Why Spend the Time and Money Doing a Masters?

Why Spend the Time and Money Doing a Masters?

You’re a smart, charismatic, stylish human – so why spend the time and money doing a Masters?

Stefan Bramble, NIODA Alumni

Helen McKelvie

You’re a smart, charismatic, stylish human – so why spend the time and money doing a Masters?

Before answering that 👆important question, stylish human, I should probably tell you who I am and why you’d listen to me. I’m Stefan Bramble and I graduated NIODA’s Masters in Management and Leadership in 2024. At the time of studying I was also in a Leadership position in a fast growing tech start-up that grew from 15 people when I joined, to 120 when I left 4 years later.

I studied and ‘start-uped’ at the same time as the COVID pandemic and worked in a role that was all about developing healthy, thriving work groups, welcoming new humans to the organisation and helping company leadership to create the kind of organisation we all needed and wanted. It was super cool fun. It was also really challenging and hard. So, I suppose you could say the whole experience was ‘super-cool-hard-challenging-fun’. A wonderful thing to experience.

I can hand on heart say, my time studying with NIODA was a major contributing factor to making the experience of my work so rewarding. I cannot recommend it to you highly enough if you want to truly develop your own skill in working with teams to help them thrive.

But we all like a good list, so here are the three things top of mind when I consider it’s impact on me as a leader working to help individuals and teams get stuff done with more quality and less pain:

Academic smarts, with practical thinking

Systems Psychodynamics is a fascinating, beautiful, insightful area of academia I did not know existed. Before being introduced to it, I worked on instinct. I knew ‘things’ were going on in the groups I worked with, and I knew I could do some ‘stuff’ that helped get them back on track, but I had no words for what I was doing. This meant that I could not think about my practice and hence I could not hone my craft. Beyond that, I could not share my skills and increase the capacity of the groups I worked with. Don’t get me wrong, I did good ‘stuff’ to help, but I knew I was missing something and felt that wonderful itch when you want to step up and increase your skill by diving into some unknown thing. Best way I can describe the feeling is in star wars terms: I was a padawan in search of a Jedi master. Or maybe Harry potter is better: I was muggle born waiting for a letter from Hogwarts. Oh wait! Matrix is way better: I was Neo waiting for Morpheus. Yeah, that’s the one. Regardless: I was a student waiting for a teacher. Then I met the staff at NIODA (specifically Wendy Harding), and she sat me down and kind of set my student brain on fire with talk of Systems Psychodynamics and all the wonderful insight it held into all the ‘things’ that I was feeling in the groups I worked with. AND ALL THE THINGS HAD NAMES! And academic elders who had studied groups, and that study was still going!

Beyond that, what I felt then and can confirm now, was a deep academic rigour that would ‘pull no punches’ while at the same time supporting me to sit with the fear I held that ‘I was not smart enough for academic-ness’.
What I did not know then was just how much the program would transform this ‘academic learning’ into insights that could be practically applied as I was studying. As someone who comes from an education and teaching background – it’s really really smart. The course itself invites participants to bring their lived experience of the academia to every class. And to work with the concepts as they show up both in both your personal work systems and the classes itself. It’s kinda genius.

Confidence to ‘know what I know’

‘During the study at NIODA some magic happened…I began to trust myself.’

I sort of allude to this above, but before I studied, I knew some ‘things’ about groups, but because it was all garnered from experience, and I didn’t have the words and I didn’t feel I was ‘smart-enough’ to actually say what I thought and advocate for what I believed. During the study at NIODA some magic happened. Because I worked hard, because the teaching staff created a space for me to learn and because my fellow students ‘kicked ideas around’ with me, I began to trust myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I still doubt myself, but even that feels different – that doubt becomes a fuel to learn more and perhaps even change my opinion (I know, big concept to swallow in our current culture, but it’s totally a thing one can do, who knew? 🤷). At NIODA we’d call this being authorised. And in a weird way, NIODA created the conditions for me to authorise myself, to know what I know, to hold my opinions lightly, and to put words around those thoughts and feelings. With all that I can think with others about the here-and-now situation to figure out what might be going on and co-create potential actions we could take to improve work life and do great stuff.

Of course all of this could have happened without studying at NIODA, but it was waaaaaay more fun and effective than me trying to figure all this out on my own.
Which leads me to my final point…

Joining a community of ‘group dynamics nerds’ who care about this stuff

I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘finding your crew’ is a thing we all yearn for at some point in our lives. I have been lucky enough to find my theatre crew, my clown crew, my crew that loves British comedy of the 60’s. But it wasn’t until studying at NIODA and meeting teachers, staff, students, alumni and affiliate organisations that I found my ‘group dynamics nerd’ crew. And what an amazing group of people we are! People who care about the potential of groups to solve big problems. People who care about making group life suck less and engage more. People who want, nay, LOVE to talk about the reality of a situation and see if from multiple perspectives – and from that make some kind of sense that serves the needs of the here-and-now. It is a rare thing to find a supportive community, where individuals strive to grow while also supporting the growth of others. They respect each other enough to challenge and champion ideas you might hold, by giving to the honour of their wisdom and time to ‘knock an idea around’. Plus, we are all so weird and wonderful; proper ‘good chat’ and brilliant ‘bants’. NIODA goes out of its way to foster this connection and build this community. It’s a very special thing.

