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Place – The final frontier: Exploring the outer reaches of collaborative agency using the Japanese concept of Ba


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Scholars within the field of Leadership-as-Practice (LAP) address the way that individuals ‘transcend their own immediate embeddedness’ to achieve volitional coherence known as collaborative agency. The process of collaborative agency is described as inseparable from LAP, yet it remains a nascent field of enquiry requiring additional empirical research. This article presents an investigation of collaborative agency through an abductive case study using video ethnography and interviews. To interpret our results, we turn to the Japanese ideogram for ‘place’, known as ‘Ba’. Rather than a physical reality, Ba is considered an existential space in which leadership groups weave together to create and ripen collaborative agency. Ba guides us to look across and around a group and its socio-material practice. We find that collaborative agency is trans-subjective in nature and sits on a spectrum on which we identify the outer reaches, from one end where Ba is woven through to the other end, called Collapse. We suggest that the place of leadership is within the warp and weft of collaborative agency, including but not limited to a special place woven in Ba where collaborative agency is high and where the group reports they are able to transcend their individualism.
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DOI: 10.1177/17427150211020850
Place The nal frontier:
Exploring the outer reaches of
collaborative agency using the
Japanese concept of Ba
Jennifer L Robinson
Henley Business School, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, UK
Phil St J Renshaw
Craneld School of Management, Craneld University, Craneld, UK
Scholars within the eld of Leadership-as-Practice (LAP) address the way that individuals transcend
their own immediate embeddednessto achieve volitional coherence known as collaborative agency.
The process of collaborative agency is described as inseparable from LAP, yet it remains a nascent
eld of enquiry requiring additional empirical research. This article presents an investigation of
collaborative agency through an abductive case study using video ethnography and interviews. To
interpret our results, we turn to the Japanese ideogram for place, known as Ba. Rather than
a physical reality, Ba is considered an existential space in which leadership groups weave together to
create and ripen collaborative agency. Ba guides us to look across and around a group and its socio-
material practice. We nd that collaborative agency is trans-subjective in nature and sits on
a spectrum on which we identify the outer reaches, from one end where Ba is woven through to the
other end, called Collapse. We suggest that the place of leadership is within the warp and weft of
collaborative agency, including but not limited to a special place woven in Ba where collaborative
agency is high and where the group reports they are able to transcend their individualism.
Leadership as Practice, Ba, practice, trans-subjectivity, Leadership-as-Practice, process, ontology,
practice lens
Corresponding author:
Jennifer L Robinson, Leadership Organisation Behaviour, University of Reading Henley Business School Whiteknights
Campus, Whiteknights Rd, Reading RG6 6UD, UK.
Without some form of connecting around and across agents, we are inevitably left with individuals.
Following this logic, pluralised forms of leadership rely on the coherence, coalescence and/or
collaboration of individuals in some way or another. The scholars within the eld of Leadership-as-
Practice (LAP) address the way that individuals transcend their own immediate embeddednessto
achieve this connecting, dened as collaborative agency (Raelin, 2016a: 138), but only partially.
This article answers the call by Denis et al. (2010) to study how participants coalesce dynamically in
the context of practical activity to create leadership and specically we seek to understand the
emergence of collaborative agency.
Leadership-as-Practice considers that leadership emerges from a perpetually unfolding social
process and turns to collaborative agency to explain how people connect together irrespective of role
or hierarchy (Raelin, 2020). Whereas coordination can be achieved administratively, it is unlikely
that the self-transcendence underpinning collaborative agency can be mandated through crude
administrative processes. More likely is that collaboration and agency will be freely given (withheld)
as the group becomes more or less one unit and self-transcendent. This idea is identied by Gronn
(2015) who suggests that agency arises from volitional coordination and groupsexpressed we
intentions where weis understood as a single, unied centre of attitude and action.
Despite the centrality of collaborative agency to LAP, the literature is empirically silent on how
coalescence emerges (Kempster and Gregory, 2017;Raelin et al., 2018). Our aim is to extend our
understanding of this through the guiding research questions: What is the lived experience of groups
working amongst the processes of collaborative agency? How does the groups collaborative agency
enable individuals to transcend their own embeddedness?
To answer these questions, we undertook an exploratory case study involving 40 h of video
ethnography and interviews following a group of senior functional leaders working in a matrix
structure over two 2-day meetings. Such a matrix structure offers a research context within which
collaborative agency may arise because it is a way to avoid stalemate and enable an effective way
forward given that everyone has equal standing, and all strategies are interdependent. Our study is
designed to provide an initial step towards a better theoretical and empirical understanding of the
nature of collaborative agency.
Although not part of our initial investigation, we turned to a Japanese tradition called Ba(Nonaka
and Konno, 1998) to provide a unifying idea for our data. Whilst it is inappropriate to dene Ba with
a single word, a useful approximation is place. In Ba, self and other co-emerge (Von Krogh et al.,
2013) with multiple participants mutually forging each other individual self is bound to the collective
self. It is possible, and natural in Ba, to transcend ideas of subject and object to become pure un-
selfconscious experiencing (Graupe and Nonaka, 2010). Ba and its notion of place guide us to look
across and around the group not simply between individuals inter-subjectively. Building on Raelins
idea of self-transcendence and the evidence from our study, we suggest that collaborative agency is
appropriately described as trans-subjective. Transcendence goes further than shared conscious in-
terpretations between participants to something within the place, or space, of their experience.
The remainder of this article is structured as follows. We commence with the theoretical basis for
the article explicating LAP and its attendant theories drawn from collective leadership. We explain
the contribution that Ba offers to our understanding which frames the subsequent ndings. Next, we
describe our research methodology and the choice of video ethnography in a case study of leaders
who sometimes create leadership. Thereafter, the discussion explains our empirical and theoretical
contributions to LAP by exploring how groups work as collaborative agents. We end with a review
of the research limitations and a summary of our conclusions.
2Leadership 0(0)
Theoretical background
All forms of collective leadership (CL), including LAP, stand as an antidote to the hegemony of the
single heroic leader and usually embrace pluralised, non-normative and emancipatory ideals
(Barker, 2001;Collinson et al., 2018;Crevani et al., 2010). However, neither LAP nor CL is
a uniform eld of theorising.
Collective leadership is ravaged by contradictions and a plurality of denitions: 120 papers, 28
labels and 121 denitions (Alexy, 2020); alternatively, 935 articles spanning seven forms (Fairhurst
et al., 2020). As DInnocenzo et al. (2016) remark, the literature has become quite disjointed with
a proliferation of nomenclature and conceptualizations(p. 1965). The eld of LAP fares little better
with different researchers adopting a range of philosophical perspectives (Simpson, 2009;Woods,
2016), strong or soft views of process (Crevani and Endrissat, 2016) and different understandings of
practice (Cunliffe and Hibbert, 2016). This multiplicity of approaches makes it impossible to reliably
disentangle the elds.
Ospina et al. (2020) seek to offer conceptual clarity to CL using a 2 × 2 matrix contrasting
researchers’‘locus of leadershipwith view[s] of collectivity. The former axis locates leadership as
either residing in the groupor in the system. The latter axis is divided into those seeing col-
lectivity as either a typeof leadership, or a lenson leadership. Ospina et al. situate LAP as a lens
on leadership within a group.
Our contention is that this is one way to categorise LAP, but it is not ours. In particular, the adoption
of a strong process ontology (Langley and Tsoukas, 2017) has consequences providing a locus of
leadership rooted both within the group and across and around it as well, thus straddling groupand
system. Later, we propose that trans-subjectivity better describes the nature of collaborative agency,
acknowledging that beyond the group, but not at system level, there lies another place of leadership.
To explore our conception of LAP relative to CL, we provide Table 1. In so doing, we ac-
knowledge that this is a simplication of both elds and sets up another set of dichotomies. Hence,
we propose that differences are mutable and contended.
One differentiating feature of CL and LAP is the extent to which a process ontology is used. LAP,
based on a process ontology, suggests no two moments can be the same because all the causes and
Table 1. Comparable features of Leadership-as-Practice and Collective Leadership.
