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Dialogic Organization Development

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A Dynamic New Approach to Organizational Change
Dialogic Organization Development is a compelling alternative to the classical action research approach to planned change. Organizations are seen as fluid, socially constructed realities that are continuously created through conversations and images. Leaders and consultants can help foster change by encouraging disruptions to taken-for-granted ways of thinking and acting and the use of generative images to stimulate new organizational conversations and narratives. This book offers the first comprehensive introduction to Dialogic Organization Development with chapters by a global team of leading scholar-practitioners addressing both theoretical foundations and specific practices.

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1. Introduction to the Dialogic Organization Development Mindset

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Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak

It is our contention that any specific instance of Organization Development practice is a product of the mindset of the practitioner; the combination of theories, beliefs, assumptions, and values that shape how one sees and engages the world. In this chapter we provide a brief introduction to what we call the “Dialogic OD Mindset.” Because we believe the practice of Dialogic OD involves a way of thinking that is significantly different from Diagnostic OD, we begin by contrasting it with a Diagnostic Mindset. It is important to understand that we do not believe that Dialogic and Diagnostic Mindsets are mutually exclusive. Most OD practitioners will be influenced to some extent by both. However, most OD textbooks currently teach only the Diagnostic Mindset, so we briefly highlight what we think that is and contrast it with the Dialogic Mindset. We then describe eight key premises about the nature of organizations and change, and three underlying change processes that are central to the ways in which Dialogic OD practitioners think about and engage in practices that differ in form and/or intent from the ones described in most OD textbooks. We conclude the chapter by discussing the similarities between the Diagnostic and Dialogic Mindsets, and why they are both variants of organization development.

 

2. Introduction to the Practice of Dialogic OD

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Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak

To help introduce the practice of Dialogic OD we begin with two stories about how each of us stumbled into it in our practice. First, Gervase:

The first experience I had that I would now call Dialogic OD was with Charlie Seashore in 1987. My partner had asked him to work with our client, the more than eighty professionals of the quality department at Chevrolet/Pontiac/GM of Canada (CPC) divisional headquarters. Charlie asked them to self-organize into the following four groups, in whatever way each of them defined themselves: parents, grandparents, children, and black sheep. He then asked each group to take a turn sitting in the center of the room, talking about their experience of the department. The consultants asked them questions, and there was an open chair for anyone else to enter and talk with the group. We spent that morning in very powerful conversation.

My diagnostic mindset at the time marveled at how this intervention allowed for the collection and processing of data in the same moment. It collapsed the action research process quite substantially. How much more efficient than interviewing individuals, summarizing, and feeding it back, to then try and create this kind of conversation! Later, I began to question whether any feedback process could re-create the quality of that conversation, which was more exploratory and emergent than anything I could create in a data feedback meeting. Even later I came to think that having any consultant in the middle of communication between people or groups in organizations is unlikely to do any good. The only people who can fix A and B’s relationship are A and B, and acting as a go-between of information and problem solving creates, at best (or worst), a job for life.

 

3. Social Constructionist Challenge to Representational Knowledge: Implications for Understanding Organization Change

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Implications for Understanding Organization Change

Frank J. Barrett

The field of Organization Development and Action Research emerged in the 1940s at the height of the Industrial Age. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the mindset of those who designed the foundational OD interventions was part of the larger ethos of Industrial Age thinking inherited from the Enlightenment tradition. This chapter will outline the precepts of modernist thinking that grew out of the Enlightenment and how the legacy of several of these notions informed the early practice and theories associated with OD. Having established the influence of those ways of thinking on mid- twentieth-century managerial and organizational thought, the chapter next explores how many of those Enlightenment beliefs have been challenged since the 1960s from several perspectives that have come under the umbrella term “social constructionism.” The chapter concludes with a discussion of how more recent tenets of social constructionism challenge the earlier premises and practices, while proposing new vistas for the theory and practice of Organization Development and Change, particularly as these ideas are embodied in dialogical practices.

 

4. Discourse and Dialogic Organization Development

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Robert J. Marshak, David S. Grant, and Maurizio Floris

Chapter 3 described how recent developments in philosophy and social science are changing our view of the world from something given, to be apprehended, to something constructed through social interaction. These new ways of thinking have obvious consequences for how one thinks about organizations and change. This chapter discusses how these changes are showing up in scholarly research on organizations and organizational change and their implications for Dialogic Organization Development. It begins with a brief history of the way in which an “interpretive orientation” emerged in management theory. Much of this work has come under the label of “discourse studies.” The following section addresses how scholars define words like discourse, text, and narrative—often in ways that mean something different from how those words are used in everyday conversation. Understanding these different meanings is useful to understanding the insights that academics are providing into how organizations are managed and changed. In the final section a series of discursive premises and their implications are provided for the Dialogic OD practitioner.

