Category Archives: Concordia students’ reflections

My reflections on SF 2016

It seems like yesterday but almost 3 months have passed since our meeting in San Francisco.  I’d like to share my experience and invite you to send us your own reflections. We would love to share them with the rest of the members of the STS Roundtable.

You’ll find my reflections, as well as Adam’s and Sonja’s insights in this file, which can also be found with the rest of the reflections, on this page. 

All the best to you in this 2017!

-Marcela

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PECHA KUCHA

These articles are part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

Pecha Kucha was a fun, fast-paced, and to-the-point way of getting to know more about the work conference attendees do and tap into their passions. Presentations covered a wide range of topics, from the plight of farm workers to the organization of health care, from the the inner space of the psyche to considerations about our planet and our species.

Jean-Phillippe’s presentation on the importance of paying attention to emotions in organizational work stood out for me. The slide presentation, originally set to run at 20 seconds a slide as per standard Pecha Kucha form, started stalling one minute in due to technical difficulties. Jean-Phillippe was completely unfazed when this happened, and he very skilfully seized the emergent opportunity to ask the audience, in a slow, deep, inquiring voice, the catch-question of his presentation: ‘How do you feel right now?’. The audience roared with laughter. The snafu ADDED to the presentation tremendously!

Humor aside, there is a deeper learning to be found here. How often do we as practitioners, while in the midst of our work with groups on a given task, take the time to ask ourselves that question and explore the impact of the answer on what we are doing? What would change if we did take the time?

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

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Intra-organization Design

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

For the final panel of the conference — intra-organization design — we were invited to literally roll up our sleeves and do some dirty work. Awaiting us on the opposite side of the room were impeccably set up tables laden with art materials, each one attended to by an art facilitator dressed in a spotless, brand-new apron. The main facilitator attentively read the instructions to the activity from a cue card, then invited us to don our own spotless, brand-new apron, form groups and join one of the art facilitators at a table to await step-by-step instruction. The task was to explore our creativity by creating a group painting starting from a piece of instrumental music; the art facilitators’ role was to assist us in this task, a role they embodied mainly by carefully giving instructions one step at a time, managing access to materials, and more importantly, by giving us tips and techniques to perfect our final product.

As a student of Human Systems Intervention, I caught on to what was going on — at least for myself — very early on. After a few ‘teachable moment’ interventions from the art facilitator to ‘help’ us ‘perfect’  our group painting, I found my self-awareness kicking in; I was irritated, confused, and tempted to withdraw from the process. I felt the tension between the need for freedom to experiment and what I perceived as the restrictive, rigid and invasive presence of the well-intentioned facilitator. Wasn’t our painting good enough? I liked it just as it was, but I went along with each suggested ‘improvement’ although I had no idea what the end goal was.

I took a deep breath and tried to participate without being hindered by my feelings of inadequacy, but truth must be told, my creativity was definitely taxed as I increasingly felt as if I had to reach some unstated, and in my mind unattainable, standard.

During the debrief, my group mates reported having had different reactions to the facilitator’s interventions, some were positive, but most were either negative or ambivalent. Then Jacinthe shared an ‘a-ha’ moment with the group: ‘Is it possible that the people we work with as consultants feel the same way we felt just now?’

It was a glorious moment of self-awareness. STS seeks to involve workers in the design of an organization and its decision-making processes as well as foster continuous improvement and innovation. In participating in various groups, teams and committees, workers are invited to work among experts and other authority figures as equals.  We had just witnessed — rather experienced — the subtle impact of the way we as practitioners embody these underlying principles and values of our field on the people we work with and the overall outcome.

Looking back at the intra-organization session with the distance of time, I only now realize just how much I was unconsciously dragging my past experiences along with me and allowed myself to be triggered by the dissonance I perceived between the rigid structure of the activity (and those spotless aprons!!) and its purported goal of exploring creativity. On some deep level I was reading the message NOT to color outside the lines. But creativity, at least in my mind, is a happily messy process. And that gap affected my participation and ultimately the end results in ways, unfortunately, we will never know. This leaves me with some broad questions: how to integrate complexity theory with STS practice to engage the whole person in the design process? How to effectively flatten out the power differential between authority figures, experts and other members of the organization on both the conscious and unconscious levels?