Leadership-as-Practice Collective Leadership
Ontology Plural and processual Plural
Non-entitative Sometimes processual
Nature of leadership Collaborative agency Collectively co-created
Power Power withPower over
Unit of analysis Practice privileges lived and mundane
Multiple participants and/or multiple
Level of analysis Trans-subjective Intra-subjective or inter-subjective
Locus of leadership Ba as Placeacross and around the
Within the multiple relationships
Robinson and Renshaw 3
conditions that create this moment are unrepeatable, ad innitum (Langley and Tsoukas, 2017;
Tsoukas and Chia, 2002). Other leadership research might adopt a process approach and/or be
situated within LAP but it is not always the case that researchers adhere to non-entitative, non-
compositional and non-substantive views.
The natural outow of an ontology that foregrounds process and moves the lens to the social
practice of agents is a non-entitative approach. Because [t]his focus on process undermines major
assumptions. entities disappear the traditional scientic commitment to illuminating a systematic
and predictable world of cause and effect falls moribund(Gergen and Hersted, 2016,p.179).
In common with some other forms of CL, leadership within LAP is not simply additive
(Kozlowski and Klein, 2000). Collaborative agency transcends individual agencies.It is not a
collection of individual agencies(Alexy, 2020: p. 25). This principle of holism whereby the sum is
different from its parts (Koffka, 1935) is shared with, for example, complexity leadership (Marion
and Uhl-Bien, 2003) and is the backbone of emergence.
In both CL and LAP, the granular linkages between research philosophy and subsequent choices
are sometimes obscured. By way of illustration, Hiller et al. (2006) acknowledge that CL is more
than the sum of individual role taking, and this is the point of their enquiry. As such, the study
provides an almost perfect predecessor to our work framed within LAP. But in the article, there are
compositional assumptions that a group comprises 1 + 1 + 1 (Klein et al., 2001). Our contention is
that using an ontology of emergence is not congruent with measures of individuals being aggregated
in this way. Leadership-as-Practice is non-compositional.
There is a further distinction amongst process researchers whereby substantive ontologies assume
that changes happen to things which retain their identity as they change(Fachin and Langley, 2018:
p. 3), whereas in non-substantive ontologies, the entanglement of agents leaves no one or thing
unchanged. It is from the constitutive entwining and continuous reguration of each other that
leadership emerges (Shotter, 2006;Simpson, 2016). Sometimes this distinction is not clear as
researchers use the same terms differently (Simpson, 2016).
These ontological commitments and consequences do not simply differentiate authors within
LAP but also within CL. By way of illustration, the study by Denis et al. (2010) expressly uses
a practice lens to consider three cases of leadership. Although located within human action and
praxis, the authors nevertheless study leaders, so whilst the study is not compositional, it is
substantive. By contrast, a case provided by Sklaveniti (2020) is not expressly within the practice
frame, yet it is ruggedly non-entitative as it considers the development of co-action across col-
laborators. The authors reveal leadership trajectories built on invitation, exploration and afrmation.
We consider that this study is LAP in all but name.
Nature of leadership
Whilst it may be tautological, leadership in CL is achieved collectively. In contrast, within LAP,
leadership is achieved through collaborative agency which has an inseparable connection(Raelin,
2016a: p. 131) to leadership. Whilst collaborative agency is described variously, used extensively,
and only investigated occasionally, our starting point is Raelin (2016a,2016b) where he suggests
that collaborative agency relies on individuals who transcend their own immediate embeddedness
(Raelin, 2016a: p. 133). Raelin suggests that people can be transformed by the relationship between
them quoting from Hegel an I that is we and a we that is I(Hegel et al., 1869, Sec. 177). Ideas of
collaborative agency depend on a shift from self to relational to collective orientation(Carroll et al.,
2008: p. 368); transformed by the relation between them - which is not just the sum of their
qualities(Raelin, 2016a: p. 135/136).
4Leadership 0(0)
Collaborative agency may be relationality(Crevani and Endrissat, 2016;Shotter, 2016)
whereby peoples selves are changed by being in process with each other. People do not remain static
when in connection others have the capacity to move them and make new. Or collaborative agency
may be trans-action(Carroll and Simpson, 2012;Simpson, 2016) where agents both construct and
are constructed by their social interaction. Both descriptions chime with the non-compositional and
non-substantive ontologies discussed earlier.
Only a few have investigated collaborative agency empirically. Carroll et al. (2008) presented the
rst LAP study proposing that leadership is a shift of consciousness that has the potential to remove
any distinction between subject, object and reliance on mental models and cognitive frameworks
(Carroll et al., 2008: p. 375). However, against their own criteria, the authors do not satisfactorily
show a collective and socially constructed view of leadership because they rely on individualistic
perspectives. The data are evidently not inherently relational nor collective.
A number of articles offer further clarication, yet empirical insights into the question of how
interrelating becomes collaborative agency is limited, and the articles tend to vary considerably in
their adherence to the ontologies described above. Carroll and Simpson (2012) use the term
socialityto explore issues of collaboration and emergent leadership in an online forum. Through
the movement of frames, sociality is built so that the group coheres while retaining emergent and
dynamic properties. These authors align closely to our view of LAP. However, the article is
concerned with how ideas of leadership develop through online conversations, rather than spe-
cically on whether collaborative agency or inter-subjectivity is more than conversation.
An organisational restructuring studied by Simpson et al. (2018) has the potential to fragment
collaborative agency. Once again, talkis the means by which coherence is achieved and the article
maps the ebbs and ows of talk through different phases of the restructuring. In keeping with the
foundational theorising of Raelin (Raelin, 2016b), the authors consider that leadership comes out of
social discursivity. The article is internally consistent with all the dimensions we have outlined, and
it provides methodological inspiration with its elegant charting of talk forms onto a musical stave.
Also related to our eld of interest are three cases in an article by Crevani et al. (2010) where
collaboration is considered as a form of spanning across institutional and personal identities. One
case provides an example of socially constructed ideas having agency, such as boundaries, and how
the same talk that creates these boundaries can be used to de-construct them. Talk both manifests and
destroys ideas that have power to constrain or enable actions of the participants. Nevertheless, the
unit of analysis is the individual and for the purposes of developing a deeper understanding of
collaborative leadership, the across group process is missing.
Notwithstanding the above empirical work, collaborative agency, for all its centrality in LAP,
remains persistently under studied.
Collinson (2018a,2018b) levels criticism at LAP, charging researchers with wilful blindness
concerning power and control. Similarly, many who study CL set out to challenge the binary nature
of leadership and followership (Empson, 2020;Empson and Alvehus, 2020;Pye, 2005) and may see
LAP as lacking in criticality. In our view, the conceptualisation of power helps set LAP apart (Raelin
et al., 2018). The non-entitative and non-substantive nature of leadership means that power cannot
be conceived of as a possession, suggesting these issues need fresh thinking with power re-
conceived as unxed and unattached to individuals (Latour, 1984).
However, we acknowledge that not all authors re-conceive power as uid and unfolding but
continue to see the issue as power overothers. The study by Case and ´
Sliwa (2020) is one such
Robinson and Renshaw 5
example, combining both an LAP research approach and a concern for how power is exercised. The
authors locate their enquiry within ideas of process and emergenceand consider how the exercise
of leadership (i.e. power) has an effect on the trajectories of discussions (Case and ´
Sliwa, 2020).
Similarly, Wellman (2017), using a relational model of leadership, relies on emergence, considering
authority as a form of rank providing a hierarchical ordering. Both articles focus on leadership power
and seek to respond to the lacuna of research in this area especially amongst the post conventional
narratives. However, these authors are also ontologically inconsistent having claimed the domain of
emergence but then lapsing to individualistic perspectives: demonstrating the challenges of working
within this eld whilst honouring different underlying ontological commitments.
Consistent with our thinking are ideas of power viewed through a processual lens where it can be
considered more dynamic and free-owing and not residing in a single or even multiple human
forms, and this chimes with descriptions of Ba as a sphere (see below). Thus, power within
collaborative agency may be better conceived of as something held collectively and passed around
like a ball (Aime et al., 2014;Nonaka and Toyama, 2002). Consequently, any practice has the
possibility of instantiating power because it can account for power in the way that a trajectory is
shaped, moved or conrmed. All practice, and all collaborative agency, has the potential to be
infused with power that collectively and co-actively develops; this becomes a more egalitarian
power with(Rosile et al., 2018;Simpson, 2016). These issues of power stretch far beyond the
scope of this article and offer rich potential for further research.
