One Team Where Worlds Collide: The Development of Transcoherence for Tackling Wicked Problems




Ashhurst, Craig

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This thesis is concerned with teams. In particular, multidisciplinary teams that are exploring complex public policy development in relation to problems identified as wicked; in that they resist existing solutions. The mix of expertise in these teams frequently leads to collisions of conceptual worlds among the team members. In addition, these conflicts may also occur along social faultlines that reflect an individual's membership in other collectives outside the team. The result can be an increase in discordance between team members and a fragmentation of effort, leading to poor team performance. This has been recognised in the literature as a major cause of project failure when addressing wicked problems. I address this phenomenon through the study of the lived experience of a specific heterogeneous team that were working on the wicked problem of reconceptualising access to justice for all Australians. I combined this data with theoretical frameworks from multiple disciplines. The findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge in the following ways: Increased understanding of a multidimensional problem My exploration of the rich and entangled nature of the lived experience in heterogeneous teams found a larger mix of conflicts than is usually described in any of the individual streams of literature. In addition, there seemed to be no single term in the literature that adequately described the complexity of the collisions that I observed. In response, I propose an umbrella term, incoherence, to incorporate the multiple terms used to describe the reaction to and result of these collisions. Whereas the disciplinary literature tends to identify social groupings that align with a discipline's academic history, data from my field work uncovers multiple groupings that should all be included as the basis for social faultlines. I therefore propose an umbrella term and concept which can incorporate any of the underlying social groups found in heterogeneous teams: collective coherence. Understanding of a potential desired future state There is agreement in the literature that team conflict should be resolved, but not on how this should be achieved. Instead, proposed solutions are fragmented and often contradictory. My thesis aligns these fragments through the introduction of a third umbrella term, transcoherence, defined in this study as: an individual's ability to consciously straddle different intellectual worlds, and a multidisciplinary group's capacity to reduce social faultlines and develop synergies. Understanding the changes required for heterogeneous teams to move from the current fragmentation to a coherent future state For a team to build a transcoherence capability requires a means of dealing with the sense of incoherence that comes from collisions of worlds. Incorporating learning theory from multiple disciplines, I developed a version of a triple loop learning model as a heuristic to demonstrate the multiple ways in which people respond to and manage incoherence. Each loop of steps starts from and returns to 'coherence in equilibrium', the state of rest in the system. The use of action research I designed the research to be interactive, multilayered, iterative, qualitative, and transdisciplinary. I chose an overarching bricolage methodology, combining multiple methods of data collection, both formal and informal. This was possible as I was embedded in the team for a year as the person tasked with the role of facilitating collaboration. This gave me an opportunity to assess the opportunities and limits of catalytic facilitation in participatory action research. By this I mean that processes in the project were not controlled solely by the head of the project, nor did they function spontaneously. Rather, I was asked to join the team as facilitator of the collaborative process, to act as a catalyst, increasing the potential of the interactions of the various experts connected to the research.






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