So, here ends my rant. If you are considering the course, I know NIODA would love to chat with you about it, and as an alumni, I also encourage you to reach out to me – cos I believe in what I learnt – it’s going to take a lot of us out there advocating for the power of healthy groups to make big, wonderful, much-needed change in the world.

 

Stefan Bramble, 2024 Graduate of NIODA’s Masters of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics)

June 2024

You’re a smart, charismatic, stylish human – so why spend the time and money doing a Masters?

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Systems Psychodynamics – A Way to Understand the Chaos at Work

Systems Psychodynamics – A Way to Understand the Chaos at Work

 Systems Psychodynamics – A Way to Understand the Chaos at Work

Ruth Robles-McColl, NIODA Alumni

Helen McKelvie

Where does one start with writing about a transformative learning experience? How do you evaluate the change that has occurred when it is all-consuming and feels so intense?

Perhaps you start at the very beginning…this, the first of three personal reflection blogs, intends to provide the reader with a snippet of how NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) has fundamentally changed and shaped my approach to leadership.

Systems Psychodynamics – A Way to Understand the Chaos at Work

In professional settings, particularly within governmental organisations, I often find myself drawn to leadership roles embodying an ‘outlaw’ spirit. Guided by a sense of social justice and an unwavering commitment to the marginalised, I’ve found myself defying the rules of conventional hierarchies, trying instead to work in ways that ensure the ‘greater good’. Embracing what I think of as ‘guerrilla tactics’, I’ve navigated power dynamics, sometimes leveraging charm and subtext to drive outcomes, especially in the male-dominated construction sector. My inclination towards rallying peers to challenge and change institutional inertia reflects both a personal tendency and perhaps an intergenerational approach to life, stemming from an ancestral tradition of speaking truth to power.

The Gift of a Theory and Language

This is why when I first encountered NIODA and the work of systems psychodynamics, my heart sang. During the two and a half years of intense learning through experience and action, I discovered meaningful explanations that helped to make sense of past experiences. My studies at NIODA have provided me with the gift of a theory and language to make sense of some of my difficult experiences in work roles over the past 25 years. In my work life, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: I often find myself in the role of the resilient one, capable of enduring and persisting through significant adversity. Whether it’s navigating through moments of pain, shame, guilt, or blame during the execution of demanding projects, I consistently step up to the challenge. I put in the utmost effort, pouring in blood, sweat, and tears to overcome obstacles and steer projects back on track. This dedication is typically met with admiration and praise from all quarters. However, it’s disheartening to find that when circumstances take a turn for the worse, I can also become the focal point of criticism and scapegoating. Smith and Berg write about the paradoxes of group life and their definition of courage resonates as they posit that it takes courage for the scapegoated individual to understand and navigate the projections placed upon them without internalising the blame.

Reflecting on my approach however, it has been just as insightful to find and acknowledge the potential downsides that such a stance can have, both for myself and for the dynamics within the organisations I operate in. My inclination towards ‘speaking out’ and employing ‘guerrilla tactics’, while rooted in a deep-seated sense of justice and resilience, has occasionally led to unintended consequences. This approach has sometimes created friction in environments where consensus or a more measured approach is valued. I see now that my strong advocacy and determination to challenge existing norms has at times overshadowed more subtle perspectives within the group, potentially leading to a dominance that stifles the diversity of views and approaches.

In the complex and often rigid environment of government work, siloed hierarchies and entrenched institutional practices can often obscure what’s really happening beneath the surface. Systems psychodynamics has not only helped me understand the complexities of these challenges but has also equipped me with the tools to address them head-on.

You may be wondering, what is ‘systems psychodynamics’? It is indeed a term that warrants further explanation.

At its core, systems psychodynamics is about understanding the ‘unseen’ forces that shape how people behave in groups or organisations.

This approach is the intricate confluence of three interconnected domains: psychoanalytic theory, group relations theory and practice, and open systems theory*. Each domain intertwines to form a comprehensive approach, allowing for a nuanced exploration into the complexities of human organisations. It is this interconnection that fosters a deeper understanding of collective psychological behaviour, unravelling the myriad of motivating forces and interactions that transpire within and between diverse groups in a social ecosystem.

And how does that help us make sense of the chaos in organisations?

Sometimes, in organisations, particularly within government, things get a bit muddled because of all the different hierarchies and ‘old school’ way of doing things. Systems psychodynamics gives us tools to figure out what could be going on beneath the surface. One particularly user-friendly tool is called BART, standing for Boundary, Authority, Role, and Task**.