Unit of analysis
The necessity of using practice as a unit of analysis in LAP follows the preceding ontological
commitments allowing researchers to focus on the social act (Simpson, 2009). Following
Jarzabkowski (2004), we are concerned to look for an empirically researchable unit of doing.
Nicolini (2011, p. 603) proposes adopting a practice-based approach is more than just a shift in
methods and analytical sensitivity. [The] essential message is that much is to be gained if we
radically change our basic unit-of-analysis from individuals and their actions to practices and their
relationships. Practice (as a verb) includes all social features of relevance to the process of interest
and the continuously owing agencies (Buchan and Simpson, 2020). We take this to mean that
practice encodes speech and actions, intentions and beliefs, power relationships, sociomateriality,
mental heuristics, personal values and agency (Feldman and Worline, 2016;Nicolini and Monteiro,
2017). Despite contradictions within the LAP literature on the use of practice(s) as a unit of analysis,
the starting point of all LAP empirics is the messy and mundane lived experience of those embarking
on the activity (Feldman and Orlikowski, 2011;Nicolini, 2013b;Raelin, 2017).
A concern levelled at LAP research is whether practice as a unit of analysis makes it somehow
more important than other conceptswhy is practice treated as analytically more signicant ?
(Collinson, 2018a: p. 368). In the foregoing, we have sought to demonstrate that LAP and practice
are not more importantor special, but that denitionally LAP holds onto some fundamental
metatheoretical assumptions (Alexy, 2020;Raelin, 2017). Deviating too far from these assumptions
has non-trivialconsequences (Hyysalo et al., 2019: p. 4) because at some point, deviation renders
research non-LAP.
Level of analysis
Unsurprisingly, LAP faces many unanswered questions, including that of relationality and how
agents who are in process together change each other (Shotter, 2016). Even though a number of
6Leadership 0(0)
authors have relied on this idea, for example becoming we(Gronn, 2015), or inter-subjective
(Raelin, 2011,2017)ortrans-acting(Carroll and Simpson, 2012;Simpson, 2016)no one has
directly explored this process of coalescence nor how participants experience it. Denis et al. (2010)
suggest it is time to study how agents coalesce dynamically in the context of practical activity. In
seeking to focus on these questions, our study draws on research beyond the usual Westernised
views. For example, Marion and Uhl-Bien (2003) chart how Al-Qaeda leadership achieves co-
ordination in the absence of the usual organising structures by relying on a form of cohering. Al-
Qaeda leans on family, history, ideology and loyalty to provide ties that bind using tags which
include ideas, physical symbols such as ags, common enemies or beliefs. Tags emerge from
interactive dynamics, but they are not restricted to inter-subjective relating.
Similarly, the work of Sveiby (2011) on Aboriginal and African tribes examines leadership in
societies where power is at, and individual leaders are not recognised. Coherence emerges through
story and folklore, weaving together behavioural charters, routines and agreed practices which are
developed to prevent controversy destroying the cohesion of the group. Furthermore, in the M
culture, ancestors are called into meetings, future generations are woven into the present and land
and rivers are considered beings with equal humanrights (Spiller et al., 2020).
Whilst Ospina et al. (2020) might distinguish these studies from LAP, these other authors draw
attention to phenomena and processes beyond the immediate actors and their inter-relating, bol-
stering our claims that leadership can transcend the group. The issue of where leadership is located is
a key determinant of Ospina et al.s (2020) 2 × 2 matrix, and it is also the place of enquiry for this
article. Our main challenge to the matrix is that groupor systemlevels of leadership are too
absolute when looking at processes that are across and around a group.
Taking account of terms such as inter-subjectivity, trans-action, relationality, as well as the ideas
from LAP that inspired us, our study (as fully explicated below) led us to identify the processes of
transcending individual embeddedness as trans-subjective in nature. Working trans-subjectively
draws attention to processes across and around a group (beyond group, but not yet system) and
consequently we alighted on Ba, a Japanese concept which enhances our ability to understand the
locus or place of leadership. Given its centrality to our contribution, we introduce Ba at this point.
Doing so is inconsistent with the format of traditional academic papers, given that we identied it
through the study. However, it simplies understanding for the reader, consistent with the real-life
complexity of our research.
Locus of leadership: Ba as Place
The Japanese Kanji for Ba is . Kanji is a symbolic language, and meanings are not xed and are
better described than dened (Graupe and Nonaka, 2010). Ideograms symbolise the idea of a thing
and require us to understand an essence, not an exactness. As applied to the eld of knowledge
management by Nonaka and Konno (1998), Ba can be considered as a shared and existential place
that serves as a foundation for mutual understanding, a place where knowledge and people are
constantly transforming. Furthermore, Ba is part of the self-transcending process through which one
transcends the boundary of the old self into a new self by acquiring a new context, a new view of the
world, and new knowledge(Nonaka et al., 2000: p. 8). Indeed, to participate in Ba means to get
involved and transcend ones own limited perspective or boundary(Nonaka and Konno, 1998:
p. 41). Ba provides the container in which this transcendence can occur, but it is neither a dis-
passionate object nor a direct actor. It is woven into the very fabric of the process.
Ba too is ineffable and integral, in much the same way as a living social topos(Graupe and
Nonaka, 2010: p. 22). Like the ground on which a tribe stands, Ba is a presence: it has meaning and
Robinson and Renshaw 7
substance. For Gueldenberg and Helting (2007), Ba is the process of opening up a space or lived
placewithin which human beings can encounter each other and the world they face (p. 112). Hence,
the place of Ba is neither an attribute of things nor an attribute of consciousness nor is it a place for
simply locating things but instead Ba provides an opening for human experiencing.
Nonaka and Toyama (2002) explain Ba using the metaphor of a sphere to demonstrate the
maximum external surface area and variety whilst maintaining bounded connectedness. Every
participant is at the same distance from the notional centre, and there is no difference among the
participants in terms of their access to the centre. Crucially, the authors argue that the centre is not
axed point. In Ba, anyone has a potential to be a centre, and as Ba is a shared context in motion, the
centre can change as the context evolves. Thus, they suggest that power too is passed around the
sphere as it rotates.
A study by Fujii (2012) concerned with different aspects of problem solving begins to shine
a light on how collaborative agency might emerge. In the study, Japanese students working together
resonate off each other and create Ba. Fujii explains, ‘…they do not simply act as separated actors
but rather resonate each other by entraining themselves in the given place or Ba. In other words, their
places or Ba merge into one and create a stage where each self, interacts(Fujii, 2012: p. 657). We
see Ba as a framing for LAP and this draws our attention to trans-subjectivity: At Ba, participants
achieve trans-subjectivity(Nonaka and Toyama, 2002: p. 1002). Commensurate with non-
substantive ontologies, Ba can be talked and enacted into being, wherein a new being emerges.
It is Ba that provides this fertile breeding ground (Fayard, 2003;Senoo et al., 2007).
We now explain the methodology for our case study before turning to the ndings.
Data and methods
Carroll et al. (2008, p. 375) urge scholars to nd methods that capture the complexity of interaction
rather than an individualistic perspective, and others note, methodological innovation has not
kept pace with new leadership theory(Simpson et al., 2018: p. 645). In response, we use a video
ethnographic case study because it allows the investigation to capture complexity and details both
across and around the group, at the level of practice. Case studies are consistent with the nascent state
of the LAP eld and the need for rich data in exploratory research (Yin, 2018).
The case study is located within one of the worlds leading industrial technology companies. The
participants have worked together for approximately 6 months, having previously known each other
and coordinated their activities more informally. In 2018, core functions were recentralised and these
individuals re-applied for their jobs with direct reporting to a new functional head. Some of the
participants have therefore worked together in different congurations for several years, but other,
newer participants have joined throughout the preceding 6 months. The recent changes, the matrix
structure, the unxed membership of the group, the strategic signicance of the meetings and the
dynamic environment offered a relevant context to investigate LAP and the potential emergence of
collaborative agency.
