Week 5 Generating good challenge in collaborative leadership


This week takes the provocative step of arguing that we need more challenges to our leadership. By challenge we mean those conflictual interventions where people in organisations push and question one another. Challenge is often something people shy away from, that they think of in negative terms, as associated with arguments and general unpleasantness. This is true up to a point. We will not be talking about very personal challenges, or challenges that are conducted to undermine people behind their backs. Such conflict makes for toxic organisations, where none of us want to work.

Instead, this week is going to address the importance of constructive challenges – a form of conflict that opens new possibilities. Such challenges are usually targeted at issues that matter for organisations, or at issues that should matter for organisations. In addition, challenges are also connected strongly to identity – this is because good challenges inevitably mean that you are exploring the gaps and limitations in the way each of us sees the world. Good challenges stretch identity and leadership practice.

You could read the material this week as a manager who wishes to manage a more challenging ethos of collaborative leadership amongst teams and partnerships; you could read the material as someone who wants to generate more challenge in a hands-on way; or you could read the material with both ends in mind.

This week will be broken into two sections. The first will address ways in which we can generate good challenges within organisations – in our discussions with colleagues and as a means of stretching and improving upon ideas and values. This is about viewing challenging as an everyday practice. The second will address challenging as something that happens between organisations, in particular, in the relationship between voluntary organisations and government. This is about approaching challenging as a guiding ethos.

By the end of this week you will be able to:

  • define agonism and agonistic challenge in the context of the voluntary sector
  • experiment with agonistic practices at work
  • reflect on your experiences and plan for future agonistic practice
  • reflect on the potential for agonism as an ethos that can inform the relationship between the voluntary sector and other organisations.
Described image
Figure 1 Good conflict is central to the healthy functioning of organisations and society.

1 Ellen reflects on the challenge of offering robust challenge