BART Framework

The BART framework is essentially a tool to analyse and understand the dynamics within groups and organisations. In my experience working within large bureaucratic organisations, I’ve found the BART analysis to be a real game-changer. It’s like having a map to navigate through a maze of hidden agendas, unspoken rules, and complex relationships.

Boundary

Let’s start with boundaries. In an organisational setting, boundaries are more than just physical lines; they encompass time, tasks, and territories. These are the invisible lines that define our responsibilities, the resources we manage, and the timeframes we operate within. Understanding these boundaries is crucial in managing our roles effectively and respecting others’ spaces and limits.

Authority

Moving onto Authority. There’s a fascinating aspect of how we exercise our power, both formally and informally. It’s not just about the titles and positions we hold but also about how we assert ourselves in various situations, even when we’re not in a designated position of power.

Role

Roles, both formal and informal, are another vital piece of this puzzle. Each of us plays multiple roles, often without even realising it. Some roles we inherit by our job title, while others we take on or are assigned to us informally by our team dynamics. Recognising these roles and understanding our own ‘valency’ – our tendency or inclination to take up certain roles – can significantly influence how we function and interact within our organisation.

The role aspect of BART has helped me identify not just my official/formal responsibilities but also the expectations others have of me, and perhaps more importantly, the unspoken roles I take up within the organisational culture. I have learned to ask myself what might be happening for an individual within a group that has picked up a particular approach/role (devil’s advocate, the soother, the challenger, the leader, the silent one etc.) Who/what are they serving by taking up that particular role?

Task

Finally, Task – this element has been essential in keeping focused on the primary objectives amidst the challenges of organisational complexity. Understanding the tasks at hand, both at an individual and organisational level, has been crucial in maintaining clarity and direction in my work and, in turn for my teams. Again, it is about stopping to consider, wonder, what is happening with this task? Do we understand what the task is, are we still ‘on task’? Sounds really simple when you think about it, and therein lies the key – you need to take the time and make the space to think about it – a deliberate act of reflection that allows you to pause and consider what else might be going on with the people/group you are interacting with.

Recently I presented the BART model to a group of plumbers and carpenters at a workshop, and I asked them to consider what identity boundaries they hold – things like, ‘apprentice’, ‘senior carpenter’ and ‘qualified plumber’ came up and we then made connections with changes to their boundaries, in particular their ‘turf’ depending on what job site they were working at. These tradies were very invested in the conversation, and it led to many discussions about how they can improve the way they work together. It was encouraging to see that BART can be so accessible for a small business looking to improve collaboration within their teams- just as much as it is applicable to my work in large bureaucratic organisations.

Making sense of the unseen

So, next time you find yourself lost in the maze of office politics, unclear roles, and overlapping responsibilities, remember BART. It helps you understand where you are, who has the power, what your role is, and what you need to accomplish. It’s about making sense of the unseen, the unsaid, and the undercurrents that shape our work life. It’s a practical, insightful tool that helps you make sense of the organisational chaos!

Ruth Robles-McColl, 2023 Graduate of NIODA’s Masters of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics)

May 2024

* Fraher (2004); Nossal (2007); De Gooijer (2009); Sher and Lawlor (2022)

**The following section on BART is mainly sourced from Green and Molenkamp (2005)

 Systems Psychodynamics – A Way to Understand the Chaos at Work!

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Beyond 9 to 5: Exploring Postgrad Studies for Mid-Career Growth

Beyond 9 to 5: Exploring Postgrad Studies for Mid-Career Growth

Beyond 9 to 5: Exploring Postgrad Studies for Mid-Career Growth

Helen McKelvie

Helen McKelvie

In the realm of professional advancement, a growing number of mid-career professionals are embarking on a transformative journey—the pursuit of postgraduate study. But what drives these individuals, in their 30s, 40s, or older, to invest their time, finances, and energy into furthering their education? Let’s delve into the motivations behind this life changing decision, drawing insights from their unique experiences and perspectives.

Career Advancement: The Driving Force Behind Mid-Career Postgraduate Study

For many mid-career professionals, the decision to pursue postgraduate study is deeply rooted in aspirations around career advancement. Having already established themselves in their respective fields, they see further education as a strategic investment in their future. Advanced degrees can significantly impact career trajectory, opening doors to new opportunities for progression within their current roles or facilitating transitions into more senior positions.

Broadening Horizons: Deepening Expertise in Postgraduate Pursuits

However, the motivations extend beyond just career aspirations. Mid-career professionals often seek postgraduate qualifications to deepen their expertise and broaden their skill sets. With industries evolving at an unprecedented pace, staying relevant and competitive requires continuous learning and adaptation. Postgraduate study offers a platform for professionals to acquire specialised knowledge and cutting-edge skills, equipping them with the tools needed to navigate today’s complex business landscape.

