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Thinking about Thinking

As an OD practitioner, my business model has been destroyed by CoVid-19.  I cannot get 20 odd people in the room, in dialogue and capturing ideas on a flipchart.  At least not in the near term. Since I live in Wales, I am still in lockdown so can’t leave my house.  But, although I am still working with my old clients, taking some of what I did face to face, into a virtual meeting space, lockdown has given me time to think – and the result is the development of a really thrilling venture called 4i Forum which offers disruptive dialogue virtually, but can also be transfered to in person interventions when we the world no longer needs social distancing, hopefully sometime in 2021.

woman sitting by a glass window

However, the reality of the global pandemic is that the world of work and the way organisations operate will never go back to what we thought we knew.  Think about it, the last time there was a global pandemic of this scale was in 1918, that was before all the major management theories were even thought of.  We have NOTHING in management theory that provides an adequate response to this situation.  How do you balance shareholder needs and the economic health of the business (something that has so dominated the organisational mindset for the last fifty years) with the need to preserve life.  The pandemic is causing us to ask big questions about the role of organisation’s in human society.

During a disruptive dialogue with some clients last week we were exploring the work practices that would help an organisation operate effectively in the new world.  Some of the thoughts being expressed was that the employees had demonstrated that serious work can be done in shorts, that they can be productive working from home and that the was not a requirement for presenteeism at the office – “Why would I ask my staff to go back to having to commute for 2 hours in heavy traffic to be in the office for 9am?”  It also threw up the quandry on how to integrate two workforces, those who have experienced the challenges of working remotely and learnt how to operate different, and those who were furloughed.

Any crisis means that organisation’s have to respond and react to manage the fall out.  The CoVid-19 pandemic is no different.  However, what is different is the urgency with which business leaders need to take the time afforded by lockdown to think about what they want for the organisation going forward.  We are at a opportune point in organisational history where fundamental changes can be made to the reason why an organisation exists and destroy antiquated work practices which are still based on the Victorian paradigm.  It is terrifying, has no precedent and no guide book – it is also thrilling that ‘all’ those things that are wrong with organisation life and ‘the way we do things’ can be challenged and questioned.

Rather than tackling problems, leaders need to spend time formulating questions “What questions might we be failing to ask that we should be asking?” and the elements of their thinking “What assumptions underlie our point of view?  Is there another point of view we should consider?”  This includes questioning the questions we ask ourselves; “Is this question the best one to focus on at this point, or is there a more pressing question we need to address?”

If I could offer any advice on how to get through “this” period in question, it is this – it is time to think the unthinkable and pursue thought in many directions, exploring complex ideas to engage in disciplined and deep thought.

Stay Safe and Well!