An overview of the group and the material collected is provided in Table 2.
Video ethnography was augmented by direct observation and interviews that invited reection
with individuals and the whole group. The rst author was present during the meetings working as
a participantobserver, whereas during the group interviews, her stance became one of co-
discoverer. In the latter phases of the research, there was a certain amount of with-ness (Shotter,
2006) between the researcher and participants as this was new terrain under investigation, and it was
for everyone concerned to be part of the enquiry.
8Leadership 0(0)
Research iterations
To align ontologically with a strong process view of LAP, it was important to maintain an across-
group focus for the research as far as possible. As illustrated in Figure 1, there were several research
layers and, consistent with emergent principles and the messiness of real-life leadership, we use
shaded lines between each of these layers within an egg-style diagram to foreground the porous
nature of the activities and to avoid any misinterpretation of arrows as denoting causality (Feldman,
2016). We see these as entwined and iterative steps.
Video ethnography The group meetings. The participants chose strategically important meetings for
the rst author to attend. The intention was to reduce the distracting effects of the presence of the
researcher and to help ensure their attention would be fully absorbed in their work. Two 2-day
meetings were chosen of which 3 days used telepresence (simulated presence in a virtual room
projected on a large screen) whilst they were all physically co-located on the other day.
Video ethnography aims to capture natural interaction to try to understand how participants are
constructing leadership through the very actions that are recorded. It is a near perfect method for
studying leadership as a situated phenomenon (Sutherland, 2018). In common with other sources of
ethnography, video provides data-rich archival material, making it possible to investigate the
mundane activity of leadership (Sutherland, 2018). Video allows for a saturation within the hap-
penings of the group, but it also presents a challenge (see next section below) when translating data
from the three-dimensional image to the two-dimensions of paper.
Individual reexive interviews. In common with all forms of qualitative research, our video eth-
nography provided an abundance of data. Selecting and working with these data presents a chal-
lenge. Steered by our research questions, we involved the participants themselves in guiding the
selection of where to focus our attention to ensure that the choice was most salient to them and their
lived experience. The more-usual qualitative approaches of transcribing interviews or working with
ethnographical records and coding from these sources inevitably leaves the selection of material and
narrowing of data to the researcher. Implicit in that approach is the researcher knowingwhat needs
to be foregrounded. Very denitely, we did not knowand wanted the groups view to prevail where
Each participant took part in a reexive interview shortly after the observed meetings. We name
these reexive interviews to draw attention to the meta nature of these discussions, where par-
ticipants turned-backon their experience to reect. Whilst individual interviews are inconsistent
Table 2. Overview of the case study.
Research timescale July 2019 to March 2020
Composition 4 females; 4 males
2 US-based; 6 UK-based
1 male person of colour, newest to the group
Material collected 5 days of meetings
40 h of video
12 h of individual reections
4 h of group review meeting
3 h of feedback and validation
Robinson and Renshaw 9
with our commitment to working across the group, the alternative of asking the group risked
prioritising status, loudest voices or tenure in identifying salient moments. We gained assurance that
the presence of the camera and researcher were ignored. Next, each person identied sections of the
meetings of salience to them, avoiding judgements about goodor bad. From these reexive
interviews, the salient video segments were separated for later discussion by the group.
Reviewing salient moments as a group Elicitation. To help sensitise participants to our practice lens,
we shared videos of waves on a beach and ocks of starlings (murmurations) and explored these
Figure 1. Research approach.
10 Leadership 0(0)
metaphors of coherence and leadership in the doing, achieving and collaborating. This sought to
move everyones attention from themselves as individuals to consider the perspectives across the
group and placed their attention beyond just discourse per se. It provided the group with an un-
derstanding of holism rather than atomising to single entities.
In a half-day meeting, each chosen video segment was viewed by the group, and subsequently,
they re-lived their experience as a group. The researchers questions in the group discussion were
based on elicitation (Petitmengin et al., 2007). Elicitation interviews are designed to bring pre-
reexive processes (cognitive and otherwise) to the fore and help the group to see their coherence
and fragmentation. Such an elicitation approach seemed consistent with the idea that collaborative
agency is a process for which people may lack theory or language to describe. Whilst we were
unaware of Ba at the time of designing the research and choosing elicitation, Ba as an emergent
property of a group is similarly aligned.
On completing the group meetings and elicitation interview, we faced the methodological question
of translating a three-dimensional moving image onto a two-dimensional static page. To retain
delity to the source, we sought terminology or labels throughout the iterative coding process to
invoke the trajectories or movements of the groups practice. This had the benecial effect of
keeping these labels value neutral: for example, advancing, diverging or redirecting. We also sought
diagrammatic approaches which might help minimise value judgements and support the ability to
frame the ndings as movement rather than more traditional static forms of data. For example,
allowing us to see and experience when an action or trajectory took place and its relationship with
other activities, rather than counting how often events took place in tabular form.
Primary data coding. Following the discussion with the group, we sought to code each segment of
each salient video using the concept of trajectories. All the videos were watched rst to further
sensitise ourselves to the potential patterns including sayings and doings. The nal coding schema
(provided in the Findings section to facilitate data interpretation) was a highly emergent process
given its atheoretical underpinning and arose from many iterations. We note that research papers
often imply a deterministic step-by-step coding process with discrete results, this was not, and nor
does it continue to be, our experience. On three occasions during the coding process, we held video
calls with the group to test our ideas, to share our coding terminology and descriptions, and to
explore their feedback.
Furthermore, exploring without a map, whilst emergent, is also disorienting. After several
exploratory passes at the analysis, we knew that the group had described lived experiences but we
had little theory to guide us. So, working abductively we searched for literature and alternative
perspectives that might inform our thinking. Thanks to the Buddhist philosophy which so closely
parallels some of the ontologies described earlier, we alighted on the literature of Ba. This was
fundamental in our seeing and understanding the Place of leadership and enabling the useful coding
of our data. As a result, we eventually landed upon a set of discernible patterns using tools,
discourses and bodies (Nicolini, 2013a) which provide insights into LAP. We chose patternsas the
descriptive noun for these practices across and around the group which includes talk and physical
movements such as nodding heads, making notes on ipcharts, handing items to each other, using
slides and computers.
Identifying and naming these different patterns provided a useful shorthand so that the video
segments could be viewed and labelled accordingly, allowing us to gain a sense of how these patterns
Robinson and Renshaw 11
played out. Nonetheless, to explore the data, we needed a way to overlay some minimal order upon
it. We tried many different data display techniques before alighting upon our preferred mechanism
which we named Pulse Charts (see Figure 2 below). Additionally, we had to determine which code or
pattern should appear where on the relevant axis given the huge number of potential options. After
many iterations, we decided to order these simplistically by reference to the total frequency of each
pattern across all the salient meeting segments as there appeared to be no discernible benetin
different variations. In contrast, in socialising these pulse charts with the group, they were initially
displayed horizontally with time running left to right and the patterns identied on the vertical axis.
However, when the group looked at the charts this way, we noticed that they overlaid a prejudice,
assuming that those codes high on the vertical axis were betterthan those lower down. We held no
such assumption. To solve this, the charts were turned 90 degrees into a vertical form. This changed
the feedback and hence the value of the pulse charts to our investigations.
Secondary coding. The secondary coding aimed to t categories together to develop a comprehen-
sible synthesis of the corpus (Saldaña, 2010). In a reorganisation of all data, we returned to the
patterns for each segment alongside the group review and began to discern connected orientations.
Whilst in our primary coding schema, we did not ascribe a purpose, it became apparent that there
might be a consistent set of logics between certain patterns. For example, the pattern of adding and
the pattern of aggregating might have the common logic of moving the group forward. This iterative
moving within and between the different layers of data helped us to see that the patterns could be
further clustered using similar logics. To differentiate them, and for consistency with weaving the
place of Ba, we subsequently named these patterns of patterns, tapestries. To aid comprehension of
the charts, these too are provided in the Findings section which we now turn to.
