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Dialogic OD

What is Dialogic OD

BMI Series in Dialogic ODLearn MoreDialogic Learning Series

Dialogic OD is a label used to distinguish a mindset about organizations, leadership and change that is different from foundational Diagnostic OD. Gervase Bushe and Bob Marshak introduced the concept in 2009 to show that new forms of organization development had emerged since the mid 1980s (like appreciative inquiry, future search, open space, and world café, among many others) that did not conform with, and in some ways violated, central principles of OD found in textbooks and taught in graduate programs. Since then, theory and research on Dialogic OD has expanded rapidly. Bushe and Marshak argue that each OD practitioner is likely to use a unique combination of diagnostic and dialogic mindsets in their practice.

In the 2015 textbook on Dialogic Organization Development, Edgar Schein describes Dialogic OD as a return to the roots of OD’s original spirit of inquiry, and opined that Dialogic OD may have emerged because organizational problems are now more complex, ambiguous and uncertain. Since then, the idea that Diagnostic OD is better suited to complicated, technical problems and Dialogic OD better suited to complex, adaptive challenges, has been echoed by others.

Different Premises and Patterns of Practice between Diagnostic and Dialogic OD

Diagnostic OD Dialogic OD
Influenced by Classical science, positivism, and modern philosophy Complexity science, interpretive and postmodern philosophy
Dominant Construct Organizations are like living systems Organizations are like networks of meaning making
Ontology and Epistemology
  • Reality is an objective fact
  • Reality is socially constructed
  • There is a single reality
  • There are multiple realities
  • Truth is transcendent and discoverable
  • Truth is immanent and emerges from the situation
  • Reality can be discovered using rational and analytic processes
  • Reality is negotiated and may involve power and political processes
Constructs of Change
  • Collecting and applying valid data using objective problem-solving methods leads to change
  • Creating containers and processes to produce generative ideas leads to change
  • Change can be created, planned and managed
  • Change can be encouraged but is mainly self-organizing
  • Change is episodic, linear, and goal oriented
  • Change is continuous, emergent and/or cyclical
Focus of Change Emphasis on changing behavior and what people do Emphasis on changing mindsets and what people think

The Key Elements of the Dialogic Mindset – for Leaders and Consultants

  • The meanings and interpretations people make about “objective reality” guide how they think and what they in turn do.
  • Organizations are social networks of meaning making that create the organizational realities people experience and react to.
  • Transformational leadership helps shape how meanings are made, especially the implicit storylines and narratives which guide people’s experience. 
  • Organizations are continuously changing, in both intended and unintended ways, with multiple and different types of changes occurring at various speeds.
  • Groups and organizations are continuously self-organizing and re-creating themselves, but disruption to repetitive and limiting patterns is required for transformational adaptation and change to occur.
  • Complexity makes it impossible to predict outcomes so the best approach is to use emergent change processes to develop adaptive capacities and solutions.
  • Leading emergent, transformational change requires mobilizing stakeholders to self-initiate action, then nurturing and amplifying the most promising initiatives.
  • Change facilitators are embedded in the change process, not independent from it.

The Three Enablers of Change from the Dialogic Mindset

Stimulate the processes of disruption and emergence to facilitate self-organizing that creates new pattens of organizing better suited to current needs and conditions.

Change the core narratives that guide thinking and acting.

Create generative conversations that produce new ideas and allow people to think and act in ways they couldn’t consider before.

Types of Dialogic OD

Some Dialogic OD methods are “episodic” – they have a beginning, middle and end.

Some are “continuous” – the practitioner partners up with the client system in an ongoing OD process.

Some dialogic methods are “large group” – they use a generative change approach to engage the stakeholders who will have to change in generative conversations that will lead to self-initiated, emergent, changes.

Some are “interactive” – these are sometimes called dialogic process consulting; they work by disrupting stale, habitual, ineffective patterns of interactions to provoke generative conversations that lead to new patterns emerging and new narratives being formed.

Generative Change and Dialogic OD

The Dialogic Mindset gravitates toward generative change processes, instead of planned change processes. Instead of providing visions and top down implementation of plans, generative change leaders host conversations where diverse views and ideas lead to the emergence of new possibilities. Participants are encouraged and supported in advancing new ways of talking, thinking and acting. Successful advances and adaptations, along with new supporting narratives, are spread through-out the system. Leaders endorse and provide resources to these activities, but do not direct them.

Planned Change versus Generative Change

Planned Change vs Generative Change

The new BMI Series in Dialogic OD is a set of short books on specific aspects of the Dialogic Mindset that can be applied to a variety of OD methods.

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