A mentor and friend of mine likes to caution scholar-practitioners that, "If you only have a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail."
There is no shortage of expert consultants, all eager to address the kinds of issues that are apparent in any business whose focus is local and short term. To create sustainability, however, requires a long-term focus and a process consulting approach.
I am no longer fixated on one or two ways of knowing. At the end of the day, the lineage of our understanding matters less than how we leverage it to help create sustainable, adaptable, strong, collaborative organizations. In an interconnected, high-tech world where change is the only constant, this requires a fusion of ideas from
various schools of thought.
Only by embracing a dynamic, multifaceted comprehension of what it means to organize, can we even begin to understand how the world of work really works!
Think of it this way. You are working on a huge jigsaw puzzle with your friends. One guy is working on all of the blue-sky pieces in the top right corner. Another is doing edges on the left. You are assembling a tree near the bottom and a fourth person is gathering up all of the pieces that look like part of a flower. Now, suppose you became so enamored with your tree assembly that you ceased to see that it was part of a bigger puzzle. Worse yet, you might even begin to criticize your friends’ sky/flower/edge work as somehow inferior to your own.
Are we not ALL collaborators in unveiling a much bigger picture than any of your own pet projects would suggest?
Yet that is how we can be when it comes to consulting and developing new concepts. I occasionally meet consultants who truly believe that there is only one right way to do things, their way! Not only does this approach guarantee that clients are only in it for the short term fix (i.e. the quick, easy answer du jour), it also leaves the client feeling dependent and continually going back for more hand-holding— hardly the helping profession that Edgar Schein (1999) described!
Don’t be the guy with a blue-sky puzzle piece who declares it to be the entire scene!
Eventually someone will point out that there is a lot more to this picture than your own myopic view.
There are as many ideas about consulting in business as there are consultants.
Sometimes an organization needs appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider and Whitney 2005), or appreciative sharing of knowledge (Thatchenkery 2005). Other times it may need a complexity-derived approach like adaptive action (Eoyang 2009) or fractal change management (Henderson and Boje 2015). Other times we might turn to the search conference (Emery and Purser 1996), or any of a host of different approaches to helping organizations and communities strategize and improve their long-term efficiency and effectiveness. (Aside: My own doctoral work in Organizational Development included the chance to become intimately familiar with at least six or seven methodologies, not to mention those I became superficially acquainted with.)
We all have our favorites, to be sure, and for those of us who have developed methods ourselves, it can be tough to see beyond the elegance of our own approaches when the situation beckons for something else.
Yet the fact is that consulting methods are like tube tops!
One size cannot possibly fit all!
Either you can’t contain the organization’s rather obvious problems because there is not enough fabric— stretching out what there is in a very unflattering way, or there is so much fabric that you can’t even tell who’s underneath, losing the substance of the actual organization so that all we see is the consultant’s favorite knit, which is often not machine washable and can not be maintained without extra help.
It's important to think critically and take part in the dialogue about what it means to do organizational development, to be an entrepreneur, a thinker, and to step out of the box, in your own right!
So what about you?
Are you with me?
Let’s generate and share some POWERFUL IDEAS!
This post was adapted from one originally published in 2015 as part of the Management on the Mat Blog. The text of this blog posting may be shared, reproduced, and used in accordance with the creative commons share alike-attribution license (generic, 2.5). For details of acceptable use, please visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/ . Image courtesy of Wix.com
Cooperrider, David L., and Diana Whitney. 2005. Appreciative inquiry: A positive revolution in change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Emery, Merrelyn, and Ronald E. Purser. 1996. The search conference. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
Eoyang, Glenda. 2009. Coping with Chaos: Seven Simple Tools. Circle Pines, MN: Lagumo.
Henderson, Tonya L., and David M. Boje. 2015. Organizational Development and Change Theory: Managing Fractal Organizing Processes: Routledge.
Lewin, Kurt. 1951. Field theory in social science. Edited by Dorwin Cartwright. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.
Schein, Edgar H. 1999. Process consultation revisited, Addison-Wesley Series on Organization Development. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley. Book.