To provide everyone with an equal say in the selection of the video material, we asked them
individually to choose moments that were salient to them in the 2 × 2-day meetings. All eight
participants chose the same three sections which were 20, 40 and 35 min long, respectively. The
discussion of each of the segments resulted in three qualitatively different types of situations which
we have named Ba,Business as Usualand Collapse. We now analyse and explicate these. As
guided by our research question, we rst establish the lived experience of the participants and use the
groups descriptions to identify a potential spectrum of collaborative agency. Next, we investigate
how the patterns uctuate within segments and then across segments. Finally, we describe the overall
tapestries of patterns and what they reveal about the Place of Ba and the similarities and differences
across the segments on the spectrum.
The lived experience of collaborative agency
In this section, consistent with the practice lens and looking across the group, we provide quotes as
voices from the whole, not from individuals. Throughout the group interview, we were careful to get
input from everyone, not just those who were naturally forthcoming, and we feel condent that the
samples provided are representative of the whole.
Ba. In the rst of the three salient periods identied by the group, they used consistent descriptions
of their lived experience. Their voices (see example quotes in Table 3) suggest that in this meeting
segment they are working in high collaborative agency and Ba is present. People describe being into
12 Leadership 0(0)
Figure 2. Spectrum of collaborative agency.
Robinson and Renshaw 13
itand it just clicksextending to descriptions of owand uplift, all of which demonstrate
a consistency with the nature of Ba. In the video segment, there is no sense that this is an easy
conversation, and there is disagreement and some strong exchanges. Participantsviews could differ
but still build and reinforce each other, interacting in a way which was Kinda magical. Finally,
descriptions include fully thereand all showing up, but a difference of opinion is possible and is
Consequently, we propose that Ba provided an existential space where individuals could
transcend their embeddedness. The group used terms such as synergy,intimacy, creating space
and all pinging off each other. Without using the label of Ba but fully aware of the experience,
multiple participants mutually forge each other (without losing their own identity) in a constructed
place where they could pingoff each other and experience non-separation.
Collapse. We now consider the salient meeting section which seemed at the outer reaches of
collaborative agency, the place where Ba is not woven. Sample descriptions are in Table 4. The
group reported a very different lived experience, like being caught in a quagmire with little progress.
Amongst the group members, there is no open hostility, but things are not coalescing amongst them.
In this meeting segment, the conversation is civil with some laughter, but Ba is not emerging, and the
group cannot transcend individualism to become more than the sum of its parts. Everyone remains
resolutely a unit of one.
There is a whiff of accusation that it is othersfault they see,doing own thingas well as why
am I expected. It is not that the group is unaware of what is happening. There are quotes to show that
even as the meeting progressed, participants had the feeling they were not harmonisedand lacked
Table 3. Quotes in Ba.
Openness to try something new.
All clicks.
Kinda magical: synergy: intimacy
Its a beautiful thing. We can all be different but still build and reinforce each other. There is deep respect. Take
each other and just run with it.
Energised and people got into it.
[We] jumped around and [found] a ow which caught the imagination.
We sparked off each other, didnt stick to the task. Collective responsibility was strong.
Up a level
Times of uplift
An ahh haa
Really hit the spot
People spoke freely without being judged. All collectively contributing. Fully there.
Everyone shows a willingness to be in it. All showing up
We focused on building on each other
Some space to think
All pinging off each other I hadnt thought of that...generating different insights
All being collaborative.
14 Leadership 0(0)
unity: [it] feels like kindergarten. Something was missing and each was looking to the other to
provide it. No one, nor any coalition of individuals, was taking care of the whole; all stood back no
one stepped forwardand there was no mutual construction of space or place and hence Ba was not
We call this lived experience Collapse of Ba (Collapse for short) because it stands in stark contrast
to the place of Ba. In the discussion, we will consider whether Collapse of Ba is equivalent to
a collapse of collaborative agency and explain why we think not.
Business as Usual. The group described a mid-point which, they told us, represented the more usual
experience of working together. Here, they are confronting the difculties forced upon them by their
dual-reporting lines, and their descriptions (examples are in Table 5) are inconsistent with weaving
the place of Ba.
Descriptions diverge, with some participants seeing the conversation in one way –‘constructive
and others seeing the conversation another way –‘checked out. Their reading of the situation and of
each other is not cohering. This is important. If each individual is interpreting the conversation and
the sociality (Carroll and Simpson, 2012) of the room in a way that does not align to others, this
reading of the situation could lead to contributions to the group that for others may feel off-key.
Weaving a place of Ba without a consistent reading of each other seems nearly impossible.
Table 5. Quotes in business as usual.
Good constructive discussion.
Outcomes will be valued by the group, not [name] but the groups answer.
People didnt agree but it felt like they were.
Felt constructive.
Circled around a few times, but that was good for us.
Built off each other. People did speak up.
Not everyone engaged in the discussion.
Really disappointing.
I tutted and checked out a bit.
People de-prioritise our meetings, people just show up.
Table 4. Quotes in collapse.
Feels like kindergarten.
Low point.
One person [had their contribution via a stickie] lifted off, and not allowed to have his say
....unusually negative.
A sense of Im not going to bother.
They can see its not working but they dont call it out.
Cant be off doing your own thing, thats not how collaboration works.
Disengaged and typing on their computer.
I was frustrated, I was ignored.
Not our best. Saw a colleague being undermined.
We were individuals, not harmonised as a group.
8 people [i.e not one unit].
Why am I expected to x it?
All stood back no one stepped forward.
Robinson and Renshaw 15
Nonetheless, there are descriptions which seem consistent with collaborative agency, for example,
[We] Built off each other. People did speak up. As we explore below, this suggests that Ba may
become more latent or liminal from time to time.
In combination, the descriptions of these three places suggest a spectrum of collaborative
agency. At or towards one end of the spectrum, we identify that Ba is woven, and collaborative
agency is high. At or towards the other end of the spectrum, we see the opposite where Ba
has collapsed but we propose some minimal form of collaborative agency continues. Some-
where between these two ends, we nd Business as Usual where the group experiences more
collaborative agency than during Collapse, yet there is evidence the group fails to weave a place
of Ba.
Patterns of collaborative agency Primary coding
In this section, we consider the three different places on the spectrum and look at the groups patterns
using the primary coding. Our coding produced 14 group patterns of Adding, Advancing, Ag-
gregating, Appreciating, Challenging, Checking, Diverging, Exchanging, Laughing, Missing, Re-
directing, Silence, and Yessing. We also have no code, when there were interruptions such as a
technology failure or individual brainstorming when the group temporarily ceased as an entity. The
nal coding sheet adopted the denitions in Table 6 which we now investigate for each of our places
along the spectrum.
Table 6. Primary coding of patterns
Patterns Meaning
Adding Contributing new ideas
New meanings
Advancing Moving forward
Furthering the discussion
Aggregating Consolidating ideas or meaning
Including others points or views
Appreciating others Thanking
Challenging Confronting the prevailing momentum
Checking understanding generally Questioning of the whole group
Diverging Not agreeing
Whole group fragmenting
Exchanging Requesting specic details
Laughing Joking
Releasing tension
Misunderstanding Missing the point of the other
Speaking at odds to each other
No group/no coding Individual work
Re-directing Moving the group in a new direction
Silence Sitting in stillness
Yessing Agreeing
16 Leadership 0(0)
Using a sequence of patterns provides a way to compare, for example, how one pattern follows
another or how long the group spends in one pattern or how one pattern is often adjacent to other
patterns. To enliven these ideas, we developed the concept of pulses whereby the trace or imprint of
each segment of the meeting can be illustrated and compared to other segments of the meeting. These
pulse charts show the sequencing of the patterns across time and are created by using the frequency
of patterns to create the horizontal axis. For example, advancing is the most frequent pattern and is
placed at 0, whereas diverging is the least frequent and is placed at 14. The three points on the
spectrum produce three distinctive pulse charts as shown in Figure 2.
Each of these pulse charts is distinctive and we turn now to look at what differentiates the patterns
of collaborative agency within and across the different segments.
