Masters in Organisational Change - participant insights

Ashridge Masters in Organisational Consulting

Participants have described this programme as unforgettable and magical.

Because it builds on your existing skills and develops your reflective capacity and your approach to learning.

Read their personal thoughts about the programme.

Discovering the 'Magic' of AMOC

Dominic Mahoney, Lane4

When I met the AMOC programme director, to discuss my interest in joining the programme, I had been a consultant and director of a consultancy called Lane4 for five years, developing people performance. Before that I had had various careers as an athlete, soldier and consultant in sports marketing and event management. It had been 15 years since my first degree. Stepping once again into the world of formal academic study was a delicious mix of the familiar and the unknown, and my mind was full of questions. Would I be able to write a coherent sentence without subjecting my tutors to bullet-point summaries and sales-speak? Would I have the discipline to see a two-year MSc programme through, now that my life seemed, apparently, to be so full of choices?

I was looking for a programme that would challenge some of my certainties about how organisations develop and change, would be intellectually stimulating, and above all, would give me space to step back, reflect on my developing practice, and provide an insight as to how I might proceed in the future.

I was attracted to both Ashridge and the AMOC programme in equal measure. AMOC had a reputation with some of my associate colleagues at Lane4 for being quite different in approach from a conventional Masters programme. Intrigued, I surveyed other programmes but it was to Ashridge that I focused most interest. To add to my sense of curiosity, much of the AMOC literature left me a bit baffled on first reading: such was my ignorance of much of the informing theory. However, it was the emphasis on consulting practice and an advocacy about the central role of conversation and connection between people in the change process, that most caught my imagination.

It was not difficult to persuade my fellow directors that the programme was right for me at the time and that it would offer something to our business in due course. On the face of it, embarking on AMOC, starting a family, working full time and fulfilling long-term commitments to my sport now seems a heavy load. It was! But the magic of AMOC was that I was taking my practice into the programme and bringing the programme into my practice as an integrated process. It was particularly gratifying two years later to get feedback from Lane4 colleagues who had noticed changes in me and how I was challenging boundaries both in our consulting business and with clients, in new and valuable ways.

During one of the inevitable late night sessions in the bar at Ashridge with my AMOC cohort, someone alluded to a member of faculty’s contention that the programme was a ‘long throw’. At the time, I took this as meaning that some of the proposed learning outcomes would emerge over time, even beyond the formal life of the programme. I now believe this to be particularly true. The ‘un-learning re-learning’ phenomenon that I experienced was profound; one that initially had me confused and anxious, but was a necessary part of letting go of some firmly held attitudes and beliefs about organisations and myself before integrating new ways of looking and seeing.

I continue to ‘inflict’ myself on my clients, but at least they can rest assured it is with a new and more self-critical consciousness! Above all, I am less certain in my advocacy with clients and more confident about this lack of certainty. Instead, I expect to be of use in building what emerges from our engagement about what is happening now, and what might be possible in the future for their organisation. For the potential of this confidence alone, the AMOC programme should be seriously considered by anyone looking to develop their practice as a consultant.

A journey of rediscovery

Jenny Ludlow, Previously Acting Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive North Glamorgan NHS Trust, now Independent Consultant

It is not often in my professional and personal life that I have described something as life changing. In my mid fifties I had begun to doubt my capacity to learn more or to be surprised. And then I enrolled on AMOC.

It happened because I was seeking to end an important phase of my life, that of working for the NHS for 20 years. I had reached a decision to leave having spent 10 years on a Trust Board, two to three years of which was at Chief Executive level. I wanted more time, more control over my life; but I could not accept my retirement as an ending without the potential for a beginning.

Given the roles I had held and my early background as an industrial sociologist I remained fascinated by organisation,group and individual behaviour. More importantly I wanted to be more skilful in supporting change and effective working.

Enrolling on AMOC for me was a way of challenging myself in my final months of leadership in the NHS (could consultancy be a leadership style?); whilst supporting a transition into consultancy as a new career. These outcomes however do not represent the richness of the AMOC experience and the way in which it surprised me. It was a journey of rediscovery of who I was and what I might be; a reassessment of my identity; an examination of self doubt; increased clarity around what I still had to offer; a development of self knowledge as a basis from which to engage with others.

AMOC is not just a programme. It is a process, a potentially life changing experience to be enjoyed in the company of valued colleagues both participants and faculty. Whilst the formal programme for me is over I have little sense of “it” having come to an end. The learning continues, carrying forward as I do a sense of being open to the new, and with enduring friendships supporting wonderful conversations.

An interview with...

...Steve Marshall, AMOC Alumnus

What attracted you to AMOC initially and what influenced your decision to sign up?
It was an accident! I visited Ashridge to ask questions about the course and found myself suitably impressed....

How would you describe your early experience of AMOC?
I remember being quite suspicious of the overt sense privilege and power that Ashridge provides. It took me quite a while to reconcile this with the idea that any serious work would get done - I was in 'luxury executive retreat' mode for a while!

There is a vast amount of valuable material in the AMOC programme and I continue to gain new insights into both the literature my behaviour and thinking as a participant.

I enjoyed my relationships with both the faculty and the group. I actively looked for challenge and, with due consideration and support, got it in spades!

