes and interventions where we had been utilising aspects of walking in the development of leadership. They selected, together, three different theoretical stand-points and discussed in their paper the reasons why they thought walking and adult leadership development went together so well.
During 2021, The Unleadership team were able to work with some interns who have helped them to develop their identity on social media and to create some engaging animations and videos to share their ideas. What has been really refreshing is the rich stories their collaborators have shared with them during their six online workshops, from describing how they can ”let the human spirit into our workplaces” to making time in our communities and our lives to be true the values we hold dear. They also enjoyed sharing some learning at the Collective Leadership for Scotland Campfires event in September with an international audience where they heard more ideas about connection, bravery and communityship during adversity. It’s been inspiring to hear how thoughts about leading, not leadership – have resonated with others; some who have felt that they have found a new language to talk about what they are doing, taking leaps of faith, driven by the desire to make a difference and to connect with others without encapsulating their experiences into a leader-follower dichotomy.
Towards the end of 2021, Bristol Leadership & Change Centre hosted two online events before and after COP26. The first event in October, two of our visiting faculty members – Charlene Collison and Professor Jonathan Gosling discussed the opportunities, and likely challenges, of COP26 in securing real progress on climate change. Drawing on extensive experience in a range of contexts, the speakers will shared their thoughts and reflections on what a successful COP needed to enable and set society up to deliver.
The second event in December began with a conversation between Jonathan Gosling and Steve Martineau, a member of the team appointed by the UK High-Level Climate Action Champion for COP26 Nigel Topping. Steve began by discussing the background to this work and the role of the Climate Action Champions in representing the voices of business and other communities in the discussions. He illustrated this by characterising the national governments as vertical systems, with business, finance, etc. as horizontal systems that intersect these at a global level. Following this discussion, Charlene Collison shifted our attention to the impacts of climate change on local communities and individuals around the world. She did this by highlighting that even with the agreements at COP26 we are on track for a 2.5oC increase in global temperatures – well beyond that experienced through human history.
Visiting faculty member Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains and Livelihoods, Forum for the Future.Charlene leads multi-stakeholder collaborative initiatives across a range of sectors and themes, including directing the Cotton 2040 initiative in which she launched a climate change risk assessment tool for the global cotton sector and ran a series of workshops with cross sector participation to understand the risks, what the implications might be along the value chain, and priority actions the sector needs to take.
In 2021 Professor Richard Bolden and colleagues completed Phase 4 of the local evaluation of the Golden Key programme, which compiled evidence from a range of initiatives to support system change for the provision of services for people with multiple disadvantage in Bristol. They also supported the successful bid led by Bristol City Council to secure funding for a further three year’s work as part of the Changing Futures initiative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as well as the National Lottery Community Fund.
Over the past two months, as part of our scoping study for the Advance HE Leadership Survey, we have run 11 two-hour online roundtables on the nature and purpose(s) of leadership in contemporary higher education (HE). More than 100 individuals have contributed, representing the views of early career academics, established academics and professors, professional service directors and managers, senior executives, staff and organisational development practitioners, various representative associations, and HE support and funding bodies. While many contributors have been UK-based we have purposely engaged members of an international HE community and captured perspectives from multiple country settings including Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Egypt, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates.
Together these conversations have provided rich and revealing insights into a turbulent and changing HE environment. It has been humbling to hear the scale of the challenges faced by HE staff at all levels and colleagues across the HE community, and equally inspiring to witness their commitment to the social value and societal benefit of higher education. The roundtables have been emotional, cathartic and energizing – a moment for reflection within ever more crowded diaries, and an opportunity to listen and to be heard by peers with compassion and empathy.
Unsurprisingly the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a backdrop to much of the conversation and has amplified many long-standing concerns. Issues of funding, workload, diversity and inclusion, sustainability, government policy, marketisation and the growth of hybrid and digital working are key priorities and concerns impacting global HE. Such concerns, however, are not easily resolved and their complex interdependencies highlight the difficulties of successfully navigating this shifting and uncertain terrain.
Within each roundtable we spent time exploring how values and purpose shape leadership in HE and, whilst participants articulated a strong set of ethical principles, they acknowledged that these are not always recognised and rewarded within an increasingly competitive and target-driven sector. Many of the discussions evoked a sense of existential crisis and the need for a much stronger sector-wide debate about the purpose and contribution of HE in a changing world. Torn between the demands and expectations of a range of powerful stakeholders there was a sense that some institutions, and their leaders, may potentially be losing sight of what really matters.
We concluded each roundtable by collating thoughts on the skills, competencies and behaviours required of HE leaders now and into the future. Common themes that emerged included courage, compassion, authenticity, agility, resilience, communication, decisiveness and the ability to build and sustain trust. Whilst many of the points referred to leaders in formal positions there was recognition of the need to develop and nurture collective or shared leadership at all levels.