Dena Duijkers,

HSI 2014

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Inter-organization Design – 4

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This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

This session was particularly memorable to me. I was touched by the discussion on Macondo blowout and the oil spill and what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. The increased turbulence of the environment makes it impossible for any one single organization to respond effectively to external challenges. This idea is not new. Emery and Trist (1972) noted that “ these fields are so complex, so richly textured, that it is difficult to see how individual systems can, by their own efforts, successfully adapt to them”. Here is some learning from this session:

  1. Organizations must understand that they are insufficiently equipped individually to provide comprehensive solutions to any existing problems (sensitive responses to the weak signals). Any solution will be incomplete.
  2. The purpose of the collaboration is to provide focus through a collective eye (like the eye of the fly which have the fastest visual responses in the animal kingdom).
  3. The design question is where to place the collective eye. Since the most complete set of data is available where the operation is done, the collective eye should be placed on the drilling rig. This was a real life example how placing the command and control function with the people that do the actual job could have prevented a tragedy.

This session also left me with some broad questions about the design of the governance structure of the STS global network/community/ eco-system. How can we ensure that whatever we design passes the test of time and remains relevant and able to constantly adapt to the changing environment.

Catalina Barbarosie,

HSI 2013

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Inter-organization Design – 3

Several organizations are facing an environment that is increasingly difficult. The reality of this time is known as VUCA environment. VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. If you want to learn an approach that helps organizations solve challenges in these VUCA times, don’t miss our webinar on Positive Participative Innovation, developed and presented by Don, Doug and Bernard. More information here


This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

Let me precede my little commentary by stating that I am an INFJ according to the Myers-Briggs personality type. So I’m a ‘big feeler’. When I’m at conferences I learn by observation. I watch for the passion, motivation, and dedication in individuals.

And so it was with great interest that I was listening to one of our colleagues who had been involved with companies that were responsible for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico several years ago. He spoke about how affected he was by both the disaster and by the lack of responsibility of some of the companies. He mentioned that his grand-parents had taught him that we do not own the land but are stewards of it. It made him upset knowing that these corporations were more interested in serving their self-interests then to serve the common good.

I’ve thought about that presentation several times since the STS conference in September. I do realize that it is important for corporations to protect their identity. Thousands of investors, employees, and communities depend on their existence. But as our colleague said in his presentation it would have been so much more honorable and upright had they taken responsibility from the very beginning rather than pointing fingers at prolonging the legal process.

In evading responsibility corporations evoke wariness and distrust regarding corporations. Once again the public looks at them as being very much self-serving. Unfortunately these corporations don’t realize that there is a stigma that goes forward with them; who will not associate BP as a culprit in the future-one only has to check the Internet to what is considered the “BP oil spill.” They’re not doing themselves or their stakeholders any service.

Recently I was rereading Chris Argyris’ work on Espoused Values and Theories-in-use. I’m sure many leaders in the above companies meant well but did not come through for the greater good. In my estimation, this may be caused by the leadership in corporations and possibly in the way they are structured. The way some corporations are run diminishes the role of values and affects the overall well-being of individuals. Unfortunately employees are too caught up in survival mode to take stock, often not having many other options.

But are they proud? I don’t know about you but I become passionate when I see organizations that have a meaningful mission-vision, produce for the common good, and go beyond the call of duty. For those organizations I will give 100%, with conviction and pleasure.  That’s how organizations did it in the past. Could we re-instill these values?

Although I am relatively new to STS, I trust that one of the components of redesign is to revisit and elaborate the core values in organizations through meaningful and relevant mission-visions.

Andy Malolepszy,

HSI 2003

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Inter-organization Design – 2

Do you want to learn a provocative approach that unleashes everyone’s ability to design and create the futures we most want and need? Don’t miss the upcoming webinar (June 26th) on Positive Participative Innovation. More information here


Inter-organization Design – part 2

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

Learning about the philosophy of the models (three beliefs: agility, transparency and integration) used to create Inter-organization design was really inspiring and gave me the opportunity to reflect on the complexity that it involves. It highlighted also the importance of using an STS Collaboration platform to build the trust needed when the different organizations need to define social and technical systems in an emergent way. The discussion about the Macondo Disaster also brought the same questions and urgency about  having a bigger vision — the eye that provides focus and responses that help to build not only collaboration, but  accountability and ethical behavior. Other important topics were the importance of value-driven collaboration, the high value of inviting and respecting the input of others (with a provocative invitation), identifying the stakeholders by their interests, and the design of a process to allow participants define what their shared purpose is (where the accountability is related to the purpose, not only to the task).

