Mintzberg, Managers, and Meetings

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

For about twenty-five years now I have been lecturing students about the work of Henry Mintzberg. During the 1970s, Mintzberg published a ground-breaking piece of research that was instantly recognised as a management classic. Building upon a very small sample of Executive decision-makers (literally a hand full of diaries), Mintzberg basically explained just why it is that managers seem to spend so much time in meetings. On January 2nd 2017, I became Head of Suffolk Business School. As a consequence I stopped teaching this…and started living it.

Today my working day started just after 7am. I had an 8am meeting scheduled and arrived early to get a head-start on the day (there are ALWAYS e-mails). I was in truth not too bothered by the prospect of this early meeting because I had been promised that it would commence and be built around bacon rolls. The problem being that I never made it to the meeting. Something came up that required my attention so I had to forgo breakfast. Having resolved this issue I then picked up a cup of coffee and a manuscript that the editor of Organization has invited me to review.

I read the paper and made some notes (it’s quite good but needs some further analytical and structural development) preparatory to the completion of the formal review that I will submit some time over the next few weeks. At 09:30 I met with colleagues from HRM and when this meeting concluded it was time to speak with a colleague from Portugal who will, I hope, visit the University in May. When I complete this blog post I will scuttle off to a meeting convened to discuss student recruitment. Later I will ‘catch-up’ with the Deputy Head of School and with my very patient PA before I have another meeting with HR.

This is pretty much how my days unfold. So just why do managers spend so much time in meetings? I thought you might ask this…

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Mintzberg. Photo (C) http://www.mintzberg.org

Mintzberg suggests that managers spend so much of each day in face-to-face meetings simply because this is about the best means of securing managerial ends and processes. But why is this is the case? It’s simple really: Mintzberg suggests that managing yourself and managing others is challenging and rewarding because this sort of work involves an on-going negotiation as to a) what should be done b) who should actually do this and c) who should cover the cost. And in complex hierarchies with limited budgets – such as, say, the University of Suffolk – this is perhaps more complex than you might imagine because there will be lots of managers; lots of managerial goals; lots of alternative courses of action and consequently many different ways in which the ‘right thing’ to do might be conceptualised and pursued.

But on Monday…my diary looks a little more relaxed…because on Monday I will be in a tiny rural village in south-west France en vancances. The village is tiny but it is steeped in history: The great French politician Gambetta attended school in this village. But this place has for me an altogether more alluring appeal for I will be staying in a house that has no land-line, no internet access and only an intermittent mobile telephone signal.

You see, those who manage also need to set time aside for reflection, so before my travelling companions awaken I will spend a part of each morning revising a now overdue manuscript on management gurus. When I return I might share a little of this reflection. Until then…adieu!

#SBSStudents: Learning in Context (and in the sun!)

Students from the Suffolk Business School at the University of Suffolk have recently returned from a cultural tourism field trip to southern Spain.

The students studying Event and Tourism Management and Business Management visited Seville, Cordoba and Cadiz.

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Suffolk Business School students and staff in Seville. Photo (C) Suffolk Business School

Gintare Liutkeviciute, first year Event and Tourism student said “It has been an amazing trip, with the best people! I enjoyed every minute of it and it was great to use our Spanish language knowledge. I was impressed with the discipline and dedication of Spanish students at the Dance Concervatorio, it definitely taught me how important is to focus on my goals and to be committed no matter how hard it can get. Overall, this trip was absolutely amazing, can somebody turn back time por favor?”

Laura Locke, Course Leader for BA (Hons) Event and Tourism Management  who accompanied the students said “We visited museums and galleries, marvelled at the combination of Moslem, Jewish and Catholic heritage architecture displayed in the Mesquita in Cordoba, explored the Plaza de Espana in Seville where Game of Thrones and Star Wars was filmed and questioned the tour guide in Cadiz about the opportunities for developing destinations, thus extending the students’ learning from their year one and two modules.”

“There were many highlights of the tour; students were unanimous that the visit to the Conservatoire for Spanish dance in Seville was enlightening, inspiring, and inspirational.”

Accompanying Laura on the tour was Lecturer Gloria Picton. With a background in banking, Gloria teaches the Language and Culture for Business module so the students were able to put their Spanish to the test.

Fellow student Alioune Sylla said “I would recommend that every university should offer their students this opportunity. We really have been blessed to experience it. This trip offers students to get to know each other at different levels, to connect and also build friendships…we were able to practice what we have been studying in Spanish seminars for the past few weeks.”

 

What is a ‘real job’?

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

As someone who has devoted his adult life to teaching and researching the business of management I am, routinely, challenged by journalists and by management executives as to my experience of the ‘real world’ and whether I have ever held down ‘a proper job’. These days I meet this sort of challenge head-on. If I am honest I am altogether too old and just too Scottish to indulge this sort of question. So I now respond to this inquiry by asking another question, ‘How might we know if something is real?’

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And when this is greeted by a quizzical look I add, ‘If I had spent the last 27 years working within a large corporate concern such as, say, Coca Cola you would be impressed and would not trouble yourself to ask such a question. You would readily acknowledge that I had, indeed, held down ‘a proper job’ in the ‘real world’. But what makes the production of a syrupy carbonated liquid somehow more real; more useful; indeed more noble than a career devoted to researching and teaching within Universities which are, after all, large, complex and often highly politicised organizations?’

As I’ve said before: you don’t looks sideways at your GP and say, ‘So you’ve never been anything apart from a doctor!’ I’ve dedicated my adult like to researching business, to understanding the complex problems that managers face every day – last I checked, Universities, too, had managers; struggled with strategic change; had to think about policy and profit. It takes a long time to become an expert… and I’m still working on it.