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Focused conversations – Introducing a New Topic

If you are introducing a group to a new topic, whether in a training session or in an OD workshop where you what to open them up to new ideas and also get them to realise that they probably have some of the knowledge they need already – try this focused conversation.

Focused Conversation


Well Today we’re going to launch into a new topic – [NAME TOPIC] Let’s talk about this a bit. We all have some experience of this area.

Objective Questions

  • When was your first experience of this topic?
  • As you think about this, what images jump into your mind?
  • What are some of the things we already know about this?

Reflective Questions

  • What feelings do you associate with this topic?
  • What are some of your past experiences related to the topic?
  • What colour do you associate with this?
  • What animal does it remind you of?
  • What aspects of it do you enjoy?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • What is the most challenging things about it?

Interpretative Questions

  • Why is this topic important?
  • How will if affect you? Your work? Other aspects of your life?
  • What are your major questions in this area?

Decisional Questions

  • How can we help each other learn about this topic?


As we share our insights like this, we have already taken the first steps in grasping this topic.



The Theorists – Kurt Lewin

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organisation Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Kurt Lewin 1890 – 1947


Kurt Lewin – In Brief

Kurt Lewin, author of over 80 articles and eight books on a wide range of issues in psychology is recognised as the founding father of modern social psychology.  He was a seminal theorist who deepened the understanding of groups, experiential learning, and action research.   Through his pioneering use of

of theory and using experimentation to test hypothesis he contributed an everlasting significance on an entire discipline–group dynamics and action research.

Lewin is well known for his term “life space” and was committed to applying psychology to the problems of society led to the development of the M.I.T. Research Center for Group Dynamics where six major program areas were developed;

  • Group productivity: why was it that groups are so ineffective in getting things done?
  • Communication: how influence is spread throughout a group.
  • Social perception: how a person’s group affected the way they perceived social events.
  • Intergroup relations.
  • Group membership: how individuals adjust to these conditions.
  • training leaders: improving the functioning of groups (T-groups).

Believing in the field approach, Lewin proposed that for change to take place, the total situation has to be taken into account arguing that if only isolated facts are used, a misrepresented picture could develop.

Kurt Lewin – Life and Times

  • 1890 – Born  in the village of Moglino in the Prussian province of Posen
  • 1909 – Entered University of Frieberg to Study Medicine, transferring to the University of Munich to study biology
  • 1914 – Completed his requirements for a Ph.D.
  • 1916 – Conferred his degree from the University of Berlin
  • 1921 – Joined the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin – where he was to lecture and offer seminars in both philosophy and psychology
  • 1930 – Spent six months as a visiting professor at Stanford
  • 1933 – Emigrated to the United States  working at the Cornell School of Home Economics
  • 1935 – Moved to University of Iowa published his first collection of papers in English – A Dynamic Theory of Personality and developed his interest in social processes
  • 1940 – Became a US citizen and became involved in various applied research initiatives linked to the war effort
  • 1944 – Founded he Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT.
  • 1946 – Notion of T-groups emerged
  • 1947 – Set up the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine.  However, Lewin died of a heart attack in Newtonville, Mass. on February 11, 1947, before the Laboratories were established.

Key Contributions

  1. Action Research Theory
  2. Change Theories – Planned Change
  3. Group Dynamics
  4. Field Theory
  5. Experiential Learning
  6. T-Groups

Lewin made defining contributions to a number of fields. He had a major impact on group theory and how to work with groups.  A pioneer of action research he demonstrated the use of controlled experimentation to explore complex social phenomenon and he helped to move social psychology into a more rounded understanding of behaviour.

The consistent theme in all Kurt Lewin’s work was the integration of theory and practice.  65 years after his death it is a lesson that Lewin can still teach Organisation Development Practitioners.


OD Theory – Appreciative Inquiry

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioners must understand to build on their theoretical foundation for practice.  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.

Appreciative Inquiry in Brief

Appreciative Inquiry rationalises and reinforces the habit of mind that moves through the world in a generative frame, seeking and finding images of the possible rather than scenes of disaster and despair.

Appreciative Inquiry involves a cooperative systematic exploration, discovery and recognition of the best in people and the organisation, affirming past and present strengths, successes, and potential.  It is a theory, a mindset, and an approach to analysis that leads to organisational learning and creativity.

At its heart Appreciative Inquiry strengthens a organisation’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential through the use of positive questioning, imagination and innovation.  It seeks to deliberately engage the whole of the organisational population, and get them to explore and tapping into rich and inspiring accounts of the positive.