Marcela Urteaga,

HSI 2012

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Inter-organization Design

This article is part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous article, click here.

This  was a particularly impactful part of the conference as I realized there was a name and place within STS for the work I do in the community sector: inter-organization design. Not only that, I also realized that other people within the network are doing similar work, and facing similar challenges.  It also meant to me that I belonged there at the conference and among the other participants. For the rest of the conference when others asked what kind of work I did, I started with the simple response: “I do inter-organization design.” And they understood what I meant. It was blissful! I discovered I am not alone; there are people I can connect with about the unique challenges of multi-stakeholder work, and the additional challenges of applying STS where the environment becomes more complex, and the nature of the work and workflow more difficult to define (we are not making car engines, we are attempting to make well-being!).

The beauty of inter-organization design is to tackle problems and issues that are beyond the scope of one single organization. Bringing together community organizations, government institutions, the private sector, and beyond, poses significant challenges when they all come to the table. The model presented by Carolyn was fascinating; I was in awe to see that other people had cared enough about both community and STS to put collective thought into creating a theoretical model based in STS and apply it to inter-organization design. I learn best when I can put theory to practice, and I was excited for the presentations that followed to help make sense of the abstract theoretical model. These examples were fascinating and inspiring. Being newbie to the STS conference and STS in general, I was relieved when I shared with the person sitting next to me that I had not managed to fully understand the model and she said she was in the same boat. Our impression was that the links between the conceptual model and the practical examples had not been clearly drawn. I was hungry to hash out these links and more thoroughly understand an STS model that I can apply to my community work. I am still very eager to tackle this and invite those who have a handle of it to contribute their understandings and increase our collective knowledge.

Carlye Watson,

HSI 2013

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Information/Communication Technologies and their impact on work and organizational design – 2

These articles are part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous post, click here.

The discussion on the low success rate of ERP/ ERM/ SAP implementation resonated with me. There is an expectation that information technologies will increase the efficiency of the organization, however the rigidity of ERP systems 1) increase the hierarchy of the organization; 2) reduce the ability to make mistakes, learn and innovate; 3) the orgs mold to fit the ERP system and not the system to fit the organization, leading also to cultural change.

Catalina Barbarosie,

HSI 2013

 

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Information/Communication Technologies and their Impact on Work and Organizational Design

These articles are part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous post, click here.

According to Maturana and Varela, human beings have developed the unique capacity of talking together and make meaning in language. We live inside our language and we create our world through the conversation networks that we share with one another.  Considering that organizations emerge from dialogue, and that technology is changing the way we communicate, how is the new technology dialogue/lexicon impacting our behavior?

During this session we had the opportunity to reflect on how technologies are bringing teams together all over the world, are changing the conditions (time, place, schedule, etc) of work, reducing bureacracy, increasing productivity and improving communication.  The presentation was also an invitation to consider the social and environmental impact of the new technologies, to find the balance between high performance and happiness, and the concept of Sociocracy as a governance system (using consent-based decision making among equivalent individuals and an organizational structure based on cybernetic principles, Wikipedia dixit).

Technology is helping us to hear and include the worker, but it also limiting the access that people have to information. Therefore, we need to have proper processes in place to ensure we’re not limiting our employees’ voices by design.

Marcela Urteaga,

HSI 2012

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The Changing Workplace 2

These articles are part of a series of reflections on the Global Network Annual Conference. To view the previous post, click here.

These are really interesting times in the workplace. Given the recent changes of society in face of new technology we’re having 4 different generations at work (all of them with different characteristics, values, needs, which brings of course, a lot of challenges.  During this session we had the opportunity to reflect on the mutual influence of the way we work and technology.  We are also experiencing more diversity and different ways of working than our parents. The mobility of the workforce has also a significant impact on the way that we work together, and all of these challenges should be considered when we redesign our organizations.

This conversation allowed us to see things from different perspectives and we had the opportunity to listen to the different generations explain how they perceived the evolution of the workplace. One of the concepts I heard that made sense in my experience was the concept of Info-Terror; it really reflects the feeling of a lot of people at work. This, combined with the “any time, any place” work definition hinders our ability to disconnect from work and limits our ability to recharge, or at least makes this process more difficult.

These new conditions require more creative approaches to organization design, and to the rest of the HR functions, as they are now responding to different needs.

Marcela Urteaga,

HSI 2012

changing-nature

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