Sally Maitlis

Titel: Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership

Sally conducts research in a range of public and private sector organisations, with a particular interest in the cultural industries, studying symphony orchestras, dancers, and other creative professionals. She specialises in qualitative research, closely observing individual, team and organisational processes as they unfold in real time, and analysing these processes through talk and text.

Much of Sally’s research examines how people make sense of important, challenging and sometimes painful issues at work. By studying the processes through which organisational members come to understand unexpected or confusing events, she has shown the highly social nature of sensemaking, the different forms through which it unfolds in organisations, and its consequences for collective action. Sally’s research also highlights the emotional side of organisational life, in individuals, work groups, top management teams and boards of directors. For example, some of Sally’s work with top teams reveals how emotions expressed in strategy meetings shape the ways that issues are discussed and resolved, while her research on organisational decision making shows how avoidant decision processes around sensitive issues can generate toxic emotions that spread throughout an organisation. An important part of this body of work focuses on suffering, care, compassion and growth in the workplace. For over a decade, Sally has been a member of the Compassionlab (www.thecompassionlab.com), a group of scholars who see organisations as sites for the expression of compassion. With this group, she has explored the practices, relationships, and structures that shape the experience of compassion in organisations, and shown the impact of compassion on those who give, receive, and witness it.

Related to this is a deep interest in people’s experiences of and responses to trauma at work. Sally’s research in this area examines the sensemaking and relational processes that enable recovery, resilience and sometimes even growth in the face of traumatic and other highly adverse experiences at work. In some current research, she studies musicians and dancers who have experienced a career-shattering injury, exploring how the meanings they make of their experience enable their recovery and subsequent growth. In another study, Sally investigates how encountering unexpected and repeated challenges can lead those with a passionate calling for their work to negotiate more sustainable ways of doing it.

Sally’s work has been published in most of the major management journals, including the Academy of Management Annals, Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Human Relations, Organizational Science, and Organizational Studies. She is a former Associate Editor of Non-Traditional Research at the Journal of Management Inquiry, and has current or previous editorial positions on the boards of the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Canadian Journal of the Administrative Sciences, Journal of Management Inquiry, and Organization Studies.

Research interests:

  • Sensemaking in organisations
  • Trauma and adversity at work
  • Resilience and growth
  • Compassion in organisations
  • Emotional dynamics of organisational processes

Sally’s interests are rooted in the prevalent issues and problems of organisational life. In conducting her research on sensemaking, emotions, adversity, and growth, she works closely with those she studies and provides feedback on her findings that helps individuals, teams and organisations to build capacity. Sally is frequently invited to address practitioner audiences, translating current academic research on topics such as trauma, resilience, and compassion at work. Her work has also been published in executive outlets such as the MIT Sloan Management Review, and the Wharton Leadership Digest.

She has a passion for the Arts, and much of her research has addressed challenges that face arts organisations and those working as musicians, dancers or in other creative professions. She has presented her work to the Association of British Symphony Orchestras and several of their member orchestras, and also at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Dance and Music. Sally is a former board member of the board of the Vancouver Cantata Singers, Canada.

Sally’s teaching, whether with MBAs, EMBAs, or in executive education programmes, is oriented towards practice, working to increase individuals’ awareness of themselves, their interpersonal dynamics at work, and key organisational concepts and frameworks that can increase their workplace effectiveness. She also has extensive experience as a consultant and coach, previously as a consultant with the firm of Occupational Psychologists, SHL, and over the last decade as an executive coach in Vancouver, Canada. Sally’s background in counselling has also allowed her to work in this capacity with individuals who have experienced trauma at work, and those undergoing significant career and life transitions. She is registered as a Clinical Counsellor in Canada, and is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist with the British Psychological Society.

Sally has taught MBA students and executives for over 15 years, primarily in the areas of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership. Using a variety of self-reflection activities, small group discussions, cases, simulation exercises, and analysis of critical incidents in their working and personal lives, she encourages students to question their assumptions about themselves and others, and to practice new ways of thinking and behaving that will strengthen their working relationships and increase their leadership effectiveness.

At Oxford Saïd, she is the Academic Director of the Oxford High Performance Leadership programme, and contributes to a variety of other executive education programmes. She also teaches a popular MBA elective on Managing Professional Relationships. Prior to joining the School, Sally developed and implemented a Leadership Coaching Stream in the MBA programme at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. This enabled students identify and tackle key leadership challenges that they faced within the MBA and outside, working one-on-one with a coach. Their coaching conversations drew on teamwork and peer feedback, allowing students to address leadership development needs in real time, with ongoing support. In addition to introducing coaching to the MBA programme, Sally also provided coaching to many of the students who went through it.

At the PhD level, Sally specialises in qualitative research methods. She has taught qualitative research around the world, giving presentations, workshops and short courses on topics such as interviewing, ethnography, theorising, and writing. Serving as a member of faculty for the Consortium for the Advancement of Research Methods and Analysis (CARMA), Sally teaches a short course on Interviewing for Qualitative Research in the US and Australia. She has also taught doctoral courses in Argentina and Switzerland, as well as several shorter qualitative research workshops in the UK, Canada, and the US.