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Surfing the Third Wave: Experiential Reflections on New Working Practices

Abstract:
This paper deals with issues and presents changes in practices relating to the new working as realized in the developing e-working world. The paper begins by reviewing my own experience. This is expressed as anecdote from my diary. Following this, the down- side of e-work is argued to be characterized by atomization and fragmentation and is depicted under four headings: being an e-worker, engaging with work as an e-worker, contextualizing experience as an e-worker, and managing self and work as an e-worker. This section is followed by a brief review of how this downside has been achieved. The paper then goes on to discuss two models for developing the e-work process be- yond the current debacle. The first model is one based on conventional practices and is concentrated on relieving the pressure. This conventional approach is also referred to as the “provision for . . .” model. The model deals with providing technologies and inducements and meeting expenses of e-workers as fragmented elements of the work- force. It is a patchwork quilt of piecemeal planning. The second model, arising from the research behind the paper, involves thinking again—Where might we be? The process develops an “invitation to join . . .” model, focusing on relationships. The paper goes on to describe a process for developing a systemic approach to e-work and non-e-work for large organizations and a means for applying the systemic development of e-work in full, and not just gesture. The paper concludes with an overview of the key learning points emergent from the research to date. Concerning the style of the paper, it is set out in the form of a Kolb learning cycle—this is the overarching methodology applied to the enquiry as a whole.

Open University Link

Bell, S. 2002. Surfing the Third Wave: Experiential Reflections on New Working Practices. Systemic Practice and Action Research. 15, 1, pp. 67 – 82

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The Double Task

The Double Task Approach originated by Harold Bridger

Harold Bridger Lisl Klein Ken Eason Tavistock Institute Bayswater Institute

The double task approach was developed by Harold Bridger at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in the 1950s. Harold’s starting point was that we are all driven to complete our primary task: the currently most pressing one, the deadline to meet, the customer’s order to fulfill, the problem to be solved. But if we are continually obsessed by the current task we can miss the bigger picture: are we tackling the right task, are we going about the best way, why are we not all working together on this?

Harold was fond of saying that, every so often, we need to ‘suspend business’: to stop work on the first task and switch our attention to the second task, that of reviewing the what, why and how of situation we find ourselves in. This switch is a move from a ‘doing’ mode to a ‘learning’ mode, a move to reflecting, gathering evidence and testing assumptions. It can be a challenging process and Harold was particularly concerned to create safe places, space and time for the reviewing processes to be effective. The need for a double task approach is pervasive in work organisations. It exists at all levels of human activity and there are methods to support it at all levels.

  1. Individual counselling We all need opportunities to sit back and ask ourselves deeper questions about our working lives. Sometimes this is about thinking through what has been happening and reviewing it in a cool, rational way. At other times it may be more a case, as Harold said, of ‘listening to your gut’: asking ‘why am I feeling anxious’ and ‘why doesn’t this feel right’. This process can be greatly helped by a skilled counselor who is not judgmental but helps you to explore, to articulate half-conscious thoughts and examine the implications of possible courses of action.
  2. Group dynamics We spend much of our working lives in groups and often groups appear dysfunctional, its members ‘not all pulling in the same direction’. ‘Suspending business’ so that group members can review how they are working together can be very important in helping everyone become more aware of group processes and can be revealing for each person as they receive feedback on their own contributions to the group.
  3. Organisational learning Harold was an organisational consultant and recognized that each organisation had its own double task: to get the day’s work done and to plan how to cope in the longer term with a changing world. It is dysfunctional if the majority of the employees only do task one and a small group have all the responsibility for task two. Harold saw a need for everybody to be involved in task two and there are now many action research and action learning methods that provide mechanisms for everybody to review the consequences of their action plans and, as a result, create a learning organisation continually adjusting to new demands and opportunities.

Commentaries on Harold Bridger and the Double Task

‘ To oversimplify somewhat, what Bridger had in mind was the engaging in an activity – task one – (e.g. a boardroom discussion), and ‘suspending business’ and reviewing the underlying psychodynamics and other processes – task two – affecting the discussion. Thus learning cycles of doing and reviewing can help the orgnisation to function at an increasingly sophisticated, and one might say, more mature level in the work that it does. By so doing we might say that the organisation develops reflective practitioners who, together, create the learning organisation.

In Wilfred Bion’s terms this working in a double task manner helps the group stay in work mode rather than in basic assumption mode. In the work mode the group focuses intently on its task and remains in close touch with reality. Whereas in the basic assumption mode, the group gives way to primitive processes which make it function as if its primary purpose is to reduce the group’s anxieties and avoid pain or emotions that further work might bring. This is not to say that Bridger’s task one is the same as Bion’s work group or that task two is simply basic assumption mode. Rather the common element is that irrational forces below the surface of group functioning can undermine the group’s work. Reviewing and exploring both aspects of group functioning is a means of achieving sophisticated and effective group
work.

Derek Raffaelli (2008) Working the other way In D. Graves (editor) Sense in Social Science: A collection of essays in honour of Dr. Lisl Klein  Graves, Broughton 109 – 122

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