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

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How the practice of research challenges both research and practice

12llA couple of days I ran a workshop at Cass Business School with a friend on how clinical research comes to affect practice.  As a case study we used the experience of Macmillan Cancer Support, an organisation that enables people to live with of cancer.  The particular aspect of Macmillan’s work that we discussed had a simple aim: it centred on the question of how different professionals and researchers across different organisations can overcome traditional boundaries and work together for the benefit of the patient.

Traditionally in research the objectives are stated,methodology agreed, actions implemented, results obtained, conclusions drawn and findings published: a key feature being a separation between the funding organisation, the researchers and the researched.  However, in the community we talked about (a group of researchers most of whom had clinical backgrounds) the practice of research was interwoven with the activity of practitioners.

This approach draws all the players on the ‘pitch’, in this case the commissioners, researchers, practitioners and patients; they became actively involved as the work developed and as insights became apparent and different courses of action decided upon.  This is a real opportunity.  It forces the questions; ‘is the work that were doing together useful, does it deliver the outcomes that both the researchers and the practitioners need and what do we need to do next?’

So, in undertaking research along with practice it enables the development of a collective memory that enables further discussions to be taken with sound evidence from research.  It also provided evidence to discuss with commissioners and others of the value (or not) of various practices and working relationships.

In this approach there are links with Action Research particularly: a focus on getting to grips with practical organisational problems; an emergent approach to how research was conducted;and using insights as they become apparent to initiate beneficial change.  However, there were differences, for instance there was no mention of cycles of research and activity, or indeed of ‘steppingback’ and considering the activity from a neutral space as is commonly spoken about.

The way of working pioneered by Macmillan has not only delivered practical benefits for the organisation, the researchers and the patient, but also provided a real challenge on how we carry out research.

Reference:  Donaldson, A., Lank, E., & Maher, J. (2011). Communities of Influence – Improving Healthcare Through Conversations and Connections. London and New York: Radcliffe Publishing.

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:  http://www.managementexchange.com/moonshots

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?