ANZSOG Master Class 2012


My second main activity last week was attending my first ANZSOG “Master Class” courtesy of my colleague Peter Thompson and the good folk at ANZSOG.

The two day “class” was taught by Professor John Alford and Associate Professor Jon Brock who shared with us their expertise in teaching using the Case Methodology.  They have been developing this over the past twelve months, and particularly since the 2011 Master Class, and this year brought together a group of very interesting and diverse people who all contribute to the ANZSOG teaching programme.

What was particularly interesting were some of the comments made during the class about considering the cases as “theatre”, as constructed experiences presented to participants, and as the teaching process as a “performance” in itself.  As with all teaching and learning environments the processes involved pan out on multiple levels, and underpinning all are the group dynamics processes which permeate our day to day lives as social beings.

At the heart of these comments was the ability to identify to bring forth some of the challenges that an organisation such as ANZSOG faces where there needs to be a healthy mix of academic observers and policy practitioners, who can learn from each other, each bring differing perspectives, and combine to create a truly powerful learning experience.  One of the challenges that emerged was that of linking the teaching pedagogy with different personas and authentic constructs of the individual self.  Here I found myself drawing on my own work in the personal development and psychological space and was cognisant that at all times, whether as a teacher or a student, we need to be mindful of our own strengths and weaknesses, our impact on the group and how it operates, and the sometimes differing interests of all the individuals involves who each see the world from within their own paradigm.

What this reinforced for me that was in all cases of teaching, and particularly when looking at the Case Teaching methodology, it is crucial to be able to both stand “on the balcony” and look down on what is happening, as well as to be “in the dance” and feel for the participants as they go through each of the moves.  I learned this from Barbara Wilby when we created the GAMAA Leadership Programme in its early days, and incorporated the fundamentals of coaching into our workshops from the ground up.  This duality is at the heart of coaching in a very practical sense, and more and more as I participate in groups and teams, and work with people in learning environments, I appreciate the value of the training in this discipline that I have had.

As with quantum mechanics the mere act of observing an activity has the potential to change that activity, and the ability to measure it only means that others of relevance can be understood.

This was apparent in the exercise we did on our case “Orange is the New Yellow”, which emerged out of one of the Web 3.0 conferences I facilitated last year and which Peter Thompson and I developed for our ANZOG seminars in both Sydney and Hobart.  The scenario is very simple – there is a basic policy change within an environment that needs to be undertaken, and those in charge need to ensure that the change is successful.  The change itself is quite simply one of swapping yellow safety vests for orange safety vests, but the environment itself has the complication of being a “sheltered workshop” run by a non-profit government funded organisation.

Peter and I received some extremely valuable feedback from the exercise and we gained a new perspective on how to utilise the exercise for more effective communications training, but also how it can be applied within other frameworks.  One thing we had not anticipated was the desire within the participant groups to push back and question the policy in the first place, and to utilise communications channels to get it changed, something that had not come out of previous run throughs of the case.

Herewith the academic versus practitioner frames came to the fore.  Mostly when we have presented this case to public sector communications practitioners they have almost immediatley gone into “execution” mode, how to get the comms out there and ensure a smooth transition through the change.  With the ANZSOG audience, many of whom were academics, the desire to question, to challenge and to adopt parallel activities arose from the outset.  From this the balance between compliance and resistance was identified, something we had not previously considered.

So, back to the balcony and the dance, and of the importance of “performance”.  At the heart of all teaching and learning is the ability to understand our own archetypes and the roles that we can and can’t play.  Some roles come naturally, others are a struggle; some we can play with, others are just a part of who we are.  The balance between those with an academic frame and those within a practitioner frame will always be one that is both delicate and at times sensitive, but when it is well managed it can lead to wonderful results.

We saw this in our “Orange is the New Yellow” case, and I am hopeful, the more cases that we teach and the more we seek input from a diverse audience base the more we should be able to deliver something that is both practical and useful, whilst at the same time engaging our audiences and bringing them with us on the journey.

The thing I had not thought through was the “constitutional dimension” of teaching, of the contract that exists between students and teachers as they negotiate the power within different environments.  This was probably my single biggest learning, that whatever the methodology it is this dynamic that will determine the success of the teaching and learning outcome, and whether people want to come back for more.