Previously, I listed the key areas of emerging need in management education (as reflected in the focus at the AGMS Conference).

Multidisciplinary management took the largest slice of focus at the conference, and I would like to expand on this. Basically, and of course, this is my reporting of papers and presentations.

Professor Michael Barrett from Cambridge (UK) started the discussion by saying the biggest challenge facing organisations is “tending and cultivating the rose of multidisciplinarity”. (I did not invent this word.)

Several people approached the subject and there was agreement that the biggest challenge at the moment is managing across disciplines. Interestingly this is seen as the supra challenge into which the ones of virtual, culture, geography etc. fit. I’d take it a step further – but I can get to that later.

The tenets considered were:

– We are now managing cubist organisations (theory extended from Cubism in art) where people do their own thing and don’t really have a view of how they fit in or what other people are doing that might impact them – until it does.

– Regardless of role description and educational background the people who make multidisciplinarity work are systems thinkers and boundary spanners (I can explain those in more detail if you are interested)

– We now have multi party networks, rather than the spoke and wheel flat organisations we thought we’d have (and have introduced)

– Role overload is an issue for large numbers of people, but it’s not the work load as much as the perceived conflict around what they need to do, in what order and for whom.

– Role ambiguity is also an issue where we lay down plans and expect (and hope) people will be willing and able to interpret exactly what they need to do – and do it. Turns out the majority of people don’t thrive in this structure.

– Role conflict – where after interpreting the above, people find themselves in conflict with other people and roles. Very stressful.

– These last three account for a great deal of time and effort expended in organisations where that effort doesn’t actually contribute to the planned outcome. A terrific productivity opportunity here.

– The bottom line is that the people making the organizational plans, and setting the goals don’t have adequate visibility into what is actually going on and who is doing what in their organisations.

Hearing all this I decided it’s a triumph of the human spirit that things get done, rather than a result of any compliance or regulatory system or processes and procedures (and yes that includes project and program management). And this leads back to the value of those boundary spanners and system thinkers.

There was more but suffice to say, these are exciting times for those among us who can span, influence and lead, without control, dedicated resources or clarity about conflicting agendas within our organisations. It’s not such good news for those of us who need structure, and procedure or the PMs who want to ‘colour by numbers or follow the bouncing ball).

Happy to talk about any of this, and I’ll be back soon with a summary on the second key area of discussion – Influence.