Brokerage-Overload – Learning to Manage Without the Broom

For well over a decade I have been a course leader at De Montfort University. First I was course leader for BSc Media Technology, and then after validating it, course leader for BSc Radio Production and Technology. These are very rewarding positions to hold, but as any academic can tell you, they are very intense, and so after such a long stint I was very happy to hand responsibility on to colleagues knowing the course is in safe hands. In 2008 I spearheaded the application for DemonFM to become a licensed, full-time community radio station, broadcasting twenty-four-seven, and until December 2012 I was the Station Director, with responsibility for guiding the station and moving it forward.

The first few months of 2013 have been something of an adjustment period for me, and have given me the opportunity to reflect on the change to my professional life that has happened. I’m now focussing much more on my research, and I am making good progress in developing an analysis of the use of social media within community media groups and organisations.

I’ve been looking for a term to describe the type of engagement that I was constantly undertaking as a course leader and as Station Director. These activities involve a considerable amount of inter-personal dexterity and ‘plate-spinning’. Keeping many different people on-track, informed and feeling included in the associated decision-making processes. At my most flippant I’ve described this has having to spend my time working like a janitor with a broom, ensuring that everyone is happy and that any spillages are accounted for. It’s a tough process, because there are so many different opinions that have to be balanced and considered, and at any time, one false move can set off a whole series of un-anticipated problems.

The best way I can describe this, and having stepped back from such intense involvement, is ‘brokerage-overload’. At any single point a manager in the middle has to win support not only from colleagues and peers that they are working with on a daily basis, but also superordinates who are likely to provide additional resources or avenues for manoeuvre if their sponsorship is maintained. This constant need to ‘broker’ the actions of others, as an intermediary is energy sapping if one is not well prepared and supported.

Daniel Kahneman described what it is like to work outside of our natural mental zone for prolonged periods of time as something akin to walking through a minefield. While others on the outside of the minefield are well positioned to see the way ahead and throw-in their advice, the person who is negotiating the obstacles is somewhat preoccupied with where they are putting their feet, and hoping that they do not get blown-up in the process.

The constant balancing of alternative interests and the shifting ground of resource deployment is not an easy place in which to develop long-term resources and systems. Having a commitment to a clear vision and a clear set of ideals that guide the implementation, means that it would be easier to undertake brokering actions. I’m fortunate to now be in a position in which I can develop that longer-term vision about why community media and collaborative media really matters. I’ve learnt a lot as a course leader and as a station director, mainly that brokerage-overload and strategy development are not good working partners.

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