Discussion forum for members of the Massachusetts Bay Organizational Development Learning Group

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

How can we promote organizational integration?

On December 13, we had a special presentation by Barry Oshry of Power & Systems. This was a sequel to his August 8 Learning Group program on the Organizational Workshop, made for the purposes of taping an additional segment. As with the prior program, this was an exceptionally stimulating experience, with the odd but somehow entertaining feature that we had to pretend that we had experienced the preceding part “yesterday”.

The session was a lesson in partnership. In particular, we did an exercise in which we worked as triads on devising a presentation that we wanted to give. As Barry explained, these “small groups,” even though randomly created, were highly productive because we were connecting in a positive and equal way.

Indeed, the exercise is model of how people in organizations can “integrate” instead of staying in the role of tops, bottoms, or middles. Integration occurs when like-minded individuals get together to share information, support each other, and consider new possibilities. The concept reminded me somewhat of Peer Coaching, the subject of our May 2004 program.

One could say that the Learning Group is an example of integration. Certainly the feeling of energy that this program’s exercise aroused also occurs at our program meetings.

Because this was not an “official” Learning Group meeting, we did select specific questions for follow up discussion. But members, whether or not they attending this session, no doubt can suggest some issues that the Organizational Workshop gives rise to.

One question that occurred to me was similar to one that I also thought of at the December 8 Otto Scharmer “Theory U” program: If the organizational culture does not already support open and honest communication, how can integration occur?

Another issue would be whether integration has to take place among tops, bottoms or middles or whether integrative groups of different levels can occur? Years ago, former member Joe Dabek and I started at Boston City Hall dialogue group whose members ranged from clerical grade to deputy commissioner. I would not hold this particular group up as a model of great success, but “vertical slice” approach is an interesting one.

The blog itself suggestion the question of whether integration can take place via virtual means. Perhaps, too, members would like to share some stories about attempts at integration.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How can we get organizations to go deeper?

On December 8, the Learning Group had its second presentation by Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of the Society for Organizational Learning. In his September 2004 program on Presence, which he co-authored with Peter Senge, Joe Jaworksi, and Betty Sue Flowers, Dr. Scharmer explained presencing, a thought process used by individuals and organizations to reach a deeper level of meaning.

In this program, he previewed his forthcoming book Theory U: Leading from the Emerging Future. He reported on his recent 150 interviews with eminent thinkers and practitioners in strategy, knowledge, innovation, and leadership around the world and demonstrated tools for applying presencing in our work.

The U Process is a methodology for addressing highly complex challenges and represents a “social technology” for transformation of person, organizations and society. It begins with “co-sensing,” in which deeper discovery leads to a shared map of reality. It continues with “co-presencing,” which takes the individual or group to a deeper understanding of the system they are in and one’s relationship to it. Finally, there is “co-realizing,” the enactment of a new reality.

Both the topic and the program were rich and stimulating. With a vast number of ideas and question arising, it is fortunate that we have this new resource for ongoing discussion.

We’ve selected one Question of the Month that always comes up when we consider method that make greater demands and that was particularly cited at After Thoughts: How can we get organizations to go deeper? Where does the resistance shown by such responses are “there isn’t enough time” come from? How can we as OD practitioners encourage moving from superficial and short-term solutions to more profound and transformative results?

Of course there were many other thoughts provoked by this meeting and we urge both those who attended and those who could not to share their questions and ideas on presencing, Theory U, and their application.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tolerating mistakes

Here is another answer to Abby’s question about organizations that allow for mistakes. I have been reading Charles O’Reilly and Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Hidden Value and they have an almost amazing example. The book is an impressive account of eight companies that believe that, rather than emphasizing acquisition and retention of “the best and the brightest,” the best course for employers is to work with “ordinary people” and inspire loyalty and performance.

One case study is of Men’s Wearhouse, which, the authors note, stands out as being highly successful in an industry that has seen many long-standing firms go out of business. It is also listed by Fortune as on of the “100 Best Companies To Work For” in this country.

Men’s Wearhouse believes in giving employees who make mistakes another chance, and they apply that policy so far as to include employees caught stealing money. The authors explain that, however overly forgiving one might consider that, the company is aware that retail workers generally have history of being poorly paid and poorly treated and thus are more susceptible to make such “mistakes”.

Written personnel policies invariably identify theft as ground for immediate termination. Can anyone top this as an example of tolerating employee mistakes?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What OD needs to do

In addition to the four discussion questions mentioned in the previous post on our November 3 meeting on “The Future of OD,” we also brainstormed on “the top three things OD needs to focus on in the near term that will firmly establish OD as a critical partner in helping businesses respond to the challenges they face”.

The resulted combined list of twelve “prescriptions” for OD was as follows:

1. Improve the credibility of OD practitioners
2. Practice what we preach
3. Become strategic partners by bringing a vision and different perspectives
4. Develop partnerships with HR
5. Get a seat at the table with senior management
6. Create a brand
7. Define OD’s impact on business
8. Frame OD practitioners as transferors of knowledge and as implementation facilitators
9. Inspire OD practitioners to move from reflection on the field to making actual changes
10. Strengthen our business skills
11. Anticipate trends and build competencies and skills around them
12. Structure the OD function so that it can work with internal clients and not be interfered with

We thus also invite discussion on how we can create and accomplish action steps for these goals. What do we need to as individual practitioners? Does OD itself need to change in order to achieve these goals? And how the Learning Group promote these goals?