As we work through the transcripts we are reminded of the pressing need for critical discussion about HE leadership during a time of global challenges and look forward to sharing emerging findings at the dissemination and engagement events in February 2022.
Authors: Richard Bolden, Professor of Leadership and Management, UWE, Bristol; Richard Watermeyer, Professor of Education, University of Bristol; Doug Parkin, Principal Adviser for Leadership and Management, Advance HE; and Katy Outhart, Membership Services Executive, Advance HE
Dr Greyling Viljoen and Dr Prisciplla Matuare (Women’s University in Africa), supported remotely by Professor Peter Case, recently delivered a two-day face-to-face training workshop (18-19 August 2021) for nineteen Zimbabwe healthcare professionals enrolled on the FBL Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice in Change Leadership (PPCL). The students are also working as part of a Bill & Melinda Gates funded project co-led by Peter to restructure and improve HIV/AIDS prevention in Zimbabwe. The PPCL module is designed to enable students to combine their studies with experiential workplace learning.
The PPCL programme forms an integral part of a project entitled ‘Optimizing Stakeholder Operating Models for HIV Prevention in Zimbabwe’ – OPTIMISE, for short. The project, which has been running since June 2020 and is due to conclude in May 2022, addresses health HIV service delivery in Manicaland, Matabeleland North and Matabelend South provinces. The aim is to support and capacitate the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) in working with stakeholders to develop and implement sustainability plans. This involves reviewing progress on the MoHCC strategy and facilitating the process of establishing goals, priorities and action plans. It also strives to create the necessary leadership coalition to drive change in the health service.
There is a diverse cohort of students on the PPCL module representing different levels with the system: from senior MoHCC directors through to front line staff working in health facilities. Students undertake theoretical studies supported by materials on Blackboard and are trained in the application of the project’s LEAD methodology. There is also a significant ‘supervised practice’ element of the course whereby students are supported in applying their learning.
Leadership experts from around the world will gather live and online 5 – 9 November for the International Leadership Association’s (ILA’s) virtual global conference, Leading at the Edge. Global leaders and featured speakers will meaningfully address the changing role of leadership globally in an era of COVID-19, declining democratic norms, social justice movements, economic uncertainty, corporate responsibility, climate emergency, and more.
Global Leaders –Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director-General, The World Health Organization – WHO); Princess Mabel van Oranje ( Initiator & Board Chair, Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage)
Thought Leaders – ILA 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award Winners Ron Heifetz (Harvard University) and Ron Riggio (Claremont McKenna College); Otto Scharmer (Presencing Institute); Margaret Heffernan (Forward Institute); Matt Qvortrup (Coventry University); Richard Bolden (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England); Henry Mintzberg (McGill University); Barbara Kellerman (Harvard University); Gareth Edwards (Bristol Business School, University of the West of England).
Business Leaders – May Abdel Asim (Founder, Media & More in Cairo); Helle Bank Jorgensen (CEO, Competent Boards); Christophe Dubi (ED, International Olympic Committee); Gamini Hewawasam (CEO, FineFinish Engineering); Aline Kamakian (Chef & CEO, Fig Holding); Mahmoud Mohieldin (ED, International Monetary Fund); Marta del Rio (Founder & CEO, Wasi Organics); David Lee Schreiner (President & CEO, Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital); Mark Shapiro (President & CEO, Toronto Blue Jays).
With a stellar list of keynotes and featured speakers, 400+ expert session and workshop presenters, and a diverse array of networking opportunities Leading at the Edgepromises to inform, inspire, and invigorate.
As ILA President & CEO, Cynthia Cherrey sums up, “Our live, online virtual event is designed to deliver everything that makes an in-person ILA conference special: plenaries from global leaders working at the intersection of theory and practice; workshops, panels, and presentations with speakers from around the world; special networking activities organized by our member communities and social engagement committee designed to help attendees converse and create collaborative networks; and a Meeting Hub that allows you to easily set up impromptu virtual meetings on our conference platform.”
The conference is open to everyone. Registration fees are as low as $125 USD and attendees can choose to attend the sessions live or access the video recordings on-demand through the end of the year. Continuing Education credits (CEUs) are also available to meet professional requirements.
“We invite you to join us for this live online virtual conference as we explore leadership, the ways that we lead, and what we expect from leaders,” remarks Conference Chair Kathryn Goldman Schuyler. “Leading at the Edge will nourish those who lead, consult, teach, study, and conduct research with exciting ideas, innovative projects, and good friends — both old and new.”
The International Leadership Association is a worldwide professional association committed to advancing leadership knowledge and practice for a better world. We accomplish our mission through the creation of trusted leadership resources and via the synergy that occurs by bringing people together in the trusted space of our conferences and events, collectively having a multiplier impact on leadership and change. For more than twenty years the ILA has convened extraordinary talent across sectors, cultures, disciplines, and generations. Learn more at www.ila-net.org.
