Today was day one of a two-day training program on organization development (OD) that I'm facilitating in Shanghai. There are thirty-five participants in the room all with varying levels of skills and knowledge about organization development and also varying English language proficiencies. I find it a difficult call to design these because I have to make a number of decisions related to the following questions:
How much content should be theory and how much practice?
Participants want case studies, tools, and practical tips, and at the same time they want to know why definitions of OD have a 'science' bent, for example:
"Organization development is a system-wide application of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development and reinforcement of organizational strategies, structures, and processes for improving an organization's effectiveness." Cummings, T.G, and Worley, C.G. (2005)
And having seen a definition like this, they want to know what a 'system' is. Both these queries relate to some theories of organization development. Then there's the question of the various lenses through which organizations can be viewed. One of my favorite books on this is Images of Organization, by Gareth Morgan, with his discussions of organizations as machines, organisms, brains, psychic prisons, political systems, cultures, as flux and transformation, as instruments of domination, but that's not really a practitioner guide, more an academic treatise. And anyway, I wonder if the time is right for a different set of images of organization given the numbers of new business models and the advances in technology since Morgan first wrote the book.
What aspects of OD should I concentrate on? There are many possibilities on this:
In the two days available should I look at the OD practitioner's role, skills, competences, and what a typical day in the life of an OD consultant is like. Indeed, is there a typical day, and is there a distinction between being a 'OD practitioner' and an 'OD consultant'.
Alternatively we could cover the role of OD in an organization compared with the role of HR, and where OD should 'sit' and who should 'own' it, all hot potatoes.
Another possibility is to consider various OD methods and approaches, both soft and hard e.g. appreciative inquiry, action research, Future Search, World Café, lean techniques, and process improvements.
What level shall I pitch at? The UK's Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, in its HR Profession Map conveniently considers four bands of OD practitioner. Should I make some assumptions about the participants' levels of skills and knowledge? Even with pre course questionnaires this is a tricky one. Some of the participants here are senior HR Directors tasked with introducing OD into their organizations – OD being in the early stages of appearance in Chinese companies. They may not ultimately be involved in OD interventions but managing people who are. Equally there are usually people in the group who may be relatively junior in the organization and are wondering whether and how to make OD their career path.
How much should I cover the future of OD? Given that it's a relatively new concept in China, I wonder how much I should be talking about how OD is practiced in well established predominantly western multinationals, and how much I should be encouraging discussion and thought about how it could develop as a very different discipline in emerging market companies, and what roles the people participating in the Shanghai program could take in giving OD a radically different look. But then I wonder how I would do this given my western experience, assumptions, knowledge, and perspectives. (I guess I could treat it as an OD intervention itself). It seems plausible that if emerging markets can leapfrog for example from virtually no telecoms to massive cell phone use without having the legacies of wired phone systems, then they could leapfrog traditional theories and methods about how to effectively develop organizations. (And, indeed, I think that would be healthy). The HR Profession map does not, for example, mention OD practitioners needing competencies in triple bottom line, sustainability, social media, or virtual organizations – all aspects that I think they need proficiency in.
So as I wonder about today I'm starting to think if and how I would design the program differently next time. I'd like to involve today's participants in shaping something that provided a real challenge to current thinking on OD but at the same time built their confidence and skills in their current roles as OD consultants – which is what most of them are looking for.