In Ba Pinging off each other. This was the nal section of the agenda for the group following a 7-h
meeting, and two members were suffering jetlag; also, two participants did not speak throughout the
segment, and a third member only spoke once. These actualities are noted given their reported lived
experience of all showing up. There is no diverging, but there are still patterns of checking,
challenging and exchanging indicating that there is interrogation of ideas and of each other. The most
laughter occurs at this point, and we also note that there are no interruptions.
Across the three pulse charts, no group uses all the patterns. However, the two distinctive features
of the pulse of high collaborative agency in Ba is the wide variety of patterns throughout and the high
tempo. Tempo is indicated by the frequent pattern changes which aligns with the earlier descriptors
of people actively contributing. These two features make the pulse regular and even.
Collapse Like kindergarten. The group is, at this point, on the spectrum for 35 min; it is mid-morning
on the second day of the rst meeting. The group has the highest number of no codes. This is the only
segment where there is no appreciation expressed, and it is the only segment where the group diverges.
They also have nine sections where the pattern is missingwhich indicate misunderstandings.
The pulse of Collapse has a similar energetic feel to high collaborative agency as the group
switches patterns more frequently than in Business as Usual, but the group also demonstrates
occasional table-tops and plateaus. These table-tops/plateaus are times when the group subsists in
one pattern for an extended period. In Collapse, there is the least amount of advancing. Also, notably,
the pulse of Collapse begins with divergence, followed by four instances where the group is talking
or working at odds with each other (missing).
Business as usual Constructive and disappointing. During this segment, the group is at the end of
a second day of meetings. A distinguishing feature of this video is that the group exhibits turn taking
with each speaker neatly slotting onto the end of the previous speaker. The pulse of Business as
Usual shows the group switches from pattern to pattern at a lower tempo than at other times; thus, the
group stays in single patterns for longer as demonstrated by the table-tops and plateaus within the
pulse chart. Energy levels in the group seem low which is also noted in the verbatim comments
Over the 40 min, there are 24 no-coding patterns which are interruptions derived externally
(technology failure) or internally (individual brainstorming). The group does not use diverging and
they continue checking, challenging and exchanging information with each other during the dis-
cussion. This is the lowest pattern of laughter in this segment and the highest count of advancing,
adding and redirecting.
Robinson and Renshaw 17
Weaving tapestries Secondary coding
Turning to the secondary coding, while the pulse charts help show temporality, the tapestry charts
that we now introduce begin to cluster the shared logics of the patterns. These codings are shown
in Table 7.
Figure 3 compares the three places on the collaborative agency spectrum and applies the
secondary coding schema. All three sections are predominantly in Flow as shown in the left-hand
column. These moments in Flow are often broken by Reveal activities when the group is challenging
and checking progress and understanding. The third column from the left hand side represent Renew
activities comprising silence, laughter and yessing which can have the effect of re-unifying the
group. Finally, the fourth column represent Ruptures in the activity of the group.
Each column works in a binary manner, making the strands discontinuous. It is not possible to be
in two columns simultaneously, but instead, this way of exploring the data demonstrates how the
logics of the group change moment to moment and each interrupts the other.
The left chart shows the weaving of Ba where the group extends across Flow, Reveal and Renew.
Across the strands, there is mostly equal criss-crossing with one Rupture and one extended period of
Flow. The vertical and horizontal strands provide a weaving of Ba, creating an array where warp and
weft are balanced.
In Business as Usual, the most notable feature is that the Flow sometimes continues unabated and
without adjustments. Other times, the warp and weft are balanced across Flow, Reveal and Renew
consistent with the Ba chart. However, there are structural imbalances created by too much Flow.
Hence, this suggests that the group fails to achieve Ba because they are failing to re-orient the ow of
practice. Equally, holes are rent in the fabric of the group with two notable Ruptures. Nonetheless,
consistent with our earlier point that Ba is not present, had there been fewer interruptions or had there
been, for example, the use of Reveal, then maybe higher collaborative agency could have arisen. The
patchy nature of the tapestry aligns with the inconsistent lived experiences of the group. As they
report, parts of this meeting were collaborative but other parts were disappointing, this is seen in the
tapestries in secondary coding.
Collapse still appears to show that weaving down and across the columns is strong in places.
However, the fabric is being ripped by too many Ruptures occurring in the early phases. Whilst there
are two signicant periods of Rupture in Business as Usual, this does not seem to have the same
impact as they are spaced out with FlowRevealRenew building strength in between. Dis-
continuities such as technical failure or brainstorming (examples of Ruptures) are unaccounted for in
any theorising in pluralised leadership. Our ndings demonstrate that in Collapse there are seven
instances in 35 min. The weaving unravels and people fail to exhibit a willingness to subsume their
own efforts and benets within the collective effort(Drath et al., 2008: p. 647) in order to repair it.
Table 7. Secondary coding of tapestries.
Secondary coding -
Tapestries Primary coding - Patterns Description Consistent logics
Flow Adding, advancing, aggregating, appreciating,
Continuing or creating
Reveal Challenging, checking, exchanging Explaining, exposing or sharing
Rupture Misunderstanding, diverging, interruptions Damaging cohesion
Renew Yessing, laughing. silence Repairing cohesion
18 Leadership 0(0)
Figure 3. Tapestries for spectrum of collaborative agency.
Robinson and Renshaw 19
In summary, we build on the metaphor of weavingthe place of Ba to interpret these diagrams.
When one column subsists, the other columns are subdued. Weaving strong tapestries requires an
evenness of both warp and weft, down each column and across each column. The criss-crossing of
the threads of patterns across the four columns provides a way to see how the activity strengthens to
weave together a place of Ba or unravels to create a group that collapses collaborative agency and
fails to weave Ba.
Despite all having the title leader, it was not a foregone conclusion that participants would work to
produce leadership through collaborative agency. Without participants nding a sense of we-ness
(Gronn, 2015) to reconcile business agendas, stalemate was likely. Our research questions set out to
understand the group process of collaborative agency and how individuals transcend their em-
beddedness in a place of Ba. These ndings suggest several important issues.
Ba and the trans-subjectivity of collaborative agency
Ba draws attention to the importance of looking not just at the activity between the participants, but
also across and around them. As such, we are drawn to processes beyond the inter-subjective,
echoing indigenous and naturalistic writings (Marion and Uhl-Bien, 2003;Spiller et al., 2020;
Sveiby, 2011). Our ndings reect this as the group describes how they move up a leveland there
are times of uplift.Bas underpinning Japanese and Buddhist philosophical positions of mutual
dependence, impermanence and non-separation (Hanks et al., 2019) highlight the need to shift our
gaze from inter-subjective to trans-subjective practice.
Fujii (2012) suggests that in Ba, the outer regions of individualism can dissolve to allow the re-
making of a fresh entity (see Figure 4 taken from page 657/8).
Our research question invited us to explore lived experience. Our participantsdescriptions at key
points tted with the principles of Ba. Theoretically, when in Ba, a person does not continue
individualising but experiences ever-changing intimacies. Empirically, we found that the group
reported having a felt-sense of themselves dynamically arising from the social weaving that is of
their creation and which creates them too: all pinging off each other. Further, they can all be
different but still build and reinforce each other. Our ndings point to a place of Ba in which an
Figure 4. Resonance is established in Ba.
20 Leadership 0(0)
inter-actional view of collaborative agency is insufcient to properly represent the processes that
allow actants to transcendtheir embeddedness.
Furthermore, consistent with Raelins (2011, p. 16) humming alongand Fujiis (2012) res-
onance, both of which must be experiential, these are processes that occur across the group. In
combination, our ndings suggest the term trans-subjectivity is more appropriate to describe the
practice, drawing on the etymology of trans, that is, beyond, not just the within and between of
intraor inter. Trans-subjectivity helps us understand better the lived experience of the self-
transcendence within collaborative agency.
Ba and the collaborative agency spectrum
Turning to our second research question, concerned with understanding how a groups collaborative
agency enables individuals to transcend their own embeddedness, we extend the processual view of
leadership to include both a becoming(Hernes, 2007;Tsoukas and Chia, 2002) along with
asubsiding. Thus, we place the three reported lived experiences along a spectrum consistent with
rising and falling. High collaborative agency emerges with the weaving of Ba. However, we suggest
there is an irregular relationship between Ba and collaborative agency that is not causal nor cor-
relational. Instead, we point to some of the most interesting and counter-intuitive ndings of this
study: even in Collapse, the same patterns persist in primary coding. In secondary coding, the four
columns of weaving also persist.