In September Peter Case, Professor of Organization Studies at UWE Bristol delivered a webinar for staff and doctoral students at the College of Business, Law & Governance – James Cook University in Australia. Here is a summary of his presentation, talking about multidisciplinary research teams and transdisciplinary impacts.
Researchers increasingly find themselves inhabiting a world in which sponsors demand that their work generate outcomes and impacts beyond the walls of academia. There is an expectation that applied research will yield beneficial changes to one or more of the following areas of life: economy, society, culture, public policy, the environment, health and wellbeing. Moreover, many of the problems that researchers face are extremely complex, if not ‘wicked’ (Rittel & Webber, 1973) in nature.
The challenges of tackling problems caused by climate change or trying to achieve sustainable development, for example, typically involve multiple stakeholder interests and are mediated by an array of interrelated socio-material factors. Accommodating such high levels of complexity is an endeavour that, arguably, falls beyond the scope and capacity of any single disciplinary frame.
One response to challenges posed by complexity is to employ multidsiciplinary research teams. These teams typically comprise a diverse set of experts who bring particular specialist perspectives, theories and methodologies to bear on a given problem. Multidisciplinary teams thus afford a more holistic approach to the issue at hand and, moreover, hold the prospect of producing ‘joined up’ solutions to any given problem.
Peter Case recently gave a talk on this, sharing some of his experiences of working with mutlidisciplinary research teams in the context of complex problems and large scale projects. He spoke about drawing on his work in international development and global healthcare spaces to explore what is involved in forming teams, managing group dynamics and harnessing collective efforts to meet overall project aims and objectives.
Peter concluded by arguing that enhancing research impact entails moving beyong a strictly multidisciplinary approach to a transdisciplinary mode of stakeholder engagement; one in which academic researchers facilitate and contribute to wider dialogue with partner institutions and intended beneficiaries.
Since 2008 I have been looking into the growth of leadership in managers and, more broadly speaking, I have been journeying towards a degree of understanding of how these ‘magical’ transitions take place. I have more recently been tutoring and facilitating the learning of coaching and mentoring through the teaching of elements in the curriculum of ILM Level 7 and Level 5 vocational qualifications.
One part of this decade-long inquiry has been the surfacing of Vygotsky’s ‘mediating objects’ as a vital piece of theory that really seems to work. I had been describing these ideas to my colleagues, students and clients (I have been a qualified coach since 2008) in terms of philosophical ideas and theories (see, for example, Heidegger, Huizinga and Vygotsky – all male European philosophers of the early 19th century).
My own favourite mediating objects to use in leadership and management development are finger puppets of culturally-diverse characters (both real and fictional) which have a powerful way of stimulating ideas and re-enacting workplace dynamics. I have written about how and why these puppets work and, more often than not, I have found myself drawn towards the Déscartian view of minds and bodies having a distinct ontological basis. Whilst thoughts and ideas in your head are shapeless and have no form through the use of mediating objects (puppets or whatever) these ideas, challenges or issues can be expressed in a more solid way, through an object that gives it shape and structure.
For several years I felt these ideas must have some more up-to-date, supporting philosophies. My searches often led along blind alleyways… until recently. A chance look at a collection of articles in the New Scientist in 2019 I came across Lambros Malafouris and his theory of Material Engagement. All of sudden a modern philosophical translation of the role of objects in our world came into view. Like London buses no sooner had one emerged than another turned the corner into view. From Emma Watton and Phillipa Chapman’s leadership and cognitive artefacts premise to Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) championed by Graham Harman via the hermeneutic spaces of Michel Foucault; mediating objects have been coming out of the shadows! This time of year, Autumn, also gives some spur to the acknowledgment of the ways in which ideas and learning can emerge from nowhere. Take for example the humble fungus:
I have been fascinated by fungi for a long time and testament to this are a small collection of porcelain fungi at my home, modelled to represent specific species. These models are a doorway into the weird world of fungi which now, in real life, often appear overnight, lawns, tree-trunks and fallen branches are festooned with a dazzling array of shapes and sizes, mostly based on a standard, young-child-seen, shape of stem and cap. A new book by Merlin Sheldrake now has retold the research that reveals a parent mycelium that weaves and interacts for miles amidst root, leaf-fall and wood. This mycelium is closely interwoven and often miles long. Far from a non-sentient being fungi and the mycelium that is the fungi can work together over miles, lasso nematodes, trap and enslave ants and break down rock, stone and concrete slabs… a concept now referred to as the Wood Wide Web.
Holding one porcelain fungal model in my hand can open opportunities to talk about living organisms, ecosystems and on to discussion about stakeholders, networks, knowledge, intelligence and complex chemicals. Objects mediate human understanding and ferment the production of knowledge and understanding.
