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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.