In sum, practice does not appear to change but the volitional coherence does. We therefore
rationalise that collaborative agency can persist, maybe minimally, even during Collapse and
without Ba. Consistent with this, the group acknowledges that during Collapse, they became in-
dividualised: We were individuals. Not harmonised as a group, and yet they had not fractured
irreparably. This may suggest that Ba remains latent, with all the processes needed to encourage its
re-emergence remaining in situ ready for resonance. The tapestries show how quickly the group
weaves and rips Ba; it is eeting and fragile and therefore liminal with ongoing potentiality.
These ideas and the place of Ba allow us to identify a spectrum of collaborative agency thereby
extending the work of Raelin (2016c,2020;Raelin et al., 2018).
Maintaining collaborative agency
In understanding how a groups collaborative agency enables individuals to transcend their own
embeddedness, there is also a question of how collaborative agency may be maintained. Larsson and
Lundholm (2013) suggest that an organising property of leadership is the prevention of closure,
thereby enabling the reinterpretation of an issue. Premature cognitive commitment (Langer, 1989)is
the tendency we have as humans to too quickly come to a conclusion on an issue and fail to seek non-
conrmatory evidence. Prevention of closure is one way to overcome this tendency.
Challenging, checking and exchanging are considered in our ndings as part of Reveal because
they invite the group to explore underlying logics and rationales. This is consistent with the idea that
the group did not hurry to close but remained open to further views. Consistent with these ideas,
other authors have said that being experientially open to the reality of the present moment(Bishop
et al., 2004: p. 233) helps to ensure that the group will not be swept up by judgements. This non-
judgemental, present-centred awareness may help the group keep an open mind in interactions
(Arendt et al., 2019). We propose that the interweaving of the threads of Flow and Reveal are
important. Remaining too long in Flow (a feature of Business as Usual) leaves the fabric un-
structured, but when accompanied by Reveal, the fabric is strengthened. So, although Reveal
Robinson and Renshaw 21
includes ideas such as challenging and checking, they might be having the effect of preventing
premature closure of an issue.
Similarly, the LAP literature suggests that a hallmark of leadership is the re-orientation of practice
(Simpson, 2016). In Ba, we identied a high tempo of patterns combined with high variability (see
Pulses in Figure 2) which speaks directly to Simpsons (2016) ideas.
It is unintuitive, but it seems that collaborative agency is not simply an unhindered advancing of
ideas. The benecial effect of interrupting Flow might be that corrections can inoculate the process
from the scourge of groupthink (Janis, 1982). Collaborative agency appears to rely on balance and
energy too. Energy is tantamount to engagement and motivates the patterns within Reveal, providing
the group with the opportunity to interrogate themselves. We also note that the interruption of Flow
may be achieved successfully through Rupture and Renew provided there is sufcient tempo and
variability (as happened in Ba). Also, the tapestries (Figure 3) show more than twice as many
instances of Renew on a per-minute basis in Ba compared to the other segments, indicating the
importance of this seemingly simple style of patterns (predominantly using yes). Unlike
Csikszentmihalyis(Csikszentmihalyi, 2014) description of Flow, our proposition is that Ba/high
collaborative agency benets from re-orientations.
The ndings of this study lead us to propose that maintaining collaborative agency is not the
absence of patterns that might be discerned as disruptive, such as challenging, but may be a bal-
ancing of Flow with Reveal and Renew sufcient to overcome Ruptures.
The fragility of Ba and collaborative agency
Our ndings show that Flow is also re-oriented through patterns that aggregate to Rupture. In-
evitably, technology fails occasionally but the group too also causes breaks in the Flow by choosing
to work on items as individuals, or someone leaves, or is late and the group awaits their arrival/
return. Whilst similar patterns of variability arise in Business as Usual, Collapse and Ba, they are not
sustained in the former two. Furthermore, the instances of Rupture may be too frequent in the early
stages of Collapse for collaborative agency to emerge. It is possible that Business as Usual and
Collapse had the potential to weave a place of Ba if Ruptures had been avoided or were infrequent,
suggesting that Ba is fragile and the weaving is easily ripped.
We propose that Rupture and Renew strands interweave, making timing and proximity important
too. When frequent Ruptures occur, the weaving is weakened. Renewal needs to occur quickly so
that the warp and weft of the strands provide strength. By considering Ba as a weaving of patterns, it
appears that intersecting strands mean that no single strand is left bare. We foreground the impact of
Ruptures and seemingly minor interruptions. Ruptures are not always devastating one occurs in
Ba. However, Ruptures may become difcult with insufcient Renewal or Renewal that is too late.
The weaving of Ba can fray.
Ba helps the groups coalescing, and coalescing helps weave Ba. This process is mutually
constitutive, fragile and eeting. Across 40 h of video, it is only during a single 20-min section that
we were able to capture this metamorphosis. Although patterns and tapestries are similar in other
instances, the fabric is ruptured, and Ba is not woven, suggesting a fragility to the process and its
Raelin (2016a) argues that self-transcendence is a key component of collaborative agency. The
construct of Ba allows us to see the role that resonance plays across the group in our ndings. The
22 Leadership 0(0)
language of the group when in Ba indicated the signicance of resonance as the group sparked off
each otherand ping[ed] off each other. Furthermore, the tapestries oscillate quickly from Flow to
Reveal to Renew and vice versa. Tempo and responsiveness appear to be critical features. Hence,
when experiencing high collaborative agency, there was resonance and this sequencing persists.
Otherwise, when not in Ba, the patterning begins but is often abruptly foreshortened or the tapestries
of one type continue for too long without interweaving from other tapestries, thus we could not see
resonance. We do not propose that collaborative agency relies on resonance because the same
elements of patterning exist in the group in all three places of collaborative agency and sometimes
the same sequences also arise; they are simply not maintained. This suggests that resonance was
possible throughout but did not come into being sufciently during Business as Usual and Collapse.
It seems then that collaborative agency can minimally occur without resonance, but high collab-
orative agency was experienced as resonance and hence is fundamental to the self-transcendence
necessary to maximise LAP.
Before closing we reect on the limitations that arise from this study. The group chose to review just
three instances from 40 h of video. Against the ideas proposed above, we are interested to re-visit
other instances to discover how the patterns and sequencing of patterns might align with our
theorising. However, this is limited by our methodology which calls for the group to discern their
lived experience, not us. Since the data was collected, the group has once again been re-congured
so we have no further opportunity to review with them again in the same way. We note that constant
re-organising likely adds to the fragility of collaborative agency.
Allied to the above limitation is the concern that we have used a 20 min clip of video for the
analysis of Ba. If we were working quantitatively, there would be concerns as to the signicance of
this small sample. However, we are relying not on statistics, but on the lived experience of our
participants to determine impact and signicance. Against this criterion, we are persuaded that this
provides sufciently strong data for our paper.
In contrast to identifying a spectrum of collaborative agency, an alternative interpretation may be
that we have identied three separate states: Ba, individual agency (Collapse) and something
between the two, similar to collective rather than collaborative agency. We are not persuaded by this
interpretation but will continue our research journey to investigate other cases and invite others to do
the same.
Matrixed global organisations are common because of the potential for headcount savings and
coordination efciencies this structure affords. But in-built structural tensions abound. In practical
terms, we point to the importance of collaborative agency as a trans-subjective process which allows
individuals to transcend their embeddedness.
This article contributes to LAP by suggesting that collaborative agency is trans-subjective and
moreover that it sits on a spectrum. We have identied and described the outer reaches, one where Ba
is woven and the other where there is Collapse. We suggest that collaborative agency continues to
subsist all along the spectrum but the Place of self-transcendence is at or near the highest point where
Ba is present. When in Ba, the group is using the widest variety of patterns, contributing to strong
tapestries. The cloth is strengthened when the ratios of tapestries are balanced over time, with each of
the four strands having sufcient representation to hold the fabric together: not too much of one; not
Robinson and Renshaw 23
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weaving of Ba and demonstrated how holes can appear in the fabric such that collaborative agency is
fragile and difcult to maintain. Finally, we identify the potential role of resonance within a group
which may be important if individuals are to practice trans-subjectively as anticipated in Leadership-
Declaration of conicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship and/or publication
of this article.