I’d be interested to hear about any mediating objects you use in your own leadership and/or organisation development practice, and your experiences of how these support and mobilise the shifts in awareness that characterise deep learning.
Rob Sheffield, Visiting fellow at UWE, and Stuart Morris, Facilitator of Design-led Innovation & Creativity at Thales, discuss the emerging implications for the leadership of innovation. Here are extracted excerpts from a wider conversational piece, which was recently shared on medium. Click here for the full read.
About the context
Stuart: Rob, you have written about leaders in organisations learning to develop the creative
capabilities of their team members and themselves in leading innovation. I
think it is fair to say that these leaders have come under increasing pressure
over the last 20 years to enable more creativity and innovation within their
scope of responsibility, whether it be at a global or local team level. The
likelihood is that the post-COVID world will only accelerate and intensify this
pressure. What are your thoughts on this?
Rob: I think you’re right about the spread of need for creativity and
innovation. Of course we’ve seen an extraordinary rush of need-led organising
since the crisis hit. The collaboration in households, streets, communities,
cities, across organisations, countries… Wow. (And we can all list moments
where more collaboration would have helped.)
But, the shift happened long before
COVID-19. In our work, we’ve noticed a gradual rise in the demand for and
supply of creativity and innovation skills, over the last 15–20 years, and a
much more sudden one since around 2015…
…And employees want these skills. Partly
because they want to bring imagination into work; also because some people
identify very personally with creativity and want it in their work lives. And
there is the perceived threat of AI, in its broadest sense, raising questions
of which work will remain for people. Well, it’s not easy to automate the
generation and implementation of novel ideas. The skills of developing ideas
and realising value from them are likely to be done by humans for some time.
Implications for leadership of innovation
Stuart: …The era of “scientific management” over the last 100 years, post
Industrial Revolution, has created many embedded support systems (and even big
businesses who supply these systems), such as reward & recognition,
financial management, other business management processes and strong delivery
focus. It is these strong embedded cultures I would suggest make it very
difficult for leaders to enable the necessary innovation and creativity to happen.
Rob: There is certainly a gap between the need for innovation, and the
satisfaction with its delivery. Pre-Covid, Accenture’s research has concluded
that many organisations have been talking about breakthrough changes, but
sticking with the safer, incremental sort.
I imagine this is for many reasons. As you
suggest, if we (maybe unconsciously) hold the metaphor of organisations as
machines, that brings with it the assumptions of control, predictability, power
invested in top-down planning, and that unforeseen events are mistakes. Whereas,
for example, if we imagine organisations to be places where a multitude of
conversations are happening simultaneously — some wither, some repeat, some
transform into new avenues — this is a metaphor closer to a marketplace, or a
network of organisms. There is very little top-down control, and ‘life’ emerges
from interactions at local level, where the nature of interactions is key to
whether conversations become interesting and manifest into novelty.
Stuart: It is this leadership paradigm which I believe will be severely
challenged by the new contexts presented post-Covid, all of which we cannot
predict, which is a real problem for those whose assumptions are based on a
deterministic view of the world.
So far, we’ve talked mainly about
organisations, but we can also widen the implications.
Rob: We’re being given a sharp reminder of what society is. We see examples
of our interdependence all around: food chains; how we help and care for each
other; supporting key workers to continue their work, and the criticality of
being able to connect with each other digitally.
The many examples of street, community, city
and wider levels of collaboration, reflect initiatives where no-one has asked
for permission, are based on shared purpose, are experimental —
trial/learn/improve — and often supported by huge goodwill, kindness and
forgiveness from people affected.
Most of us have not seen such mass
collaboration. And I hope it will have at least two effects. First, we are
remembering what makes a society: that we fundamentally need each other in
order to live the way we want. And this realisation will encourage more
positive collaboration. Second, that to have such a way of living requires a
more nuanced way of framing leadership: one that is much more sensitive to how
leadership can spring from anywhere, and connects and empowers people to act.
Stuart: This reminds me of a great Ted Talk by Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab) in 2014 about the Fukushima nuclear
disaster of 2011. His wife and family were living in Japan, about 200km from
Fukushima, when the Tsunami hit. The news channels, television, government, etc
were not telling him anything he wanted to hear in terms of radiation levels —
how much danger were his family in? He went on the internet and found others
who were also trying to figure out what was going on. Due to their diversity of
skillsets they loosely organised themselves to create the ability to measure
and share the largest (at that time) open data-set on radiation anywhere in the
world — a great citizen science project. In his summary Joi shared his new view
of the world of innovation as “deploy or die” (get it into the real world
immediately) as opposed to the previous “demo or die” (a step back from deploy)
and the even older “publish or perish”…
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?