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OD Conference speaker – Chris Mowles

Chris Mowles will be one of the keynote speakers at Roffey Park Institute’s OD Conference on the 26th to 27th of October 2023. Being an academic, Chris is looking forward to meeting those from the OD community and having conversations about helping people manage the uncertainty of everyday organisational life.

Chris hopes to bring some things to think about in his presentation. He explained, “I hope I can encourage participants to reflect on the assumptions of OD as a way of understanding better who we are, and what we think we are doing.” Aware of the climate, political and economic crises we face, Chris is keen to find ways of speaking about these issues and what they mean for organisations and their people – “You make a connection between the way we are in organisations and the way we are in the world and if you look around us at the moment, I think we are in a bit of a mess.”

Chris Mowles headshot

Chris’ Journey

Chris explained how his career in academia has been inspired by Ralph Stacey, Professor of Management at the University of Hertfordshire and one of the pioneers of working through the implications of the natural sciences of complexity. “I was intrigued with the way that Ralph Stacey wrote about strategy, things not working out as they planned, the unwanted in organisational life and the triumph of the unexpected.”

At the time that Chris showed a great interest in Stacey’s theory, he was working as a consultant for organisations in the field of community development in less developed countries overseas. Chris worked in a warzone on and off for ten years and was used to dealing with circumstances where carefully selected plans had to be changed on the spot. He explained to us, “When Stacey wrote about strategy and organisational life as deeply political, as deeply conflictual and as producing unexpected outcomes, that really resonated with my experience.”

Chris reached out to Stacey and asked if they offered a doctorate programme at the University of Hertfordshire. They did, and in full circle fashion, Chris completed the doctorate and now runs the programme of which he was a graduate.

Conference discussion points

Chris is not an OD practitioner but an academic and plans to discuss that if we want more fully human organisations then the ability to be imperfect must be an important thread. He explained, “There is sometimes a tendency in ways of thinking and talking about what goes on in organisations to tend towards the ideal. All organisations aspire to be good, but I sometimes wonder how human would those organisations be if everybody was totally honest, totally transparent, totally collaborative and totally good all the time.”

Human beings are finite and imperfect. The question is what then happens to that imperfection in organisations? Chris will talk about those more negative tendencies and feelings that are present within organisations and how we deal with them. It is about being wiser about ourselves and the strong feelings that working together in groups provokes in some people – “’ Will I be excluded from this group? Will I advance my career in this organisation? Why is it that so-and-so has got those resources, but I haven’t? I deserve that.’ What happens to all those sorts of feelings in organisations and how might we deal with them?”

We asked Chris, what should the attendees be asking themselves? He explained that bringing practical examples of your joys and disappointments is a good starting point. “What are you doing in your practice that intrigues you, infuriates you, perhaps disappoints you? I think the nitty gritty is in the breakdowns. When you try something and it does not work out as you intended, there is always something of merit, there is always a pearl in the oyster.”

With the economic, political and environmental climate the way it is, marginalised groups are becoming more and more demonised and the division amongst the people is at a high. Chris believes that this has been caused by an aggressive attitude towards the world and towards each other. “We are always trying to hammer the natural world and our relationships with each other into a shape that we think we want – an ideal shape. What I’m really interested in is learning to be less aggressive towards each other and working with the flux and flow of change and to be able to adapt to each other.”

Chris is aware that the OD community is also concerned about these crises. It is not about bringing something to the conference that others are already aware of; it is about finding ways of talking about them. Chris asks, “How will we do that together?”. Join us at the OD conference in October and find out.

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