Problems With Complex Responsive Processes

If you have read some of our blog entries you might have discovered that we do our organizational development consulting through the lens of complex responsive processes http://www.herts.ac.uk/courses/schools-of-study/business/research/complexity-and-management-centre/complexity-and-emergence-in-organizations.cfm

In addition, my last couple of posts looked at problems I have encountered with the Creative Tension model, eventually causing me to stop using it.  This post looks at some of the problems encountered when using the ideology of complex responsive processes and asks how you might deal with them.

One of the key things in working with this ideology is that you are intensely process oriented.  By process I mean that you recognize that organizations change and develop through the process of interactions between people and nothing, nothing happens outside of these interactions.  This means that my time with a client fits into this process; it is part of the ongoing interactions between people of which I am a part for a relatively short period of time compared to the people that actually work in the organization.

However, the typical expectation of a ‘consultant’s’ time in an organization is for you to be intensely results oriented.  If you are with a client for a day, 2 days, even 2 years, most interactions you have are expected to end in some kind of moving forward action, complete with plans, timelines and specific people held accountable.  By far the majority of interactions between people in organizations do not end in this way but as a consultant your interactions are expected to.  Otherwise you have not done your job!

So the question is how do you balance the fact that you are really just a part of the process of ongoing interactions when the expectations of you are quite different?  If you simply say to the key person you are working with that it doesn’t make sense to deliver on their expectations of you you are likely shown the door and your goal of helping the organization quicky comes to an end.  If you say that of course you can meet those expectations the same thing usually happens, but you’ve managed to hang around for a period of time.

Another problem I find with this balance is that the mainstream expectations of me have been internalized a fair bit.  Although I have worked from a process focus for many years I still feel twinges of discomfort if my time with the client doesn’t end with tight action plans.  It still feels like I haven’t done enough, even though I know I have done what is most effective in terms of how I understand organizations to operate.  The idea of the ‘hero’ consultant still seems to have its grasp on me somehow or other.

It can be an uncomfortable place to be.  I would be interested in the perspectives and experiences of others that may identify with what I have described above and how you deal with it.

Thanks for your input!

Author – Tom

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    You have the same problem, that people working in social work have. You know there are no miracle methods and the key point is interactions between people. You do your works as good as you can and the results might not be traditionally measurable.

    So what do you do? I think that first we must have a clear own vision, what is important, why it is important, how the work is done and what are goals. As an consult, facilitator or trainer we have an resbonsibility to forward our knowledge to our clients (at least so I think). But you have to believe on your own work, before you can sell it to cliens, so that they trust you, when your work isn’t ‘traditional’ or fit to their expectations. The biggest challenge is to get people become inspired and to get them do the work themselves. Too many times we expect, that someone comes from ‘outside’ and saves us.

    Here in Finland we have a second season of our Apprentice running. I criticiced the first season, because competitors were shown as saviours. The real change and evolution can be found inside the organizations not from outside.

    Maybe we should develop different methods to measure, what are the changes/benefits of this kind of work?

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