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Posts tagged ‘Complexity Theory’

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.