Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

The Australian literary figure Clive James, who coined the term Cultural Amnesia, argues that we can forget that some things don’t have a market value, they only have value. And the current Banking Royal Commission is surely resurrecting this crucial point.

I argue that ‘experiential learning’ or learning-in-experience is an educational process that has a value beyond any price the market might put on it.

The educational tradition from which NIODA has evolved is that of experiential learning or, to put it more directly, encouraging students and staff to learn from their own experience, both in the classroom and the workplace, so they may become wiser and more balanced in the accountable exercise of their power and authority.

The current Master program began to take shape in the Graduate Diploma of Organisation Behaviour at Swinburne in 1980 where it grew into the first Master degree offered by the School of Management (1988), then extended into a Professional Doctorate (1996). A shift in SUT’s priorities led to a shift in location to RMIT in 2002 and then to the independent, not-for-profit NIODA (2010). Along the way, the program name changed to Organisation Dynamics to reflect the increasing complexity of workplaces (and their globalising, networked environments) and the unconscious dynamics that are triggered in individuals and groups by increased uncertainty.

We have all changed but we haven’t changed as much as we haven’t changed. If you get my drift.

The difficulty of learning from experience has not changed because human beings will always find it very hard to learn in public and deal with the self-generated feelings of shame and self-judgment at not getting things right. What has changed is the diminished provision of emotional security in organisations that ‘manage by metrics’ and increasingly regard human resources as disposable. This makes it even harder to admit a mistake, even to yourself, and get helpful feedback. We are flooded with information and decision timelines but none of it educates our gut feel nor helps us make critical judgement calls. The ‘market’ prompts us to oscillate regressively between paranoid threats and boundless opportunity rather than struggling purposively with our customers and clients to discover what is actually in their best interests.

The content of the NIODA program continually changes to draw from new theory and techniques but the support for participant learning remains a constant. This support includes discovering the potency of well managed boundaries (time, task, territory and authority) to enable deep learning about how to connect thoughts, feelings and actions in a productive and collaborative manner. It requires both personal courage and staff who en-courage in order to be able to spot the defensive routines in oneself and in the groups we seek to lead.

The outcome is a graduate who can fully take up their role and offer on-task leadership, not just speak the management jargon. Or as Prof Henry Minztberg put it, a person who is an actual manager not just a qualified MBA.

John NewtonDr John Newton
Founding director of Master (Org. Behav.) Swinburne 1987
& current Chair, Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

27 June 2018

Let’s (not) Talk About Accountability

Let’s (not) Talk About Accountability

A good deal of my consulting work boils down to creating a pretext for necessary conversations between people at work. These may be conversations about clarifying roles and role boundaries, agreeing priorities, establishing group norms and shared values, working through divisive conflicts or untangling baffling conundrums. But sometimes the consultancy begs the question, ‘why are these conversations being avoided in the first place?’ My (rather obvious) working hypothesis is that what is revealed or exposed by the process is 1) that the parties involved are highly interdependent (that is, they rely upon one another to get things done) and 2) that this makes each person visible and accountable to the others in quite explicit ways.

It is possible that, although uncomfortable, there is an unconscious investment in keeping things blurry or muddled. Perhaps this is a way of protecting against the even more uncomfortable feelings associated with being in a position of having to be accountable and or hold each other to account. If things are clear and agreed (in terms of e.g. roles, responsibilities, goals, actions etc), but not adhered to, then we find ourselves faced with the choice to either stay silent or speak up. Leadership teams can create all manner of ‘work-arounds’ so as to avoid such ‘moments of truth’ with each other. Like Julius Sumner Miller, we might be provoked to ask, ‘why is this so?’

In an attempt to respond to this question, I will draw upon a recent paper of a colleague, Mark Stein (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7fUMjsxuZo) about the whistleblower and the loss of the good self. It is well-known that whistleblowing is a risky business that can result in becoming an object of hatred that is actively attacked and excluded from the organisation or community. In briefest terms, Stein’s hypothesis is that in being identified as having failed or acted with impropriety we may be put in touch with a sense of having lost our ‘good’ selves (our sense of being a good person). This arouses shame and guilt and we lash out at the one who made us feel this way. So unconsciously, we ‘shoot the messenger’ rather than be in touch with such unwanted feelings. No doubt, in the Australian context, this is further complicated by embedded tenets such as ‘you don’t dob in a mate’. The whistleblower has breached a sacred code. Is it possible that at some level, this dynamic is what is in play in the moment of either being held to account or holding the other to account? Is it feelings of shame and fear of exclusion that make accountability so unwanted? Are our ‘good selves’ felt to be at risk?