 

5. Generative Image: Sourcing Novelty

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Sourcing Novelty

Gervase R. Bushe and Jacob Storch

The task is … not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
—Erwin Schrodinger

The implicit desire to generate novel expressions and insights that can lead to new courses of action is central to all Dialogic OD approaches; however, little attention is usually given to an underlying but important question, where does novelty come from? One could easily get the impression that good dialogue will itself lead to new ideas. This is far from the case. In this chapter we look at one avenue for novelty to emerge: generative images that provide a different conceptual and metaphoric landscape and thereby change our current ways of speaking, our implicit assumptions, and our ideas of what is possible and desirable. The most powerful force for change is a new idea, which is often captured in a novel expression, a new word or phrase. “A new word is like a fresh seed sown on the ground of the discussion” (Wittgenstein, 1980, p. 2).

 

6. Complexity, Self-Organization, and Emergence

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Peggy Holman

In 1984, Ilya Prigogine, winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize for chemistry, and philosopher Isabelle Stengers published the best-selling book Order Out of Chaos. Three years later, journalist James Gleick released another best seller, Chaos: Making a New Science. It is no coincidence that two books on a new scientific idea made an impression on the public consciousness. They were pointing to something that struck a chord, mirroring lived experiences of changing times.

Dialogic OD practices were in their infancy during that period. Eva Schindler-Rainman and Ron Lippitt worked with communities in the 1960s to find common cause among diverse people with vested interests, blazing a trail for collaboration within large groups. Concurrently, Fred Emery and Eric Trist of the Tavistock Institute in the United Kingdom began experimenting with democratic principles and self-management in organizations through what they ultimately named “Search Conferences.” Both of these streams of OD practice influenced Future Search (Weisbord, 1992). In 1981, Kathie Dannemiller hosted a series of meetings, each with about 130 managers, for Ford Motor Company as it sought to move from a “command and control” culture to a more participative style, breaking ground for the practice of Whole Scale Change (Holman, 2010). Harrison Owen designed the 1985 Organization Transformation Conference based on extended coffee breaks, creating an approach—Open Space Technology—that allowed hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds to manage themselves for multiple days (Owen, 1992). Along with other pioneers of the last few decades, they defied prevailing wisdom about optimum group size and methodologies for accomplishing meaningful work (Purser and Griffin, 2008). As these practices evolved, they relied less on formal facilitation and more on self-management. What was going on?

 

7. Understanding Organizations as Complex Responsive Processes of Relating

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Ralph Stacey

This chapter summarizes a theory of organizations that focuses attention on our actual, bodily, lived experience of working in organizations—that is, what we as human beings are actually doing as we go about our ordinary, everyday activities at work. In the late 1980s when I moved from a management role in industry to lecture at a university, I became very aware of just how abstract mainstream literature on organizations and their management was, and how little relationship it bore to my experience as a manager or consultant to organizations. Later, in the mid-1990s, I was joined by two colleagues who had the same misgivings. Over time we developed what we found to be a more useful way of focusing attention on organizational life than that of the dominant discourse and we described it as complex responsive processes (Fonseca, 2001; Griffin, 2002; Griffin and Stacey, 2005; Mowles, 2011; Shaw, 2002; Shaw and Stacey, 2006; Stacey, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2011, 2012; Stacey, Griffin, and Shaw, 2000; Streatfield, 2001) Before proceeding to outline what is meant by the term complex responsive processes, I want to describe what I mean by “mainstream literature” and “dominant discourse.”

 

8. Consulting as Collaborative Co-Inquiry

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J. Kevin Barge

Consulting collaboratively can be a highly unstructured process in which the consultant essentially joins into the flow of organizing, as described in Chapters 7 and 17, without much negotiating of roles or processes. More often, it is a form of collective inquiry that foregrounds the role of conversation in articulating a focus for inquiry, designing a process to create new frameworks for meaning and action, contemplating one’s experience, and determining what steps need to be taken in the future. All Dialogic OD consulting is collaborative because consulting conversations, by their very nature, are a collective achievement among consultants and the people they work with, in which the different parties take turns contributing to the unfolding exchange. Consultancy occurs in and through conversation, and organizational change is predicated on consultants and clients changing existing conversations by inviting new mental models, understandings, and frameworks for sense making. This is often done by coming alongside existing and emerging ideas and making them richer by asking questions and exoticizing what communities of workers often view as normal or just the way things are around here.

 

9. Enabling Change: The Skills of Dialogic OD

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The Skills of Dialogic OD

Jacob Storch

In this chapter I address the kinds of skills and mindset an OD consultant needs if change is viewed as an ongoing, fluid process that emerges from people in organizations evaluating and revising their practices and the stories they have about the purpose of their work and collective objectives. I will offer a practice-based account of how change in an organization can be enabled as part of a series of meetings, training sessions, and coaching based on Dialogic OD thinking. Rather than only theorize, I also recount different aspects of enabling practices as they were experienced by the participants during the consultation.

