As OD professionals we typically are asked to work with individuals and groups to improve performance. It is assumed we have and can impart some type of expertise that will be one of the causal factors of this improved performance. In doing this we would be adding value and in our proof driven organizations this means we need to find a way of proving that we did, in fact add value.
What if the best way we could add value was to get out of people’s way and let them interact and see what might happen?
Last week I was involved in a session with a client group. They were using one of our assessments to help them improve performance. In sessions such as these I am typically positioned as the ‘expert’ in understanding and interpreting the data that comes from these assessments and the client typically expects this expertise to be demonstrated throughout the session.
Over the years however I have come to learn that it is best for me to get the data to the group as quickly as possible and then get out of the way and let them interact with and about that data. Together we will see what emerges. There is often so little time in our organizational lives to actually interact with each other in a reflective and proactive way. I find people simply like to be in conversation with each other about things other than the pressing, immediate needs of the business.
Of course I have a role in putting some structure to the interactions people are having but sometimes I wonder if the group would still have a ‘great session’ if I just tossed the assessments results into the room and left.
In the session last week the most uncomfortable thing I did all day was to interject into people’s conversations so we could make sure we got through all the material. People were leaning into each other, sometimes huddling as small groups, sometimes laughing, sometimes very serious and each time I said ‘time’s up’ someone would look up and say, ‘can’t we have 5 more minutes?’. At the end of the day they seemed quite tired, quite happy and very engaged with each other.
Is this going to produce better performance? Was I adding value by getting out of the way for most of the day? I would certainly say yes but I’m also just as certain I can’t prove that. At least in the way organizations tend to understand proof.
I take more of a constructionist perspective on how organizations operate and for this reason I think better performance will occur and that I was adding value. I see organizations as the patterns of interactions between people and if people are having what they would define as meaningful and effective interactions there is a greater probability that the organization will perform better. And I can add value if it is helpful to get out of the way of those meaningful and effective interactions.
Most organizations understand proof as being able to measure a causal link from one point to another. The underlying assumption of this is that there is a planned action to produce these causal links. This perspective sees organizations as the result of planned activity, rather than constructed through interaction, and this planning is most often seen as being done by people of some expertise, such as senior management or external consultants.
In the context of proof driven organizations, perceived to be created by logical plans there is tremendous pressure to be an expert and in the OD world this so often means getting IN the way. Getting in the way with our models, theories, tools and techniques and often pontificating our opinions, thoughts and ideas.
From this perspective it is not easy to be seen as adding value by getting out of the way.
Of course you should not be getting out of the way all the time, but I find now that my perceived expertise, and my desire to express it can get in the way a whole lot more than I ever imagined.
In my session last week I imagine that I could have positioned myself as ‘expert’ and might have sounded really good. I also imagine people wouldn’t have been saying ‘can’t we have 5 more minutes?’ And for me that question last week was enough proof that I was adding value.
Author – Tom