Moreover, a profound desire for personal and professional development drives mid-career professionals towards postgraduate study. Sometimes the frustrations and complexity of the contemporary workplace lead them to seek new perspectives and theoretical frameworks to expand their horizons, challenge their assumptions, and push the boundaries of their knowledge. Postgraduate programs provide opportunities for intellectual growth and self-discovery, fostering a deeper understanding of their chosen field and enhancing their critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Passion and Purpose: Intrinsic Motivations in Mid-Career Postgraduate Aspirations

Intrinsic motivation also plays a significant role in shaping decisions to pursue postgraduate study. Many mid-career professionals are driven by a thirst for knowledge and a passion for lifelong learning. They are drawn to topics or disciplines that align with their interests and aspirations. This alignment fuels commitment to academic excellence and the personal fulfillment that comes with taking up a learner role, allowing yourself to be open and grasp what starts as unfamiliar and challenging, becoming known, and the stimulus for new ideas and ways of working.

The decision to embark on postgraduate study also reflects a desire for personal reinvention and exploration. Some individuals are driven by a passion for a particular subject or field, seeking to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and explore new ideas. Mid-career professionals use this opportunity to reevaluate their career paths, explore new avenues, and pursue interests that may have been overshadowed by other priorities along the way. Postgraduate programs offer the flexibility to tailor the learning experience to their individual goals and aspirations, empowering professionals to chart their own course and shape their futures.

Enhancing Understanding Through Diverse Perspectives

The social aspect of further education extends beyond the classroom, offering mid-career professionals valuable networking opportunities and community-building experiences that can significantly impact their career trajectories. Engaging with peers, professors, and industry professionals in a postgraduate setting fosters connections and relationships that can lead to new opportunities, collaborations, and career advancements. Additionally, the diverse perspectives and experiences within the educational community provide a rich learning environment that enhances their understanding of their field and equips them with valuable insights and resources for navigating later career decisions. 

Postgraduate study provides a platform for mid-career professionals to make meaningful contributions to their respective fields. Armed with advanced degrees, specialised knowledge and the confidence these bring, they are better equipped to address complex challenges, drive innovation, and lead change within their organisations. Their enhanced expertise and leadership capabilities position them as valuable assets in a competitive job market.  

NIODA: Fostering Self-Discovery and Transformation in Postgraduate Study

At NIODA we hear different combinations of these factors from our students and those making enquiries about our courses.  It’s a privilege to be offering study options that can meet their needs for career advancement, personal and professional development, intrinsic motivation, and a desire for personal reinvention. We also know postgraduate study represents not only a pathway to advancement but also a journey of self-discovery, growth, and transformation that positions graduates to make significant contributions to their fields and shape the future of their industries. Learn more about NIODA’s postgraduate offering here

Helen McKelvie

May 2024

Beyond 9 to 5: Exploring Postgrad Studies for Mid-Career Growth

Helen McKelvie

Helen McKelvie

NIODA Director of Leadership Development and Consulting

Helen McKelvie is an alumni of the NIODA Master’s program and is now a member of the academic staff and holds the role of Director, Leadership Development and Consulting. She has previously worked in organisations as an internal planning consultant, policy and project manager, and lawyer in workplaces in both the public and private sectors. Helen has been a staff member on the 2018 group relations conference hosted by Group Relations Australia and was on staff for the 2023 NIODA learning about Authority, Role, and Distributed Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Cracking the Code: The Trials of Hybrid Work Environments

Cracking the Code: The Trials of Hybrid Work Environments

Cracking the Code: Deciphering the Trials of Hybrid Work Environments

Thomas Mitchell, Helen McKelvie & Seth Thomasson

Thomas Mitchell
Helen McKelvie
Thomas Mitchell

A reflection of reality

NIODA has recently had a golden opportunity to experience and think about the trials of hybrid working. In late 2023 NIODA held its biennial group relations conference (GRC), titled Authority, Role, and Distributed Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace: the challenge of transforming experience. Dr Brigid Nossal, conference Director, made the call to run a hybrid event when initially establishing the conference parameters. ‘It is,’ she said, ‘how many of our workplaces now operate, including NIODA. If the conference is to support members to explore modern workplace reality it must be hybrid’. Hybrid working has become an expectation for most knowledge workers. Negotiation around it tends to be about the optimal proportion of days in the office and those working remotely. Studies of hybrid working report the benefits of the practice and comment on the likelihood that the hybrid workplace is here to stay (Bloom, n.d.). While it offers benefits – increased flexibility and employee control have been shown to contribute significantly to performance and retention (Davis et al. 2022) – there are also risks associated with this new way of working. Members and staff at NIODA’s 2023 GRC were well-positioned to explore the benefits, risks, and conscious and perhaps unconscious assumptions about hybridity across all conference events.

What is a Group Relations Conference?

For those not familiar with the format of a group relations conference, it is not what might be thought of as a typical conference where attendees listen to papers outlining research findings and their application. Rather, the learning is wholly experiential. The GRC is structured as a temporary learning organisation where members and staff are invited to engage in deep exploration of the experience of contemporary organisational life. As a learning technology, GRCs draw inspiration from psychoanalytic principles and systems thinking. They were invented by the Tavistock Institute in London in the 1950s and have continued to be held in the UK and across many countries throughout the world.

