Key message: we are entering a “Golden Age of OD” – a different, exciting, connected field with increasing theoretical horizons and scope of practice.
On Wednesday, my colleague Giles attended the first day of ODN Europe (day one summary) and wrote about it as a seasoned professional – highlighting the points he found interesting, and the ones he didn’t agree with. Being a lot newer to the field of organisational development, I’m still processing a lot of the information I was exposed to on the second day. However, it is a credit to the conference organisers that whether you have small or large amounts of industry knowledge you can engage with speakers and debates and get a lot of take away from the day, making these events useful for young professionals looking for an educational experience.
We started off with a funny and well-researched talk by Cliff Oswick about the theoretical progression of OD from the material, linear, problem-centred approach of its initial formation to the social, “rhizomatic” (word of the day), possibilities-driven nature of its present and near future. He argued that this was not only a product of our evolving social expectations, but also a necessary response to the changing nature of organisations: the era of the top-down hierarchy is gone, and in the not too distant future, organisations will be led by their employees, who will focus on what (they believe) adds value. A world without job descriptions or salary bands was too radical for some, who pointed out (as have I in the past) that hierarchies are sometimes necessary for getting things done and holding people to account. That said, it was certainly an interesting introduction, and a thought-provoking way of setting up the rest of the day.
Complementing Cliff’s talk was Mark LaScola’s session in the afternoon, which focused on OD in practice: actually implementing transformation projects in organisations. It was interesting to see how the radical social activism of the morning compared to the discussions people had when describing how to initiate change in companies as they exist now. From some of the discrepancies that emerged, it’s clear that organisations have a way to go yet. The main message: the most important thing needed to secure change is strong, clear, consistent leadership, and this must – absolutely MUST – be accompanied by a well structured foundation phase. Alignment between all parties is key, and 1 oz of preparation is worth 1 lb of correction. No arguments here.
For me, though, the best session of the day was Julie Beedon’s brainstorm, which was sandwiched between the other two. The first half was a collaborative mind map of the current trends in OD, which was a good way of bridging the gap between present and future, and did so with specific reference to what people were seeing in organisations. What we produced was a colourful spider-web of the OD environment that touched on broad patterns in society and their OD implications, design-based and operations-based organisational observations, and a theoretical critique of the field.
Whilst there were too many trends to fully keep track of, we were able to boil down our focus in the second half of the session. This consisted of a set of small group discussions on the probable vs desirable state of OD in the next 10 years, which forced us to critique the ideas raised and went some way towards fashioning a divergent set of observations into a convergent set of aims. What we concluded was that there is great potential for a new age of OD – a Golden Age that could be more radical than Cliff’s and more valuable than Matt’s, though influenced by both. I will be unpacking this idea in a coming blog.