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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Psychology behind Organization Development Work

This post is inspired by two days at the University of Minnesota – College of Continuing Education, packed with curious people bringing a rich diversity of work and life experiences to our Organization Development Course. Stephanie and I greatly enjoyed and appreciated working with you all!

When it comes to Organization Development (OD) work, there is so much to discuss. This post focuses solely on some of the psychology behind OD work. Lets start with things you don’t need in OD work:
1.    You don’t need to own the client’s problem.
2.    You don’t always need to be the smartest in the room.
3.    You don’t always need to be right.

Equally important of course is what you do need in order to be effective in any kind of OD work. Again, using a psychology lens, I’d start with:
-       Observing astutely
-       Asking powerful questions
-       Reflecting thoroughly
-       Listening just a little longer than you may want to
-       Understanding the influence of self
-       Thinking in alternatives and multiple perspectives

These six ingredients form the foundation of any success in OD work yet they are only the beginning of course. There are a myriad of other OD competencies, to mention just a few: knowledge of the business / industry / organization, research methods, management / organization theory, teamwork / collaboration, dealing with ambiguity, organization behavior, resource management, and project management. Enough to work on I’d say.

Returning to the psychology of OD work, I think there are six crucial C’s in any OD role in addition to understanding the system and the technicalities of your field. They are:
Curiosity
Candor
Courage
Creativity
Confidence
Communication

You want to apply all of the above with the right intention, timing, strength and focus in order to be effective. Ask yourself, which one of these comes natural to me and which ones do not? Which C’s may I be overusing in challenging situations, knowing that a strength that’s over-used easily turns into a liability? And which ones may I be neglecting or even shying away from and for what reasons?




As you very well know, much of OD work involves listening to people, influencing people, helping people understand their organizational, business, and personal challenges better and so on. It is ‘people-work’ so we also discussed some tempting pitfalls that are very human. They are nothing to be embarrassed or afraid about, yet tendencies to be very mindful of. Knowing and recognizing these pitfalls can take you from awareness and acknowledgement to accountability and action – my 4 A’s of personal and professional development. They will in some cases help you prevent these pitfalls from occurring, in other cases from continuing. Here they are:
-       Getting sucked into personal drama
-       Communicating by verbal ping pong
-       Focusing in who is wrong and who is right
-       Being oblivious to the box you are in
-       Complaining, blaming or wanting to fix others
-       Getting in your own (and your client’s) way by not acknowledging and managing your hot buttons

There is so much more to say about the psychology behind OD work, maybe some other time. I’ll leave you with some of the many helpful questions to ask yourself and to ask others to increase awareness and reflective thinking:

What may I/they be missing?
What may I/they be misinterpreting?
What may I/they be repeating from some other context?
What may I/they be really needing or protecting?
What can be different lenses to look at this situation?
What may I/they be seeing as a problem to be solved where it is really a polarity to be managed?

Wishing you success with awareness, acknowledgement, accountability, and action!




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