Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Archive for May, 2012


Five Core Theories – Social Constructionism – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Social Constructionism in Brief

The etymplogy of social constructionism was introduced by Mead (1934) and Berger and Luckman(1966).  It is a strand of sociology, pertaining to the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, and made into tradition by humans

In the field of OD social constructionism aims to uncover the way in which employees, teams and departments within the organisation interact with each other and participate in their self created groups to develop their own perceived reality of the organisation.  The social constructed reality provides the backdrop for the culture and organisational traditions that make up ‘the way things are done around here.’  The reality of what is, isn’t at play, but rather the representations, perceptions, ideas, language and beliefs that make up the perceived concrete reality of the organisation.

The meaning we derive from the actions and experiences within the organisation are developed through interacting and assimilating ideas with other people within a social situation.  The significance of this theory to OD practitioner is that organisational truth and reality is in fact a socially constructed idea which is based on experiences and attitudes relating to the past, possible futures, self, others and the organisation.  These ‘ideas’ and be disseminated by listening to the stories and narratives within the system.  Furthermore, the ‘reality’ of the organisation future prospects can be changed by injecting positive and modified alternatives through the creation of conversation.

Key Points

  1. Reality isn’t real, it is socially constructed, and is understood by conventions within the organisation
  2. Language helps create reality
  3. Sense-making comes from inaction between different people
  4. The meaning of an event is constructed by people, but it is the meaning that people respond to and action upon.
  5. Relationships are key to creating a collective reality, and are created by what people can imagine.

Applying Social Constructionism in an OD Intervention

  1. Provide a forum for the sense-making process, managing the creation of meaning through a process of inquiry and collective sense-making
  2. Make sure that the subjects/topics/questions of the inquiry are positive; focusing on the best of the past to figure out what would be best for the future
  3. Help the organisation identify it’s positive core, the place from which the development journey can begin and which can be used to maximise progress
  4. Develop processes which are holistic, highly inclusive, participatory and collaborative
  5. Use right-brain methodologies to collect diagnostic data, such as storyboarding, gamestorming, imagery and poetry
  6. Focus on dialogue, discussion and interaction, avoid Tell and Sell facilitation
  7. Appreciate the organisaitonal system.  Organisations don’t need to be fixed, the past and present needs to be affirmed in order to construct a positive projection of the future.
  8. Practice asking questions, the type of questions you use will influence the employees and the organisation in significant ways
  9. Focusing on the positives from the past, provides a springboard for journeying into the future
  10. Interlink inquiry and change, provide the seeds of change through interaction between people and keep the focus on the best of what is.

Five Core Theories – Complexity Theory – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Complexity Theory in Brief

Based on the research of individuals such as Stacey, Wheatley, Black and Morgan complexity theory provides a lens at which both academics and practitioners can analyse and understand the operation of an organisation, and as such, the methods by which an intervention should be structured to deliver the change the organisation is looking for.

Complexity Theory is probably better know in Mathematics, the natural sciences and the development of Algorithms in computer science, however, in the field of OD is concerned with the emergence of order and structure in complex and the apparently chaotic organisational systems.

The Theorist (Stacey 2003, Wheatley 1992, Black 2000 and Morgan 1997) challenged the traditional view that organisations had a ‘business as usual’ change model to a non-linear system which was surrounded by dynamic forms of change.  The unpredictability of change meant that organisational leadership cannot manage change, but instead support their organisation on its change journey, releasing individuals to adapt as the organisation moves towards the ‘edge of chaos’ providing the environment for self-management and the avoidance of liminalities.

In complexity theory the future is unknowable and as such the ability to learn is absolutely critical to ongoing organisation effectiveness, navigating the paradox of the desire for stability with that of the need to flex, adapt and change.  Too much stability will stagnant the organisation and prevent proactive adaptive change, too little and the organisation becomes impossible to manage.

Complexity theory therefore promotes the idea of organisations aas complex adaptive systems which need to respond to the external and internal environment by remaining on the edge of chaos whilst at the same time self-organising and continuously re-inventing the organisational.

Key Points

  1. Change can’t be managed in a complex system
  2. Change must be supported
  3. Leaders must encourage people to learn how to adapt and flex
  4. Open Connection between the different parts of the organisation is essential for self-organisation and embracing diversity of thinking, ideas and approaches
  5. Feedback loops and Information flow is essential to prevent the organisation from falling into chaos.