If even a small part of the answer to these questions is yes, then it seems understandable that we might wish to avoid accountability. What to do? My suggestion is that where we err in our thinking is by putting ourselves and how we feel (or how we might make others feel) at the centre of the conundrum and our motivations. If instead, what remain front of mind are the work, its purpose and the people we seek to serve, the emphasis shifts and the whole accountability piece is less personalised (and persecuting). In this way, our authorised roles, our purpose, our work objectives and our clients become the ‘rulers’ and the ‘containers’ for the accountability discussion. When executive teams can make this shift, these discussions become a whole lot easier.

Leadership, Management and Organisation Dynamics, Sydney

Leadership, Management and Organisation Dynamics, Sydney

You know how difficult it is to be a great leader and manager?  You will have ploughed through the plethora of courses available to find one in which you learn real, valuable and in-depth theory and skills so you can be a better leader.  What we do is teach in-depth understanding of leadership, management and organisation dynamics so that you can develop the know-how to effect real change.  This program is also a must for those consulting to leaders and managers across all organisational domains.

In fact for the first time ever this program will be available in Sydney in a modular format!

The Leadership, Management and Organisation Dynamics program is designed for experienced professionals who wish to develop these capabilities in organisational leadership and management.

It is a part-time program across three years of face-to-face coursework and regular online classroom sessions.

Participants are taught in blocks of two, three or five days with online sessions supplementing the face-to-face classes.

In-depth Subjects…

– Organisations and Management through the Art of Metaphor – Unconscious Dynamics in Groups and Systems – ‘Through a Cultural Lens’: Collaborating with the ‘other’ at work – Systems Psychodynamic Consulting – Strategy in Complex Systems – Organisational Role Analysis – Managing Beyond Organisational Boundaries: Networks and other Relations – Leadership and Authority for Role and Task – Action Research 1, 2 & 3 – Publishing and Disseminating Action Research.

The coursework for the majority of subjects is held in York Street, Sydney.
(Two subjects are held in Melbourne.)

Are you ready for the full leadership, management and organisation dynamics program details?

NIODA is the National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia. The Institute is recognised  internationally for the depth and exemplary standards of its Leadership and Management Programs and for the exceptional staff experience and expertise of those who teach in the program.  This is not a fly-by-night program.  This is a quality, trusted program with a long history. In it you will delve into the deeper layers of organisational life so you can develop the knowledge and expertise to be a better leader and manager.

The individual and group dynamics that create organisational problems are like a giant hairball.  Our task is to disentangle it and so make the newly freed threads a fresh resource for the organisation.

Dr Brigid Nossal

Starting Details

DATE:  3 September 2018

TIME:  All week

LOCATION: York Street, Sydney, Australia








Are you an Action Taker

and ready to find out more?

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PO box 287, Collins Street West  Melbourne  8007  Australia
+61 414 529 867

Convenient Fiction? Diagnostic surveys and other blunt instruments

Convenient Fiction? Diagnostic surveys and other blunt instruments

Sometimes I say, with a bit of cheek, that Executive Teams are prepared to pay a lot of money NOT to learn about what is really going on in their organisations. Every year, so many resources are spent on quantitative survey tools that loosely point to areas of challenge (e.g. poor communication, bullying, low morale, distant managers, high turnover etc.), but provide little or no rich detail about what sits behind the data in terms of the lived experience that prompts the given responses. Investing in survey tools can deliver the illusion or a sense of taking responsibility and being seen to do something to improve organisational culture and engagement, while actually delivering very little by way of a clear diagnosis or appropriate interventions that go to the heart of the problems and address the gaps between desired work culture and reality.

Practitioners of psychodynamic approaches to organisational diagnosis and change are all too familiar with the lengths that individuals, groups and organisations will go to not to discover what is really going on. I am reminded of a colleague who once said, ‘I guess because you’re naming dynamics that people don’t really want to know about – you’re cutting through defences to some extent, as you have to if they’re dysfunctional …A lot of people want to live in the Matrix and they don’t want to know about this stuff.’

The mystery here is that people will put up with a lot of misery to avoid discovering what may be inconvenient ‘truths’ about themselves, their way of working and/or their work systems and processes. Whether this is about a failure to spend enough time listening to staff, making spaces for difficult but necessary conversations between interdependent teams, having clearly defined roles and agreed goals, taking time to mourn the losses associated with recent changes or just getting to know each other, the cure somehow seems worse than the disease. I find that most of the time, people instinctively know what is wrong and what may be needed to change things, but somehow find it easier not to make this explicit.

What is required, is space, time and a willingness to hold each other to account over the most basic responsibilities and shared agreements. People often imagine that this makes it ‘personal’ rather than actually acting in the service of the organisation’s purpose and from the authority appropriately vested in the role. Making this shift to working from role and in the service of the work is a lot easier and less painful than people imagine and can bring a lot of ‘relief’ from the misery of things staying as they are or have always been. But this is not the kind of thing that can be learned from survey results and this is what makes them (sometimes) useful, but blunt instruments of organisational change.

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