As discussed throughout this book, a dialogical view of organizational change is a profound leap toward a different mindset from that offered in the dominant change management literature. Lewin’s (1951) unfreeze-move-refreeze dictum, which sees change as episodic, has carved itself into the body of ideas from which the OD and change management literature have developed. Dialogic OD, on the other hand, sees change as constant and ongoing, which results in some very different perspectives. Organizations are not viewed as things, but means to ends that are constantly in a flow of creation and re-creation. The Diagnostic OD Mindset views the ability to predict and control as the aim of good change practice, bringing the organization from one level of stability to another. The Dialogic OD Mindset views the ability to stimulate relationally responsive conversations that channel peoples’ needs and desires toward continuously evolving ends as the aim of good change practice. From this latter point of view, change is always happening; stability and organization at any point of time is a dynamic result of addressing ongoing changes, channeling them toward desired ends.

 

10. Entering, Readiness, and Contracting for Dialogic Organization Development

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Tova Averbuch

This chapter offers models distilled from two decades of practice about entry, readiness, and contracting for Dialogic OD, the initial stages of relationship between client and consultant.1 It begins with the question of why and when to contract for Dialogic OD work, continues with a definition of “readiness,” and discusses how to assess initial readiness and build readiness for Dialogic OD. Next the consultant’s “entering” into the organization is described as a process of crossing multiple thresholds while widening the circles of stakeholders’ engagement. The final part of this chapter defines “contracting,” elaborates on its innate challenges, and gives concrete ideas on how to contract for Dialogic OD work. Citations offer sources for further depth on a topic.

If we assume that most leaders in organizations are results driven and have controlling leadership habits, how do we contract for self-organization? If managers and workers are primarily evaluated according to their personal contribution to known deliverables, when does it make sense to offer an unknown and emergent process, to start down a path without a clear destination in view, and contract for Dialogic OD?

 

11. Transformative Learning during Dialogic OD

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Yabome Gilpin-Jackson

“I want more than change, I want transformation!”

This statement and variations of it are popular among organization leaders today. Leaders are aware that in the face of constant change and increasing complexity, they need employees and workgroups that are able to build their own capacity to solve the complex adaptive challenges of our times (Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow, 2009). They want people and groups in their organizations who are capable of anticipating and integrating the constant influx of internal and external changes, making meaning of the changes, and taking the right action to move the organization forward. Informed leaders are aware this requires shared accountability and distributed leadership at every level over and over again … as quickly as changes appear on the landscape. They know these desired outcomes require a shift in the mindset and culture of their organizations to foster nimble and adaptive transformative capacity. In this chapter I will review a model that provides useful tools and advice for working with sponsors in the personal transformational change process any successful organizational transformation will require of them. The model also offers useful tools and advice for working with the people who will have to engage in the Dialogic OD process, and ultimately go through personal transformation themselves.

 

12. Framing Inquiry: The Art of Engaging Great Questions

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The Art of Engaging Great Questions

Nancy Southern

Over years of consulting and teaching, many of us have come to understand that power resides in great questions. Inquiry supports continuous learning and brings people into a space where values, aspirations, and dilemmas can be shared. We might call this a field of inquiry where discovering together develops relationships of trust and commitment. As people enter this field of inquiry, learning together rather than just sharing what is already known, they can develop new understandings, craft new metaphors and images of the future, and develop strategies to move forward.

This chapter discusses how to create a field of inquiry, construct powerful questions, and engage people with those questions to support shared understanding and clarity of direction. We will first consider the assumptions that are needed to engage inquiry. Five types of inquiry—informative, affirmative, critical, generative, and strategic—are presented and discussed in ways that support discovery of the current context, possibilities for change, and actions. Designing dynamic inquiry processes within the context of meetings or large-group events rounds out the chapter.

 

13. Hosting and Holding Containers

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Chris Corrigan

Dialogic Organization Development practitioners work with the concept of a “container” to describe both the result of dialogic tools and processes and the space in which such tools and processes unfold.1 Containers are intangible yet real spaces in which the potential and possibility of a group can unfold. They have boundaries that are physical and psychological. They are often best characterized by a feel, but they are nevertheless real aspects of deep dialogic practice.

An important role of Dialogic OD practitioners is the creation and maintenance of the container. Within the container the work of Dialogic OD can unfold. People can enter into relationships that seek emergence and the activation of their potential and purpose. The construction of the container is a powerful practice that can influence groups and enable them to achieve what they have set out to do or inhibit them from doing so. The practitioner must bring a deep consciousness of containers to the work, and develop practices that ensure there is clarity from the group about the quality of the space they are in.

