Changing the Paradoxical Nature of Organization Development
Today’s practice of organization development embodies paradox.
While we improve life in and enrich organizations, we often impoverish
the greater web of life, degrading the larger system. To resolve this
paradox, it is imperative that we re-evaluate the ways industrial
civilization impacts the Earth and all living systems. As OD consultants,
we can move to new practices in shaping organizational life, ones that
draw from models in the natural world. Right now, we have an historical
opportunity to develop the tools, understanding, and awareness we need
to accomplish this Great Work.
This half-day workshop will:
Use experiential learning and interactive technology to explore
the relationship between the work of OD professionals, our current
industrial economic system, and our impact on the planet.
Foster personal and professional ecoliteracy development and applications.
Evoke strategic dialogue on the vital role of OD professionals
in creating a sustainable future.
OD professionals may be the best-positioned group of people to create
new systems of work, production, and commerce.
We are change agents brought in to alter how systems work. We are a
network of “outsiders” with sufficient access and privileged perspective
to the vital workings of the complex systems currently dominating an
unsustainable civilization. The Great Work of OD in this century is
to apply our considerable knowledge and skills to the task of facilitating
the next revolution — a transformation to a sustainable economy.
In this workshop we travel through four realms of inquiry. In the first,
we explore the relationships between natural systems and the organizational
systems familiar to OD professionals. In the second, we investigate
the links between technological connectivity and the impact of our lives
and work on the living world. In the third, we learn to find and create
the tools we will need to sustain a new relationship with living global
systems. In the fourth, we ask the questions of personal and professional
commitment: What is your vision? What actions will you take?
At the end of this journey, you will possess the awareness, confidence,
and skills to begin the Great Work.
Where do we work? Expanding
our vision of the system.
Traditionally, the OD profession has been oriented to changing the
“whole system” — that is, to improving
the way an organization operates internally and in relation to its
stakeholders and market. We work to understand and influence the interrelationships
of various systems and processes in order to bring about significant
and lasting change. Is our view of the “whole system” large enough?
In the first phase of this workshop, we deepen our understanding of
whole systems and interconnectedness through group play, participating
in a dynamic living system for a visceral learning experience. Here
we actively embody the concepts of complex systems and networked relationships.
Do the means justify
the end? Exploring the paradox of connectivity.
Modern technologies are increasing our capacity to connect with
each other. In living networks, increasing interconnectivity is a healthy
evolutionary and developmental process. However, the technological means
by which we are increasing our connectivity have environmental and social
consequences we rarely
Here we engage participants in a case study of a common consumer
business device that awakens us to our personal and professional ecological
footprint. We use state-of-the-art interactive technology to explore
our understanding of the impacts of our technological approach to connectivity.
Next, we directly engage the paradox of interconnectedness –
the blessings and burdens of our highly connected, high-tech world.
Central to this is an interactive learning exercise, based on the work
of Joanna Macy and her associates, in which we explore perspectives
of usually forgotten stakeholders in the culture of production.
How do we resolve
the paradoxes? Dialogue and tool-building.
As William McDonough and Michael Braungart have noted, “The tree
is not an isolated entity cut off from the systems around it: it is
inextricably and productively engaged with them.” We, too, are engaged
as vital stakeholders in organizational activities. We can help organizations
consider the larger ecosystems in which our work is embedded. But how
can we be effective, unless we learn to better understand and appreciate
the living systems that surround and support us?
Can the whole biosphere be your true client — the one organization
you are always working to develop?
What are the broader implications of our current industrial economy
and of the role of OD? How does our emerging understanding of our interconnectedness
inform our work? Can we use the tools of connectivity and the unique
distribution of OD professionals to change the nature of business and
its impact on the whole living system?
Nature has demonstrated that it is possible to create products
and services that are economically viable, socially responsible, and
environmentally friendly. Increasing ecoliteracy deepens our awareness
of natural systems and allows us to change the nature of OD. What other
tools and information do we need to
become literate in the language of life?
We assess the group’s present degree of ecoliteracy through the
use of interactive technology. Experiential exercises evoke what you
would like to learn about ecoliteracy as you develop an action plan
for your personal and professional life.
We investigate ways to ask strategic questions of natural systems.
We explore successful examples and alternative approaches for growing
healthy, positive systems based on the abundance of models in the natural
The very nature of OD will change as we shift our perspective
to a broader and more inclusive role as change agents. We investigate
how to integrate our roles as individuals (consumers) and as OD professionals
(designers of interventions). We discuss how transforming fundamental
business models can give your clients a sustainable competitive advantage.
Vision and action:
Creating the world we want to live and work in.
As the workshop concludes, we begin to redefine success for our
clients and ourselves. We co-create a list of strategic questions, that
is, the troubling — even taboo — questions that must be raised if we
facilitate the emergence of sustainable organizations. In small
group dialogue we investigate points of
leverage and intervention for OD professionals, challenging you
to envision yourself as a more effective change agent.
The session ends with an invitation to make a public commitment
to action followed by a closing ceremony.