Organisation Development (OD): tales of craft, style and making do

20160711_160754A few days ago James Traeger and I were sitting in a rather lovely room overlooking the lawns at Ashridge management college. Here we signed a contract to write a book together; a moment that focuses the mind!

We are writing a book on organisation development but one that pays attention to the ‘craft’ in different ways. Having worked in and with many organisations I am intrigued as to how things actually happen. I am less interested by the grand proclamations and planned activities that may appear in newsletters, company reports and ‘town hall meetings’; but instead I am drawn to the actual conversations that happen everywhere from boardrooms, corridors, phone calls, e-mails in what is a confusing world where we can only make the next sensible step with the information we have at hand. And with the constraints and enablers that we are aware of – those that we are not aware of soon become apparent! So how does the OD practitioner move into these spaces and conversations and to act ethically in ways that are in the best interests of the people that we call the ‘the organisation’ and those affected by it? This is the substance of the book, told with tales of the craft of how people make do with what they have to create interactions and understandings that are helpful. We are interested in the full gamut ranging from set piece events with flip charts and marker pens to chance (or carefully arranged semi-chance) conversations in car park or corridor.

We are aiming this book at the curious, the practitioner (and the occasional academic) perhaps frustrated with ‘how to’ explanations. Instead we are looking to share, show and build bridges of understanding that might be useful in:

  • Making enough sense of complex situations we find ourselves in.
  • Enabling wise choices to be made.

And in doing so how move forward with those around us.


Problems and opportunities of researching trust

big-bang-07It is odd how things develop, they sit in the back of the mind and niggle away. A few months ago, I went to a leadership conference.  There was a presentation by someone researching trust in organisations.  It left me feeling disappointed and saddened that we remove so much of the humanity in the way that we research such an important human relationship.  

I wrote a posting for another blog likening the antics of Big Bang Theory’s rather awkward Sheldon Cooper with that of how we research trust, click here.  Since then I have obtained research funding from the Roffey Park Institute to look into the subject.  I am carrying out the research with a friend of mine Alison Donaldson. We are now a few months in and well under way interviewing people, reviewing the literature and shaping some ideas that we will be road testing with with organisational development experts after summer .  As part of our approach we have set up a blog to share emerging thoughts and ideas.  You might like to have a look, if so, click here. If you want to get involved, get in touch

Moonshots for OD

Source: 800px-Moonrise_over_the_cliffs_in_Zion

A couple of years ago the management guru, Gary Hamel, challenged the management community to focus on 25 ‘moonshots’ over the next few years.  This was due to his, and others, view that the world of management had largely lost its way.  The progress of the early 20thcentury had not been matched in the later half.  However, in the meantime, in subjects such as medicine, information technology and other disciplines enormous strides had been made that have had profound effects on our lives.  I have attached a link with more information:

I think the same is largely true for organisational development.  The direction and sense of urgency set by the likes of Kurt Lewin and others immediately after World War 2 have shaped organisational development, action learning, and action research etc as we see them today.  But what of the future direction; what should our moonshots be.  To my mind, if we do not develop this clarity then organizations, the society of which they are part, employees and the practice of OD itself will suffer.  This means redefining both the message and the means that Lewin clearly articulated to take into account the complexity and the turbulence of the twenty-first century?

So what would be my OD Moonshots be.  They would include:

  • To ensure that there is practical benefit and good in what we all do.  And to keep this focus alive thoughout our work in conversations at all levels.
  • A focus on practical problems that people and organizations face, and in working on these problems to achieve progress.  And in doing so for people to develop confidence and the ability to tackle future issues.
  • In recognizing the importance of targets and measures to encourage people (who set them, are accountable for them and those hold others to account) to look beyond those metrics and to ask themselves: ‘does one’s experience and intuition reconcile with what I’m being told’.
  • How to keep the conversations alive on what the organization’s vision is and how this relates to people’s day to day job in practical concrete ways.
  • How we can allow (and even encourage) people to make small mistakes safely.  By this I mean that innovation comes from motivated people who work at the interfaces between disciplines and/or at the coalface (here I use the term very loosely indeed).  They should be rewarded for achieving results, but also allowed to learn and develop when it goes wrong.
  • Encourage people to be more reflexive of their practice with others, to pause and to consider questions such as: what are the longer term implications for our actions; what is the impact on society and the environment; why do we continually work in the ways we do?