 

14. From Them to Us: Working with Multiple Constituents in Dialogic OD

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Working with Multiple Constituents in Dialogic OD

Ray Gordezky

It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.
—Henry Miller (1944)

Twenty-five years ago I had just started an assignment as manager of training and development in a large, successful telecommunications company that was experiencing new global competition. While working there, I discovered that my clients and I could take advantage of the potentially disruptive circumstances by working at their manufacturing sites with work teams and their clients, rather than bringing people in from disparate locations for classroom training at the head office. We concluded based on anecdotal evidence that this way of working provided a far better return on investment than traditional training programs that had little to do with day-to-day work. I experimented with bringing together customers and staff from other departments using dialogic processes based loosely on social constructivism (Searle, 1970) and David Bohm’s Dialogue method (Bohm, Factor, and Garrett, 1991). I found cross-departmental collaboration improved productivity, ignited a passion for exploring, and challenged underlying mental models about how work gets done and how organizations work. The training and development department that employed me did not know how to bill for such work. The director only knew how to earn the department’s place in the organization by filling classrooms.

 

15. Amplifying Change: A Three-Phase Approach to Model, Nurture, and Embed Ideas for Change

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A Three-Phase Approach to Model, Nurture, and Embed Ideas for Change

Michael J. Roehrig, Joachim Schwendenwein, and Gervase R. Bushe

In this chapter, we look at the follow-on steps for sustaining momentum for change generated by large-group dialogic events like those described in the previous chapters. Sponsors, design teams, and consultants have a tendency to focus so much on the events themselves that the necessary follow-on structures and processes often do not get the proper attention.

We titled this chapter “Amplifying Change” to highlight that Dialogic OD depends on encouraging and growing the energy, inspiration, and networks created during dialogic events to produce desired changes. While creating a space where motivated people can find each other and generate ideas they are excited to pursue is essential to Dialogic OD, it is just a start. Experience in the field is that without an amplification strategy in place, chances are the energy and momentum will dwindle. OD consultants, sponsors, and organizational leaders will probably find that they have to put more energy and effort into the change process after events than before them for really effective change to occur.

 

16. Coaching from a Dialogic OD Paradigm

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Chené Swart

Welcome to an exploration and unpacking of the possibilities and practices of Dialogic OD in the field of coaching. This chapter is informed by narrative practices (White and Epston, 1990; Swart, 2013) that grow from social constructionist (Burr, 1995; Gergen, 1994; Gergen and Gergen, 2003) and poststructuralist (Foucault, 1977, 1980) ideas within the postmodern paradigm. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss similar and supporting ideas.

We will explore questions like: What is a narrative? Why do narratives matter? What is coaching within this understanding? How does narrative coaching work? How does narrative coaching fit in Dialogic OD? What are the outcomes of these collaborative coaching journeys? How is the world of the client or the client’s relationship with the organization influenced by these practices of coaching?

You are now invited to step into the values of emergence and collaboration that lead to transformational ways of being in a coaching relationship within the Dialogic OD approach.

 

17. Dialogic Process Consultation: Working Live

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Working Live

Joan Goppelt and Keith W. Ray with commentary by Patricia Shaw

Fade in … dining room of CEO’s house at 9 a.m. Six people are sitting around the dining-room table. Two flip charts are set up. Two cats are lying lazily on the windowsill. Bright sun and a cool breeze, typical fall coastal weather….

Sitting around the table are:

Brad: CEO of Durant, a small engineering firm

Trent: Head of HR at Durant

Julie: Internal OD at Durant

Bridget: Internal OD at Durant

You: External Consultant

Your Partner: External Consultant

After pleasant greetings, the meeting begins.

Brad: OK. We’re here to talk about restarting the leadership development program. So whatcha got for me? (with a slight New York accent)

Julie: Here is our agenda. (She hands out the agenda to everyone.) I thought we would brainstorm some requirements first. Then discuss how we can align what we’re doing to the company. Then we can outline a plan for getting there.

 

Part IV Conclusion: The Path Ahead

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Part IV

CONCLUSION: THE PATH AHEAD

Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak

It has been about ten years since we started trading papers and ideas about what we both thought were OD practices not well represented in the textbooks about OD. In those early days we encountered the difficulty of discussing something we thought was being mislabeled, described using foundational OD concepts and a vocabulary that did not fit what we were seeing in contemporary practice. At the same time, because we had been educated in that same set of concepts and vocabulary, we struggled to find new concepts, words, and ways to explain what we were seeing and thinking, including what to name this different form of OD (Marshak and Bushe, 2009). As we worked on our ideas and began publishing papers and giving presentations, we also began to develop different ways to describe what we were seeing and thinking to others, which included naming the two forms of OD discussed throughout this book: Diagnostic and Dialogic OD.

 

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