Keynote: Collegiality in the time of Corona

I was honoured to be invited to give the (virtual) keynote address at this year’s British Academy of Management “Conference in the Cloud”  (watch here).  It felt odd presenting from my office to an invisible audience of so many  management academics all around the world.  I was delighted that my impassioned speech made such a big impact.  I talked about the crisis in contemporary business schools and outlined lessons from professional service firms about the power and pitfalls of collegiality.

The current crisis has laid bare the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of our academic institutions.  Yet, at an individual level, the crisis has also revealed our unexpected depth of commitment to colleagues and students in the notoriously individualistic and self-absorbed profession of academia.  While our profession is under threat, our professionalism has never been more apparent. 

As we start to take stock of the havoc wrought by COVID 19, are we experiencing the death throws of a sector already weakened by years of under-funding and grandiose expectations?  Or are academics experiencing a reawakening and reaffirmation of what it really means to be a professional?

To explore these questions I draw upon my research into leadership, governance, and culture in the professions and professional partnerships.  I examine the multiple manifestations of collegiality: collegiality as mutual support, collegiality as equality among peers, and collegiality as cultural cohesion.

I examine how the leaders of professional partnerships must manage these three manifestations of collegiality which coexist in dynamic tension within their organizations, and I emphasise how they are continuously evolving, weakening, and strengthening in response to changing economic circumstances and societal norms.

I argue that university leaders and their fellow academics should look to professional partnerships for lessons in how professionals and professional organizations can adapt and survive the current crisis.