The energy created from this exploration gives momentum to any change agenda and changes never thought possible are suddenly and democratically mobilized.  By focusing on the organisations strengths, rather than focusing on problems, the resulting output elicits solutions by fully engaging everyone in the organisation.

Key Points

  • Appreciative Inquiry focuses on what the organisation is doing right and provides a frame for creating an imagined future.
  • Seeking and finding the generative rather than the destructive image is powerful.
  • Human behaviour is shaped by “current reality.”
  • There is an impact on human behaviour of “anticipatory reality.”  Research suggests that human beings create the future that we imagine.

Applying Appreciative Inquiry in an OD Intervention

  1. Ensure that the organisation has made a commitment to continuous learning, growth, and generative change.
  2. Help the organisation find its own way and its own path through an inquiry process that seeks the most creative and generative realities.
  3. Help individuals and organisations to realise that we can be limited and constrained by our inability to see larger and more expansive realities that are available.
  4. Provide the environment to help individuals and groups explore beyond what they already know and understand.
  5. Shape dialogue around ‘what is’ rather than ‘what is not.’

Everyday Learning and Development – Personal Development

The human capacity to learn and develop is phenomenal.  Have you ever stopped to wonder how you have managed to learn everything you know, and how to do everything you do?  Just think about the things you don’t think about; walking, talking, getting dressed, understanding social cues, eating, driving, reading – at some point you would have had to learn about all those things.

I learnt about Language acquisition when I was at Leeds University studying my degree, but to watch my two year old daughter learn how to communicate is amazing.  As a newborn crying for attention, but as a parent I soon learnt there were different cries for different needs.  Then babbling, making different noises, grunting and pointing to get her point across (and getting upset when I didn’t understand).  Then the babbling and pointing began to turn into recognisable words, and every day there were a couple of new words.  Now those words are turning into sentences and are very recognisable – and she has a few words that are unique to her, but we all understand what she means.

But learning new things isn’t restricted to the young.  At 37 I learn new things all the time.  It may be that I have to learn how to drive to a new football ground for my sons Sunday league football; how to use my new mobile phone; or how to increase my SEO ratings.  This week I will find out how to make my way to Costa Coffee in Warrington, and any number of titbits picked up from various , tweets and webinars.

I bet you have all ‘learnt’ similar things this week but took it for granted, after all finding your way to places, learning how to use equipment or technology and digesting the news is just part of life; and yet we will pay thousands for courses to learn new skills or knowledge; spend millions on the implementation of new technology platforms, and publishing is no longer restricted to publishing houses but all add to our collective knowledge.

It is well known in development circles that the most  are on the job.  Learners tend to retain the learning for longer and take in a greater measure of development than they do on workshops.  Being able to immediately apply knowledge and skills, rather than trying to retain newly acquired learning as a concept is also more efficient.

As a I still like the workshop for its ability to take people aside from their busy lives and focus on a specific area of development.  I think it is especially useful for teams who wish to develop strategy, the team or a deeper understanding an individuals strengths, beliefs and values.

But there is a distinguishing feature of workshops that I would like to prompt your thinking about.  Very often will say to me, this development is fantastic, I’ve really enjoyed today and got a lot out of it, but I am worried about getting back to reality; as if the workshop is some kind of parallel universe where real work doesn’t get done.

Yet if you were to ask a manager whether they feel that meetings are real work or not, the answer would be depends on the meeting, whether the meeting is useful or not.  So if the manager found the workshop useful, why do they see it as not being real life?

Too often individuals separate their personal development from their work environment, and then struggle to apply their learning.  But if you were to take your learning; whether in a workshop, a conversation or what you read on the internet and asked yourself “so what does that mean for me?” you might be surprised at how your new learning can help you grow and development regardless of the position you work in now.

My challenge for those who have the opportunity to attend a development workshop is to see it not as stepping out of reality but as an opportunity to step aside from (but not out of the reality of) the hubbub and concentrate on something important without interruption.

I would then like to deliver a to them.  Very often in a workshop I will ask participants to think about what the workshop has reminded them they have learnt previously but forgotten about.  Very often a participants development gets forgotten when they return back to their ‘day job’.  Workbooks get put in a pile, are used to prop up a wonky desk or are stuffed in a draw or brief case where they start gathering dust.

So I urge you to take ten@ten – and pay attention to the #DevelopmentElephant.

The purpose of the Development Elephant is to remind you to take 10 minutes at 10 o’clock every day to revisit an action plan or workbook from a previous workshop, meeting or personal development time, and think about;

  1. What were the things that you were going to do differently?
  2. What have you done so far?
  3. What do you still need to do?

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