If you're not the lead dog, the view never changes. Image by Icaza.
Yesterday concluded our 2 day Polytech wide professional development conference, and as always I very much enjoyed the chance to have longer-than-usual conversations with new people, focused on specific topics related to our work.
Outside my own talks, I attended sessions focused on sustainability. Its the one area of change in the Polytechnic that is outside my primary job description, but that I contribute to as much as possible.
In the session we heard Anna and Ella talk through some principles and frameworks for their change agency work, they talked about their effort to develop a model of education for sustainability, and they did a great job engaging everyone in the discussion, and including all manor of contributions.
As usual I mouthed off with opinion and challenges, and I offended some people in the room when I challenged the idea that we need leadership, specifically the suggestion to do away with the leadership team in Otago Polytechnic. Understandably some people took it personally, or fundamentally disagreed with the alternative ideas I suggested to leadership and hierarchical structures, and it seemed to some to be an inappropriate place to raise the idea.
Alarmed by the offense and misunderstanding I caused some colleagues, I have been seeing people one by one to apologise for my careless and insensitive wording and any offense caused, and to try and better explain the intent behind what I was saying if there is any chance left for discussing the intent behind my remarks.
But as a start, there are individuals in Otago Polytechnic's leadership team who are the best bosses I have ever worked for in the 4 or more tertiary education institutions I have worked at in Australia and New Zealand. My CEO Phil Ker is always accessible and willing to discuss any issue at any time with any one it seems. Likewise the deputy CEO Robin Day has been incredibly supportive when I have stuck my neck out on other occasions, and carried a lot of the stress I caused while introducing social media and open education ideas. Without Phil and Robin's support, Otago Polytechnic would not be where it is today in terms of progressive copyright policies and experimenting with open education services.
So my suggestion that our organisation doesn't need a "leadership team" was not intended to be personal, and was not intended to dismiss the work that has been done in that team. My suggestion was intended in the context of sustainability, where I think the existence of hierarchy, leadership roles, difficult to access or privileged information, several chains of command, bureaucracy, inequality in reward and the resulting politics and behavior, have an arguably adverse affect on our efforts to develop as sustainable practitioners, and in helping students appreciate and develop as sustainable practitioners.
I think the opportunity to discuss that point was lost by my poor verbal wording at the time and as a result I am having to apologise and explain myself to several people who were present.
I did propose cooperative organisational structures however, and a radical flattening of hierarchy in the organisation, along with more individual and small team accountability and opportunities to self determine. Perhaps something like Out From Under the Umbrellas, What Would it Be Like to Be the Rain - meets cooperatives.
Organisational structure seems to be a hot topic in the polytech at the moment, the boss is blogging about it, and I have since met several people with ideas they'd like to discuss where it counts. I think it would be a good thing to call an open and facilitated meeting where anyone can have a chance at proposing a structural idea, and a facilitator will help us all recognise the value of each idea and extract and use as much as possible and develop collective idea. But this is easier said than done, because I think so long as the hierarchy and current insulated structure exists, it is difficult to build a sense of ownership and genuine participation. The same problems afflicting effective progress in sustainability work.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.