As an experiential event, the group relations conference is an opportunity to step out of the daily work-place merry-go-round of meetings, emails, and performance measures, to pause and consider questions such as what is really going on here? Are we actually working to the organisation’s purpose, if not, what is happening? Dr Nossal thinks of the GRC as an incubator for in-depth investigation of the world of work where it is possible to learn about the hidden assumptions both in oneself and others. A GRC is a place for conference staff and members to immerse themselves in issues and actions such as considering what it means to co-create safe workplaces, to proactively take up leadership role/s, and to discover what such immersion and exploration reveals about organisational life.

A hybrid working Group Relations Conference, a first

As the first GRC ever conducted in hybrid format, simultaneously onsite and online, staff and participants were able to explore how the technology and different modes of participation contributed to the dynamics of the conference as a temporary learning organisation. The majority of conference members (32) began the conference onsite, ten members were online. Seven onsite and one online staff member worked with participants through all conference events. The hybridity of the conference was front and centre from the very beginning. During the opening plenary, for example, members struggled to engage across the technological boundaries. Some of this was the physical location of the technology (what could it ‘see and hear’?), some of it was software settings (was the background noise all that it was picking up?), some of it was an expectation that all could be seen and heard with crispness and clarity regardless of seating position, volume of voice, vagaries of acoustic reality, location of speaker (flesh and blood or mechanical) or screen. The real initial technical difficulties worked to undermine the authority of conference staff to manage ‘technology as territory’. This underlines the seemingly self-evident importance of having fit-for-purpose technology and the easy availability of technical support for any hybrid working arrangements; we were also interested in the unconscious, or not so self-evident, factors.

Complexity in establishing a hybrid territory

The boundaries of time, task and territory are intended to be firmly held during a GRC. For example, being clear that task A occurs between the hours of B & C, in room D, is understood to assist in creating the kind of working environment required for all to be fully present and engage with the work. Each event or part of a conference has a clearly identified room or rooms (territory) set aside for it. In a purely onsite conference or workplace we must physically cross the boundaries, walk through a doorway, enter or exit a building, to be present and participate in the task. In a hybrid event, technology creates new parts of the territory boundary. It’s easy, you think, to ‘make sure the technology is in the right room at the right time, and switch it on,’; the territory is available. True, to an extent. If you are responsible for the event, however, have you thought through the myriad permutations of possible issues such as background noise, multiple pieces of technology needing to interact, best placement of devices, unstoppable software updates? Establishing hybrid territory is complicated. Whilst initial difficulties with establishing optimal territory boundaries left a dent in members’ confidence in the ability of staff to manage them, they also provided opportunities for conference members to take up leadership to innovate and problem-solve in the moment. Like many innovations these efforts felt both energising and disruptive; as in many workplaces, this showed up the need for management flexibility and adaptability to harness the benefit of the innovations.

Hybrid territory and liminal space

In some ways hybrid territory has qualities of a liminal space – that sense of inbetweeness created by the additional technology and physical boundaries and their management and the need for participants to transition within and between them. There is a familiarity in the workplace relating to the use of technology. Many would have experience with the meaning and conflict that groups can place into IT systems that exist in the liminal space between workgroups to manage workflows and processes. Most of us will, at some time, have heard some proprietary system or another disparaged for its awfulness or how it limits something or another from occurring. What is not so easily spoken about in this context is the consideration for the individuals and teams who made and shaped these systems now so maligned. What occurs so often is that without resolving the actual existing conflicts and tensions between the human parts of a system, all of that conflict and tension gets ‘designed in’ to the IT system, with the added advantage of now providing a convenient object to be blamed in this liminal space between the groups.

In the context of the GRC, where one of the core processes that can be observed is participants finding ways of relating to each other in this new setting, the hybrid nature of the conference, via the technology, filled the liminal space with a convenient object to be blamed for the difficulties of relating. There are always any number of real and perceived identities that complicate states of relatedness in groups. At this GRC, this core difference of virtual/remote was, across the first day in particular, a very convenient difference to focus on. In this instance, there was the added ‘advantage’ for members, of the staff being able to be very directly blamed for having created this difference due to avoidable technical issues experienced on the first day.

Building connection in the hybrid environment

Throughout the conference, members engaged with each other via technology in creative ways. In taking up the authority every person had in their role as conference member or staff, various solutions were attempted and found, to issues such as crossing virtual territory boundaries and building relationships across working modes. One onsite member, for example, took it upon themselves to take interested online members on a tour of the conference venue. Walking those online around the buildings and grounds was identified as a very useful way for those online to feel more involved in and engaged with other members and the conference as a whole.