Applying Complexity Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Provide the organisation with the tools to operate in instable conditions
  2. Develop Feedback loops in order for the organisation to adapt and create the environment for change
  3. Help individuals navigate the political interaction and build communities of practice to progress self-organisation
  4. Promote diversity of thinking and agility by examining and shifting organisational and personal mental models
  5. Shift the design of the organisation, rejecting hierarchy and control in favour of decentralised, flexible and multifaceted teams
  6. Encourage experimentation, and freedom to create, innovate and self-express to help develop new patterns of operation
  7. Focus on Purpose – Why are we here, rather than What we are doing, which provides the forum for openness to new directions.
  8. Organisation should encourage and promote learning, especially around growth in adaptability, flexibility and change.
  9. Use system-wide collaborative inquiry methods to build connections and encourage diversity of thinking
  10. Provide a stimulus to the organisational system to encourage and influence change



Three Essentials of Organisation Development

I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are.  It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking.  What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?

You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.

#1 – People

Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre.  Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for.  OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass.  In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.

If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.

#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory

Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice.  If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.

A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life.  OD is no different.

Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world.  The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process.  Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.

#3 – Be Sustainable

I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy.  The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions.  They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful.  They become the centre of the intervention.  The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice.  BUT.  What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end?  How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?

This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner.  You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself.  The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things.  The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions.  The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.

When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.

So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.



The Importance of Building in Trust

Organisational effectiveness is achieved through a combination of a number of processes, behaviours and system thinking. But it is trus

t within the organisation that makes the wheels of the organisation turn. There are a number of behaviours that organisational leaders can adopt which build and repair trust.

“For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.” H. L. Mencken

Human society and relationship is driven by trust. But the phone hacking scandal, banking crisis and government misdemeanours means that trust is at an all time low. This loss of trust has serious consequences both for our society and for organi

sational performance. If organisations are to thrive they need a new way of thinking to enhance collaboration and discretionary behaviour among their employee population.

Approaches to Building and repairing Trust

According to CIPD sponsored research there are six ways of building trust within an organisation:

1. Create a Trust fund– Building and sustaining a ‘circle of trust’ where the organisational stakeholders demonstrate trust in each other means that individuals must demonstrate integrity on an on going basis. The advantage of a trust fund is that when things get difficult or change becomes necessary there is trust built into the system to deal with the challenges presented.

2. Manage with Integrity– Leaders have many choices to making in organisational life, but leading with integrity and staying true to a persons moral and ethical codes will ensure that trust is enhances as the result of the way in which leaders conduct organisational processes.

3. Serve the Workforce– The servant leader isn’t a new concept, but leaders who daily demonstrate care and integrity towards their employee population, and act as if their position bestows a responsibility to serve their employees will have their commitment rewarded.

4. Remove the Spin– It is important that leadership understand that employees will appreciate the use of honest communication, even when it means communicating bad news. Your employees are all adults who are big enough to receive an honest appraisal about what is going on in the organisation. Employees will reciprocate this honesty even if there are challenges ahead such as job losses or plant closures.

5. Re-engage the line– Consulting with the local level line managers helps to create a plum line of trust and ensures that even in difficult circumstances the chain of communication is not broken from the top to the bottom of the organisation.

6. Reposition the employee Relationship– Developing more open and realistic employment relationship between leaders
Demonstrating high moral concern from employees can build trust quickly, especially where an organisation is struggling with difficult circumstances or challenging change programmes. But trust is only built when all leaders act in way, which is trustworthy.and employees allows organisations to integrate dialogue and trust into the employment relationship.

“To state the facts frankly is not to despair the future nor indict the past. The prudent heir takes car

eful inventory of his legacies and gives a faithful accounting to those whom he owes an obligation of trust.” John F. Kennedy

It is impossible to consider trust building without understanding the concept of systems thinking. Systems’ thinking involves

developing an understanding of the organisation as a living system, with the whole of the organisation being equal to the sum of its parts.

Every individual, team, department, function and business unit is involved in building and developing trust within the organisation. If any individual or area is untrustworthy it is like a cancerous tumour that impacts that health of the whole organisational system.

Trust resides in the behaviour and attitudes of every member of the organisation, demanding integrity of all employees in their dealings with each other, with customers, with suppliers and with stakeholders is essential if trust is to built and sustained over the long term.