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Upcoming Special Issue of the OD Practitioner
OD on the Edge
Fall 2013
Call for Articles


Project Team: Judith Katz, George W. Hay, Maya Townsend, David Jamieson, and John Vogelsang 

The five of us recently invited consultants, faculty and graduate students in OD programs, clients, managers, and HR Business Partners to a series of conversations about the learning edge of OD practice. Those who joined us told many fascinating stories about their own learning edge, new developments, continuing challenges, and how the ground is shifting for OD. We heard how organizations are changing, how OD is changing as a result, and how these changes engender reflection on OD’s core values and practices. 

Organizations are Changing 

Most organizations have become complex, cross-cultural networks that blend different types of organizational designs. Organizations exist more and more in multi-facet, continuously changing ecosystems of customers, suppliers, stakeholders, co-creators, competitors, regulators, to name a few of the components that influence an organization’s ability to achieve success and to make day-to-day decisions. In this world, both managers and practitioners are thinking about connections, interdependencies, and how to leverage strengths in the business ecosystems.

Organizations continue to move toward collaborative organizational structures. Many organizational leaders want to know how to construct more collaborative organizations without the baggage of the past and how to get out of silos to work virtually and collaboratively. Connecting individuals with their work teams is more central as there is a renewed sense of the importance of people as a critical catalyst for sustainable organizational performance.  There is a concern to build organizational structures rooted in people’s intrinsic motivation that leverage their intellectual capital for organizational innovation and results. 

Depending upon the organization’s business and where it is in its life cycle, some want the new but still want to control; want to empower but want people to toe the line. Yet, some hierarchical organizations are making traditional structures more nimble. Others are taking a systems view of the organization and looking for root causes rather than just service solutions in order to increase operational efficiency.

At the same time, many organizations are saying they are stuck. What they are doing is not working.  People are distracted, caught up in personal concerns, unable to step back, and afraid to talk about what matters. They are asking how can we stay curious, discuss what is important, and grow through learning from each other in a democratic and civil way while so many in our society insist on ideological purity and denigration of those who hold different views?

A sense of paradox colors the learning edge. How do organizations achieve both team based collaboration and individual expertise?  How do organizations elevate the people of the organization and secure the profits vital for thriving? 

Some feel there is a drum beat sounding; we either retreat and stagnate or move forward and engage the paradoxes.

OD Is Changing

As organizations change, OD is changing.

A growing and diverse number of voices, perspectives, and experiences are populating our conversations. This serves to broaden our OD theory, literature, and practices beyond their US centric focus.

We continue to seek to know the signs of a dying organization and how to help organizations reinvent and renew themselves. We are striving to merge OD practices with internal health in order to change organizational functions in support of wellness.  

The boundaries between OD and HR are becoming invisible even though there are different and distinct theories that frame each discipline.  Different disciplines are adopting OD concepts without naming them as such. OD departments are doing talent management. Practitioners working with OD concepts in communities, nonprofits, and government systems are developing participatory approaches for establishing county and city budget priorities, resolving social issues with multi-stakeholder working groups, and influencing government decisions through online and in-person facilitated large group town hall style meetings. OD professionals question how to cultivate the unique value of the profession and appreciate how its techniques are being assimilated by others.

The field has fractured around different techniques. We are moving away from the doctor role and diagnosis.  Yet many of us are looking at both/and rather than either/or; both diagnostic OD and dialogic OD. The old world does not go away; we hold the new capacities and still access the old methods when appropriate. We are still striving to achieve human development and a democratic environment whether we use diagnosis or dialogic methods. 

The projects coming in are not the same.  We used to engage in substantial project planning; many of us are being retained now just to deal with things when they come up. We are learning how to be present and stand back. We are placing much more emphasis on what we need to do so that others can do what they need to succeed when we are not there. Some of us are acting as walking question marks, asking the right questions and asking prophetic questions. Through our questions the organization can manage itself and change. We are finding ways to sit with clients to address what is going on right now, focusing on what is really important, and what promises they can really keep.  Yet we recognize that every situation and organization is different; we cannot get locked into one tool or process; we must be ready to morph.

The speed of our work is increasing. We are learning how to work quickly; there is a short turnaround time and most people do not have time for extended processes or developing another five year plan. Yet we still need to work with sensitivity and care, build reflection into the process, and slow down to be more effective.  Many universities are still teaching planned change but as practitioners we are running alongside trying to catch up with continuous change. How does planned change relate to continuous change and what is happening "in the moment”?

Large scale change is becoming a cultural artifact. We are moving away from thinking big problems need big programs. Instead, we are looking for small simultaneous changes already happening that can have large impact. We are changing the organization by changing the conversation; what is the conversation people need to have; who needs to be in the conversation; and is this the right time for the conversation. 

Data gathering through anonymous surveys is diminishing. We recognize that psychometric assessments help leadership teams build better relationships because they allow people to depersonalize personal issues. However, in order to move a system, we believe that the people who need to make the change need to surface the data and the experiences that will inform the change. We are using social media to elicit continuous data. And we are moving away from designing processes based upon a static moment in time.

Our facilitation skills for hosting conversations are expanding. We value working as a team of facilitators.  Having a partner is a way to support each other, to stay present, and to deal with being seduced by the group. We recognize that the team is a "use of self.”  We also recognize that the other team member should look different and that we need to work with each other’s growing edge. We are developing our virtual facilitation skills; understanding how to bring people together; and developing virtual systems that can intervene in conversations and influence the organization when the OD person is not physically present. We are helping organizations become comfortable working in networks and doing real time synchronistic work.  We are developing criteria for what can and cannot be done virtually.

What is Core to OD?

Finally, many talk about OD as more an art than a science but there is an underlying science that can be addressed. We seek ways to measure effectiveness without losing the art.

We are questioning whether the core values of OD still hold. Are we at times doing good work for a bad cause? How do we integrate our voices with social justice, aligning what we do and say? We need to turn judgment into curiosity and guard against our own values becoming tyrannical. Are there times when our own traditional humanistic OD values blind us to equally important values? Can we act on our values in ways that join with and allow us to hear those who seek help but espouse a different value base? We need to raise up inquiry as a primary value and ask what is a productive and quality relationship.

Join the Conversation

  • What do you see as the cutting edge, exciting work being done to develop and improve organizations and communities?
  • How have your OD approaches and practices changed?
  • What new challenges are you discovering?
  • What is your learning edge—new things you are learning about your work and to do your work effectively?
  • What are some methods/processes from your tool kit that you still find relevant to your work?
  • What do you think is the next phase in the evolution of organizations and communities as they develop their strategies, structures, and people?

 

Please submit your article by July 31 to the editor of the OD Practitioner, John D. Vogelsang, jvogelsang@earthlink.net. Submissions should follow the OD Practitioner manuscript submission guidelines.




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