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Agon in the Office – Contests and Gatherings in the Theatre of Work

Agon in the Office – Contests and Gatherings in the Theatre of Work

By Jessica Burlingame – Tuesday 10th April 2018

Tavistock Institute

April 17, 2018
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  1. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Agon in the Office:
    Gatherings and Contests
    in the Theatre of Work
    Jessica Burlingame
    Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, London
    10 April 2018

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  2. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    AGENDA
    1) Origin story: why agon, why now?
    2) Competing and gathering, Part 1: Global MBA Admissions
    3) Competing and gathering, Part 2: Live Theatre
    4) Competing and gathering, Part 3: Here and Now
    5) Debrief/Q&A

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  3. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    1) Origin story:
    Why agon, why now?

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  4. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Agon at the Ballet: New York City, 1957

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  5. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Partners in Agon: Stravinsky/Balanchine

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  6. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    The Agon of Influence: Harold Bloom

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  7. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Agon through the ages: Piazza Navona

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  8. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    What lies beneath: Domitian’s stadium

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  9. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Lost (and found) in translation
    “The root meaning of the word agon is “gathering.” (Fitzgerald
    1987)
    “The agon was a motive power known to no other people
    … victory in the agon, that is noble victory without enmity,
    appears to have been the ancient expression of the
    peaceful victory of the individual.” (Burckhardt (trans. Stern) 1998)

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  10. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    2) Competing and Gathering, Part 1:
    Global MBA Admissions

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  11. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Characteristics of the Work
    • 1 : 1 consultant : client relationships
    • Highly confidential
    • Often virtual
    • Objective is to compete and prevail
    • Fixed number of available places; expanding number of
    applicants for those places
    • VUCA

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  12. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Enter the Group
    • ~ 2012: Selected institutions introduce required group
    evaluations of candidates
    • 1 : 5 consultant : client relationships
    • Competition now requires skilled/effective gathering
    • Group Relations practice becomes explicitly
    relevant/advantageous

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  13. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    3) Competing and Gathering, Part 2:
    Live Theatre

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  14. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Gathering and the Group in Theatre
    • “ … theatre is … the most extreme artistic
    representation of the art of collaboration.” (McBurney, qtd
    in Lecoq, 2000)

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  15. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    “Impossible Scene, Take 1!”
    • Spring 2014, The Winter’s Tale
    • Shakespeare’s stage directions are few; this play
    contains the most famous of them
    • “Aha” moment: the work done to realize this
    “impossible” scene can/should translate into other
    organizations, artistic or otherwise

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  16. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    “Impossible Scene, Take 2!”
    • Fall 2014, The Master and Margarita
    • A production arguably over-ambitious; unarguably
    under-resourced
    • First-ever delayed opening due to underpreparation
    • “Aha” moment: the work done to prevail in this
    “impossible” situation can/should also translate
    elsewhere

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  17. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    The Possible Scene: What Made it Work?
    • Clarity of task: produce a show for our audiences
    • Clarity of roles: actors, director, crew
    • Clarity of boundaries: rehearsal schedules, show times
    • Skilled work (and play) with authority in the here-and-
    now of rehearsal and performance

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  18. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    4) Competing and Gathering, Part 3:
    Here and Now

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  19. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    5) Debrief/Q&A

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  20. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    For further reading:
    “… W.R. Bion (Experiences in Groups,
    1968) … gives an example of a group not
    getting anywhere …
    What he has is a group where everyone
    attacks the status of everyone else, while
    pretending to be friendly.” (Johnstone 1979,
    34-35)

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  21. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    For further play:
    “If [Bion] taught them to play status
    transactions as games, then the feeling in
    the group would improve. A lot of
    laughter would have been released, and
    the group might have flipped over from
    acting as a competitive group to acting as
    a co-operative one. It’s worth noting how
    much talent is locked away … “

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  22. Copyright Jessica Burlingame & Agon Advisors, 2018. All rights reserved.
    Agon in the Office:
    Gatherings and Contests
    in the Theatre of Work
    Jessica Burlingame
    Tavistock Institute for Human Relations, London
    10 April 2018

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