Increasing connectedness, virtual, relational, and task-focused, no doubt improved the experience for many members and thus supported depth of learning. However, the conference staff also hypothesised that the preoccupation with technological issues that developed within the conference precluded a deeper exploration of other issues such as race, gender, sexuality and generational change, that were also alive in the conference dynamics. That is, they were barely explored. Instead, this preoccupation with technology was a receptacle for member anger, frustration, perceptions of staff incompetence and inequitable (online) member access. Although present, the other important issues of identity that impact on organisational culture, even in such a temporary organisation as a GRC, were marginalised. The lack of work being done to think about them seemed to result in a few members becoming receptacles for the related intolerable feelings. As ‘receptacles’, these members held and experienced heightened levels of anger and frustration for the whole conference membership. This formed part of the unconscious layer of experience that is also open for examination in a GRC. The potential for these unconscious dynamics to undermine or derail individuals and work groups in the GRC or in any workplace underscores the value in making time and space for reflecting on and processing the feelings that are inevitably stirred up when people, with all their differences, come together to take on a task. Instead, the conference helped us see that technology as a ready source of discontent in the hybrid workplace may create an effective distraction from this difficult but rewarding work.

The conference staff were left with many thoughts and questions about the hybrid experience. These are relevant not only for how we might run another hybrid GRC, but also for how all staff and managers think about, and work within, their hybrid workplaces. A few early thoughts are noted below, we welcome discussion about them.

Thoughts and questions we’re thinking about after the conference:

  • As those responsible for a hybrid event, we must maintain a higher order of awareness of issues relating to boundary management. Particularly by paying attention to the ways in which the functionality of technology now plays a significant role in establishing the quality of the ‘territory’ or working environment.
  • As leaders and managers, how do we support our staff to take up their authority for finding creative solutions to the new boundary management issues created by hybrid work and technology, and when they do, how do we acknowledge them appropriately?
  • When working remotely, it can be all too easy to abdicate our authority, to disengage, to stay ‘outside’ the meeting or event, and to then focus on management and/or the technology for a poor quality or unsafe workplace or meeting. Is this simply a matter of establishing strong boundaries? What might we do to encourage and support people to take up their authority for the quality of their engagement?
  • We note the increasing expectations of staff for psychologically ‘safe’ workplaces. While this is a crucial remedy for truly toxic work cultures, within the GRC learning organisation, the plea for safety became an easy way to avoid the sometimes confronting experience of exercising one’s own authority for the creation of the workplace culture as it unfolds. It was as if some members believed that they had no ability or responsibility to do so. How can leaders and managers support their staff to see themselves as active co-creators of workplace culture and not just passive recipients of it?
  • How do we support our managers to build the necessary mental muscle to withstand the blame and other judgements and emotions projected onto them?

What are your thoughts and reflections about hybrid working?

 

Thomas Mitchell, Helen McKelvie and Seth Thomasson.

With support from Brigid Nossal and Sally Mussared

March 2024

Cracking the Code: Deciphering the Trials of Hybrid Work Environments

Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell

NIODA Master’s Course Lead

Thomas Mitchell is personally driven by a primary philosophy of strengthening the humanity of organisations and teams by building their capacities to work together. He identifies his dedication to working with organisations, teams, and individuals to think about, explore, and enhance organisation dynamics by, in part, connecting with, and striving to make sense of reality, and think about next steps. Thomas has a Master of Leadership and Management (Organisational Dynamics) from NIODA, a Master of History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Melbourne and is a current PhD candidate at NIODA. Thomas holds a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Academic Practice, a Diploma of Leadership Coaching and Mentoring, and is an accredited Analytic Network Coach. He is a member of the ISPSO, OPUS, and Group Relations Australia.

Helen McKelvie

Helen McKelvie

NIODA Director of Leadership Development and Consulting

Helen McKelvie is an alumni of the NIODA Master’s program and is now a member of the academic staff and holds the role of Director, Leadership Development and Consulting. She has previously worked in organisations as an internal planning consultant, policy and project manager, and lawyer in workplaces in both the public and private sectors. Helen has been a staff member on the 2018 group relations conference hosted by Group Relations Australia and was on staff for the 2023 NIODA learning about Authority, Role, and Distributed Leadership in the Hybrid Workplace.

Thomas Mitchell

Seth Thomasson

NIODA Academic Staff Member

Seth Thomasson has been working for 20 years across all aspects of Human Resources in the public and private sector including: HRIS implementation, learning and competency system design and industrial relations.

Seth has been affiliated with NIODA throughout its existence as volunteer Board Member and now academic staff member/subject coordinator as part of the master’s course.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Address to 2023 Graduands

Address to 2023 Graduands

Address to the 2023 graduands

Thomas Mitchell

By Rhianna Perkin, alumnus, 2021 recipient of the John F Newton Award for academic excellence

Thank you for having me tonight – it is such a privilege to be speaking to you and celebrating with you.

In thinking about what to say tonight, what I would share with you, I thought I would draw on an approach my best friend took when I gave birth to my daughter – the sharing of the three quotes to live by….

