OD Practitioners “collaborate with leaders and their groups.” Two key words here: “collaborate” and “leaders.” OD starts from the top of an organization or organizational unit—its leader. Working together—albeit collaboratively—the practitioner and the leader come to agreement about the change goals of the project, the basic strategies to be used, and other important perspectives that will be explored when we discuss Contracting and Re-contracting.
Many potential users of OD have the notion that we will fix whatever their issue is for them. After all, we are “the experts.” And, we are experts! We are experts who understand how to create and facilitate the human processes that drive all organizational work regardless of how automated that work may be.
A core element of those human processes is, of course, the leader her or him self. Accordingly, the work of OD calls for the leader to lead the project, not the OD practitioner. We do work in partnership with the leader to facilitate effective goal identification, and problem-solving processes toward root-cause solutions. In other words we collaborate with leaders and their groups to identify and solve their own problems. We work from the perspective of the Chinese maxim, “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” In the world of OD, leaders lead their own projects in collaboration with OD practitioners as designers and facilitators of the human processes involved.
Maintaining these roles (client as project leader and practitioner as process consultant and facilitator) can be problematic. Practitioners have been known to acquiesce to leader requests to take over project leadership. Practitioners have been known to take project leadership from acquiescing clients. Both are risky as the leader becomes a bystander and practitioner carries both roles. Even if the project is successful on it face, future successes become uncertain as a key success factor (the practitioner) moves on to other projects. To combat such happenstances, leader and practitioner must distinguish the two roles during their initial contracting. Both, then, must recontract whenever necessary to reestablish the appropriate roles. This is not to say that the practitioner cannot lead some aspects of the OD project such as leading a conflict management portion of a team-building session. Still, that should only be done to demonstrate how it can be done so that the leader can do his or herself at later opportunities.
We will address the rest of our definition of OD—the results OD is after and how OD works—in the next two blog posts. Stay tuned!