Context is everything in Organisation Development - what practitioners need to pay attention to

By Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, Academic OD Practitioner and Founder of Quality and Equality Ltd. Mee-Yan is speaking at the Organisation Development Conference and Workshop, 11 - 12 October, London.

Context is everything in OD. In our practice, without context we are sailing in an open ocean without navigation tools nor direction.

There are two contextual aspects that we practitioners need to pay attention to when we do our work.

  1. The socio-political-economic factors which impact the global, national and local context in which organisations operate.
  2. The complexity emerged from the combustible interaction between key macro factors.

These factors include:

  • The decrease in global financial resources
  • The growth of Information technology
  • Demanding and highly aware customers/consumers
  • Impact of endemic population movement
  • Changing population profiles

The complex interaction of all these factors create unpredictable and unknowable outcomes that propelled the nature of change to a whole different scale – what James Carse back in 1968 called the “infinite game” where;

  • Many factors influence events and yet important factors are unknown
  • Causes are effects and effects are causes
  • Change is nonlinear, no single or identifiable root cause for what happens
  • The goal for many organisations is not to win but stay in the game
  • There are rules but they are constantly changing
  • It is very hard to predict specific outcomes of a chosen intervention

These mega trends in turn push organisations to engage in continuous evolution to stay relevant. Stuart Kauffman (1984) identified 5 pre-conditions for organisations to self-organisation in order to secure a better chance for survival which still remain true even now:

  • Safe, nutrient rich environment to foster creativity and innovation.
  • Drive for fitness with the environment
  • High level of diversity (multiple voices and perspectives)
  • Complexity of connections – highly knitted.
  • Being at the edge of chaos (operate in the boundary between complexity and chaos – able to break out from unfit behaviour entrenchment to agility.)
  • From its inception, OD has been cumulating research data, intervention data, innovative ideas, working theories, and processes knowledge to guide organisations how best to experiment with different ways to stay relevant.

This continuous evolution in methodologies are only possible because OD practitioners are also willing to discard the mental model, try new paradigms, flex our styles, stretch our ranges, and willing to put ourselves on the line to create the necessary impact to shift system.

Many of us also are willing to increase our voice, simultaneously learning to cast off our shiny armour of being an expert in the know, always be called up to fix the situation, to become clients’ “change companion”.

In my keynote at the Organisation Development Conference and Workshop, I will spend time looking at the history of the field, drawing out the core principles, values, and theoretical frameworks of OD as we dream together about how to increase our scope and impact in the world of work that will enable us to retain the dignity of humanity while making organisations highly effective; delivering relevant services and products to its constituents in a viable and sustainable way.

Join Dr Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge at the Organisation Development Conference and Workshop, 11 – 12 October 2017, London.

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