“this too shall pass”
“do what you have to do to get through”
“don’t strive for perfection – you just need to be good enough”

No, just kidding, whilst these might hold some insights, they are the parenting mantras my friend gave me. Whilst there are many many useful concepts and quotes connected systems psychodynamics, the one I found myself often drawing upon and still come back to is from Bion.

Bion said “to dare to be aware of the facts of the universe in which we are existing calls for courage”.

Let me share with you some of my journey and why I have found this so useful. Almost 5 years ago, I had a conversation with my supervisor at the time about what was next in terms of my career development. I told him I was really interested in understanding more about teams and groups and the dynamics that I had seen play out. My supervisor gave me a couple of names to google as he had come across their work and thought it might be a good fit. The names were John Newton and Susan Long. Of course, it didn’t take me long to find NIODA from there. The following day I had submitted an enquiry, a brief conversation with Wendy Harding the day after that, and four weeks later I found myself sitting in a large room with four chairs in the centre facing each other (one of them empty and representing an absent classmate I had met once) and being told to “study the dynamics of the group as they arise”. This was a far cry from the lectures I attended in my previous studies…had I landed in some sort of rehab or group therapy by mistake? And how was I meant to “study the group dynamics” when there was only myself and one other member present?

What I haven’t shared here is that in between that fateful conversation with my clinical supervisor and sitting in that very small study group, I was told that my work role was being made redundant. This was a huge shock to me. I’d been with the organisation for over 10 years and, whilst I had taken up many different roles, I had in fact only worked for two organisations. It felt a bit like being told I was being kicked out of home. I wondered if stepping into further learning was the best idea right now.

Carl Jung once said, “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call if fate.”

 I felt my connection to NIODA was fate. What I didn’t realise then but have come to understand is that curiosity and learning is my port in the storm. When I feel at sea, I fear being lost forever, so I seek stability in the wisdom of others. Perhaps you too can think of times in your life when you have felt at sea – is that what brought you to NIODA? Fortunately for me (not least because COVID-19 would hit Australia 6 months later) a role was created for me and I was able to continue to work as an internal consultant whilst I studied. I had found my port for now and dropped anchor.

But it wasn’t just in the beginning that courage was needed. Studying in this field requires courage. Not just to return to studying whilst juggling work and other aspects of our lives, but because studying in this field requires us to look internally in order to make sense of what is happening externally. It requires us to develop negative capability – the ability to tolerate the uncertainty, the doubt, the not knowing. It requires us to acknowledge that our own behaviour may be “in service of the group” in a way that might leave us feeling manipulated, powerless. And yet it is often through these vulnerable moments, when we are able to lean into discomfort, complexity, and confusion that we learn the most.

This courage to lean in, with curiosity and an openness to understanding more deeply, has never been more necessary than now. In organisations, in Australian society, around the world, we can see evidence of defensive reactions to complex problems – the desire to look away or stick our head in the sand is strong. This is where systems psychodynamics comes in, where you come in!

But we cannot go it alone. I recall that when I sat where you are two years ago, I found myself really struggling to be fully present with the various speeches and celebrations. I was experiencing a bundle of conflicting, intertwined emotions. For example, on the one hand I was incredibly excited to have finished the program and proud of what I had achieved, but I was also nervous for what the future might hold, how I would go out into the world on my own with this new lens? How would I remember it all? Would it enable me to work with organisations to create change? Somebody really needed to remind me that Bion also said “without memory or desire”!

The reality is that you are not alone. You are part of one of the most unique and special communities of thinkers and practitioners – a community that speaks your language, shares your courage to lean into discomfort and complexity, and will willingly give their time to reflect and explore with you. I have a memory of Brigid suggesting in a session on how to reference in academic writing – think of yourself as in conversation with the authors of the papers you are drawing upon. We are not just in conversation with them now – we are part of that community – attempting to make sense of the messiness together. I hope I am speaking your “unthought known” here!

Upon finishing my studies, I was head-hunted for a role consulting to the corporate sector. This was a huge stretch for me, away from my for-purpose roots! This time I set sail with the knowledge that I was part of a community that I could draw upon, laugh with, learn from and grow with in an ongoing way. I’ve often drawn upon my learnings, applying the thinking in coaching and my consulting work. I’ve also drawn upon the community for supervision, peer reflection and further learning. It’s impressive when I see the progress those I graduated are making – some into more senior roles including director and CEO roles, some started or building their own businesses. I know it is said a lot, but this unlike other Masters programs – you are not leaving with a set of tools and frameworks that will date. You are leaving with a new lens to view the world and I’m sure, like me, the courage to use it, to lean in.

Finally, I want to congratulate you on this wonderful achievement and wish you each all the best for whatever comes next.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

Understanding organisation dynamics

Understanding organisation dynamics

Thinking systemically and understanding organisation dynamics can be leadership and management SUPER-POWERS!