What did you make of the theory and methodologies shared in the programme? What of the theory did you find valuable? practicable? eye-opening? comforting? scary?
I immediately applied complexity theory in my practice –it was an excellent and easy fit. I loved playing with improvisation and have incorporated some of that thinking, and I am currently working with Appreciative Inquiry and dialogue. But what is most interesting to me is that I am seeing new and interesting links between all the theory and methodologies that we worked with. It's a real joy to mix/match/integrate the various streams of thinking - it adds a depth to my practice that clients appreciate - I guess I am asked to 'think with' clients to a much greater degree than I expected.

What are the highlights that stand out for you?
I'm on my third visit to Schumacher this year and imagine that will be a yearly appointment! Biggest moment of insight? Tricky but being asked by Janet Smallwood and Kamil Kellner in workshop ? 'What is the source of your power as a consultant?' was a complete showstopper. I had absolutely no idea! Luckily a couple of colleagues on the course helped me to begin to fill in the blank areas...

What has AMOC contributed to you - personally / professionally? How has your life/career changed as a result?
Fundamentally, it has allowed me to understand myself, as a person, a consultant, a husband, father etc.... My career and lifestyle have changed completely as a result.

What advice would you give someone considering starting out on AMOC?
Firstly, do it. Secondly, get a handle on the dialogic practices (Kantor, Scharmer etc) - I'm still eagerly learning there (a life's work?) - though imagine that being more accomplished would have enriched my experience considerably.

My AMOC experience

Richard Rollinson

Like many, it seems, I was drawn to participate in the programme because I was already in the midst of significant changes, both in my life and in my work. The clear offer of AMOC to support us in our efforts to learn about the world of consulting, not least by learning about ourselves and developing an ever more conscious, reflective use of ourselves in our practice, was a great attraction. From my experience the programme delivered on this offer. The “invitation” to notice - what is happening, how we are feeling, what we are “privileging” by seeing or rendering invisible by not attending with an open enough mind – was put to us from the start of our Workshops and followed through consistently over the course of the entire programme.

The reading, through books and articles, had much to offer. Sometimes the reading felt a bit like revelation; other times, under the pressures of work especially, it felt like persecution. However, that is likely to be the reality for most of us most of the time. What was clear was that we ourselves had to manage ourselves and make our choices. I think that now the foundations are laid and I’m ready to commence on the programme in a way in which I’d make best use of the opportunity! Nevertheless, while that’s not possible, at least I know where and how to look for and use information that will help me develop my learning and understanding in the future beyond AMOC.

It seems to me that one enduring theme of the programme has been about the fundamental importance of relationships being at the heart of healthy, successful organisations. Certainly the programme led by example; we focussed fully and carefully upon our own relationships, attending to the building of them, in their own right and for the purpose of assisting our own learning and growth by utilising the expertise of the entire group, not just as individuals who happen to find themselves cast together but as a group with its own identity that contributes to the learning of every member. I don’t wish to idealise this. We were rarely an entirely whole and wholesome group, but we were very often in Winnicott’s words “good enough” to make a difference.

In fact for me it is this sense, this experience of the group as a group – being together, learning together, supporting one another - that endures most powerfully in my mind and my heart as I reflect on my experience on AMOC 7. In this group I include faculty too because in largest part I experienced them as open to this commitment to be and learn together. At times when I felt that it was all too much to keep going with all that I was facing in life and work, my fellow AMOC members were there for me, offering companionship, concerned attention and often wise observations. That in itself made AMOC for me a truly unforgettable and at times deeply moving experience.

A perfect programme? Unlikely. Clearly enormous thought and preparation was put into the planning and delivery of workshops. In very large part that worked for me, although at times I found the sheer volume of ideas/material almost overwhelming; but the workshops always had something hugely valuable to offer, individually and as a coherent whole. And, most impressively, workshop leaders were very adaptable when they recognised that our group was focussed upon a particular issue or aspect that had arisen.

The assignments were a mixed blessing. Sometimes I felt that we were over – assessed and there could have been some workshops that didn’t require a paper to be written. Other times I could respect the discipline of getting it down on paper. So I’m not sure what the right balance is, or even if there is one. Overall too I felt the marking was fair. Sometimes an individual paper may have gained a higher or lower mark than I had anticipated, but I also tried to remember that I hadn’t come on the programme primarily to secure high marks in essays, but to learn and grow. It was the act of producing the dissertation that was for me, and I believe, for most of us both the defining experience of the course and its summation. All that had gone before became relevant again and often more fully comprehensible. And the focus of inquiring into my subject which had me myself as a central element was in equal measures a challenge and an illumination. On submission I had the strong feeling that I had not just made a good ending but also embarked on a new beginning that would support a live connection between my personal and professional self for a long time to come.

I found Ashridge itself with its lovely grounds, its well kept buildings and the excellent resources a most agreeable place to be. I do think the facility contributed to the learning we did, especially given the creative use of spaces, indoors and out, to facilitate this. It was fun going out to Schumacher College for a Workshop, but I was glad to return to Ashridge the next time.

AMOC has had a huge impact on me, and I found the whole process very painful at times and unrelenting. However, the sense of true belonging with others, my “comrades in adversity”, has made it an uplifting experience I shall never forget and always value. My hope is that my experience of learning and growing on AMOC will yield benefits now for those I find myself working alongside. I commend this Programme to anyone who interested in learning through living and living through learning for self growth and professional development.