The author(s) received no nancial support for the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.
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Author biographies
Jennifer (Jenny) Robinson is a Doctoral Student at Henley Business School currently completing
her thesis on Mindful Leadership. Her abiding belief is that leadership is a pluralised endeavour and
that heroic leadership urgently needs to be replaced by theories that have practical relevance in
todays organisations. Learning about philosophical perspectives has been a high point in her PhD
adventure. Jenny works as a leadership development coach and trainer.
Phil St J Renshaw is a Visiting Fellow at Craneld University. His research interests focus on the
value of international assignments. He works with doctoral students in various capacities including
the impact of ones philosophical perspective. Applying the learning from his successful book,
Coaching on the Go, he is a management/executive coach and a leadership development facilitator.
His greatest passion is teaching leaders the skills of coaching to use in everyday life.
Robinson and Renshaw 27
... Different scholarly traditions have shed light on organizing processes being more than talk practices, involving both human and non-human actors. Within leadership, aesthetic leadership researchers have for example explored the role of the body and the senses (Hansen et al., 2007;Sinclair, 2005); scholars focusing on practice and/or communication have brough to the fore the role played by different objects (Carroll, 2016;Fairhurst & Cooren, 2009;Griffey & Jackson, 2010;Sergi, 2016), space (Ropo & Salovaara, 2019) and place (Hambleton et al., 2021;Robinson & Renshaw, 2022) in co-accomplishing leadership. ...
... This requires other skills than traditional academic writing. Researchers could work with the style of the presentation in order to create a certain rhythm, for instance, by working with the length of sentences (Hallin, 2015), or they could present rhythm in other formats, for instance, with diagrams (Robinson & Renshaw, 2022;Simpson et al., 2018). Conversation analysis has always brought forward the importance of details in interaction and we can learn from this tradition how important sequences of illustrations of empirical situations can be. ...
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This paper addresses the need for further developing an understanding of leadership as practice in its multimodality by means of theoretically motivated qualitative methods, allowing researchers to come close to the doing of leadership. Empirical studies of this kind are still relatively rare. By articulating a micro-ethnographic approach, we encourage short-term-focused engagements in empirical work and the writing of closed vignettes. Through this, current theoretical developments are connected to recommendations for fieldwork and for writing practices. We thereby articulate one possible coherent and consistent position from which to study the multimodality of leadership and to understand leadership as an accomplishment of direction.
... The practices may each have a separate function but they do coexist and connect with each other. At times, people understand and agree with one another's actions; at other times, they disagree, which may either lead to new and improved understandings or to practices that become less and less harmonious and may even rupture the relationships (Robinson & Renshaw, 2021). Particular predispositions within a culture, the socalled "habitus," shape our practices which, in turn, may enable or constrain our agency in particular settings (Bourdieu, 1990). ...
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This paper seeks to find complementarities and make contributions to the field of organization development (OD) from the new field of leadership-as-practice (L-A-P), and in so doing, enhance the development of OD in practice. Rather than looking for leadership in people, especially in their traits and behaviours, leadership-as-practice looks for it in everyday practice, in the spaces between people, and in emergent dynamic social interactions. To find leadership, we look to the practice within which it is occurring. The paper explores these premises by first discussing some of the principal classifications of OD throughout its history. It then offers ways in which L-A-P can potentially enhance OD in both theory and application. MAD statement While the merits of the dialogue and diagnostic models of OD have been submitted to debate, another process approach has been percolating, that of leadership-as-practice. This paper advances a number of principles and practices that can potentially enhance OD in both theory and application.
In this study, we widen the understanding of how the dialectics of distributed leadership develop as part of discursive interactions in an interorganizational setting directed at renewal. Using a dialectical perspective, we analyzed developmental meetings of an entrepreneurship hub and identified three dialectics, namely disagreement versus encouragement, organizational dependency versus interorganizational engagement and status quo versus transformation, by which the discussion reached the resolution. Our study widens the current understanding of distributed leadership and offers a nuanced account of how dissent and consent act as equally important forces for the development of the distributed leadership practice, as well as for reaching the collective resolution directed at organizational renewal. Our study also highlights the significance of co-created visual representations for converting complex discursive dialectics into a more tangible form. More generally, our study opens an approach in leadership to study tension-laden organizational dynamics in discursive and processual terms, especially in complex interorganizational contexts.
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This article constitutes an interview between a new researcher of the field of Leadership-as-Practice (L-A-P), Jenny Robinson, with one of the co-creators of the field, Joe Raelin. It is dedicated to providing an update and refinement of leadership-as-practice “practice theory,” which has gone through a fair degree of transformation since this journal’s first article on the subject in 2008. The call for such an update is precipitated by the need for emerging L-A-P researchers to appreciate the subject’s conceptual boundaries for more consistent and integrated exploration. In particular, L-A-P claims to differentiate not only from other plural traditions in leadership but from other “as-practice” approaches in the wider management field. Some of the other distinctions covered in this article comprise the role of theory in L-A-P, its contribution to leadership research and leadership development, its connection to other related fields, and its phenomenological, ethical, democratic, and post-humanistic foundations.
This article contributes to the growing body of literature developed within the leadership-as-practice perspective, focusing on issues of learning and power. It draws on a co-constructed (auto)ethnographic account of an individual’s longitudinal experience of leadership in the context of an international development project in Laos. This person’s circumstances as a non-Lao-speaking foreigner provided him with a unique opportunity to learn about and participate in the embodied, sociomaterial unfolding of leadership practice in an unfamiliar setting. The analysis examines (1) what ‘leadership learning’ involves when viewed through an ‘entative soft’ leadership-as-practice lens and (2) how individual attempts at exercising power and influence can be understood and represented in leadership-as-practice terms. The study highlights that participants are not given equal scope to exercise power within the emerging, hybrid agency orienting the flow of leadership, and that one task of leadership learning at an individual level is to develop reflexive knowledge about one’s own and others’ contribution to the unfolding of leadership process. Such knowledge draws increased attention to the responsibilities commensurate with attempts to exercise influence within leadership practice.
In this introductory article we explain the impetus for creating the Special Issue, along with its goals and the process by which we created it. We present a map of the terrain of collective leadership (CL) that builds on earlier frameworks, recognizing that the terrain is expanding and has become increasingly difficult to traverse. The map is comprised of two axes or dimensions. The first axis, the ‘locus of leadership,’ captures how scholars conceptualize where to look for manifestations of leadership. That is, does the leadership reside in the group or does it reside in the system? The second axis is the view of ‘collectivity’ that plots how scholars conceptualize the collective. Do they see it as an empirical type of leadership or a theoretical lens through which to study leadership? We then plot distinctive CL research into four cells, providing definitions and references to empirical work emblematic for each cell. In introducing and summarizing each of the five articles we have selected for this Special Issue, we show where each of these is located on the CL research map, and distil how each provides a clear connection between theory and method in a way that advances our understanding of CL.
In the concluding article, we move from providing a map of the collective leadership (CL) research field that has been conducted to date to providing a travel guide that we hope can inspire both experienced and novice travelers to push out the frontiers of exploration of CL. A Rapid Appraisal analysis of the extant CL research revealed that most of the work to date has focused on shared and distributed leadership; taken an empirical rather than a conceptual focus; and strongly emphasized qualitative versus quantitative research methods. Looking ahead to future CL research, we identify the following three challenges as being the most significant for leadership researchers to confront: the fundamental ambiguity of the space in which CL resides; the definitional problems inherited from leadership studies and exacerbated by its ambiguous nature; and the need to more fully embrace issues of process in CL. In response to these challenges, the following three guidelines are provided: the need to decipher CL configurations and its power-based foundations; the need to establish how leadership is made relevant in a collective setting; and the need for CL researchers to adopt strong process models.