NIODA students certainly think so, often referring to new skills and capabilities as having an amazing new lens on the workplace. With a 100% satisfaction rate for graduates of the Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course. They know first-hand that being an organisational leader or managing a team can be enormously satisfying but equally can be frustrating and confusing. Why do smart, sensible people behave irrationally? Why does competition seem to outweigh collaboration? Why is it so hard to shift a toxic work culture? If, as neuroscientists are telling us, 95% of our brain activity is unconscious (Young 2018), then perhaps it’s little wonder these are the sorts of confounding questions preoccupying leaders and managers. How well equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes and irrationality that are regular features of work life? How able are we to just ‘get on with the job’ when we are not aware of so much of what is occurring?

How well equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes and irrationality that are regular features of work life?

Business degrees typically cover disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, strategy and leadership and are designed to equip graduates to take on managerial and leadership roles. Taking a rational, cognitive approach to analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making is valued alongside developing effective teamwork and communication skills. However, this approach on its own is not enough when people and workplace dilemmas don’t respond to logical formulas, when emotions are running high and the capacity for coming up with sound and strategic business solutions is overwhelmed.

Applying an organisation dynamics lens

This is when taking a systems perspective and applying an organisation dynamics lens will help. Having an approach to discerning what might be really going on can feel like having secret superpowers for finding a way through the maze of workplace complexities.

The discipline of ‘systems psychodynamics’ is at the core of the National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA)’s post-graduate degrees in Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics). Founded in 2010 to provide high-quality education in systems psychodynamic approaches, NIODA builds on and continues the world-class programs first delivered at Swinburne University and RMIT University.

Study designed for work-experienced professionals

NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) is designed for experienced professionals who wish to develop their leadership and managerial capacities. In this world-renowned work-integrated program you learn to:
– analyse, understand and manage ‘below the surface’ group and organisational dynamics in organisations
– identify blockers to change due to structure, culture and technology
– work with the emotional labour of leading complex systems in fast-changing environments.

This part-time course supports the development of individual capacities to shape and take up work roles that are meaningful, values-based, and which serve the ultimate purpose of the organisation. It provides industry-relevant, post-graduate education grounded in rigorous conceptual development and work experience and provides opportunities for engagement with real-world learning in a social and global context.

Reflecting on study at NIODA with a graduate

It is so rewarding to hear about how this is being applied by a NIODA graduate who has taken up the option of a continuing professional development subscription with NIODA. I find it such a privilege to think with Laurette about her work and carry on exploring how the concepts and skills learned in the NIODA course can be applied in the workplace.

“I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent.”
– NIODA MLM(OD) Graduate, Laurette Chang-Leng

We recently reflected on how Laurette now takes up her role managing large and complex transformation projects as compared to when she came to NIODA. “In some ways, not much has changed, except for one major thing: my attitude and the perspective I bring… large, big-budget projects still have the feeling of being impossible, but now I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent. I sit back and think when others are focused on charging ahead, even when the train is heading for derailment! I have the confidence to call it out, and I am listened to – especially because I know the value of a good metaphor!” (an early subject in the course puts a spotlight on the ways in which metaphors are used in management practice and how working with them opens up understanding and new possibilities.)

Laurette and I also talked about the benefit of knowing about her own, what we call, ‘valences’ (predispositions) or what she is bringing into work encounters and what gets triggered for her. “I’m much more in tune with what’s mine and what’s not” – what belongs to the organisational system and others within it. This echoes something I wrote a couple of years ago: The course supports you to locate and integrate learning about yourself, who you are, where you have come from and all the ‘selves’ you are bringing with you to work.

I see the fruits of this self-knowledge all the time in our supervision sessions. Laurette has a courage and a curiosity for reflecting on roles, and what is being avoided or defended against. It is so exciting to witness how she is building capacity to take up bigger roles, for fostering healthier dynamics, and creating a more effective and resilient team and organisation.

Postgraduate study with 94.7% student satisfaction

Laurette is just one of the many students who have valued learning with NIODA. We are proud of the high 94.7% overall student satisfaction rating we have gained in the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT). QILT is a suite of government-endorsed surveys for higher education that NIODA has participated in since 2021. Currently, all 41 Australian universities and around 90 non-university higher education providers take part in the surveys. Over the two years of our participation, our students reported higher levels of satisfaction than the QILT national averages on key indicators including: learner engagement (NIODA received 97% compared with the national average of 42%), teaching quality (97% compared with 78%) and student support (97% compared with 74%). As institutes of higher education go, NIODA is small, but punching above its weight with these teaching and learning outcomes.

If you’re interested in knowing more about studying system psychodynamics and developing leadership and management superpowers, enrolments are open for 2024. We have two more preview sessions before the first semester starts in March. At these preview sessions, you will be introduced to NIODA and system psychodynamics and encouraged to consider if NIODA is where you’ll find your learning edge.

Young, E. (2018). ‘Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious’, New Scientist, Viewed 20 June 2023, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23931880-400-lifting-the-lid-on-the-unconscious/.

About NIODA

The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

PO Box 287, Collins Street West,
Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 (0) 414 529 867
info@nioda.org.au

NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.

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