Organization Development 2.4 – Overcoming failure patterns

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2.4    Overcoming Failure Patterns

As alluded to in earlier comments, many OD efforts achieve limited or no success due to organizational or managerial circumstances.  In addition, certain types of practitioner behaviour may precipitate the breakdown of an OD effort.  These behaviours include failing to …

  • Obtain and work through a contract (applicable to both external and internal practitioners);
  • Establish specific goals for efforts and interventions;
  • Demonstrate sufficient courage to confront the organization and key managers in particular;
  • Be willing to try something new;
  • Determine the identity of the real client;
  • Work with real organizational needs;
  • Develop viable options;
  • Work with the organization as it is rather than as the practitioner would like it to be;
  • Measure or evaluate OD activities;
  • Plan for and avoid managerial abdication;
  • Solve problems (by becoming involved in ‘quick fixes’);
  • Specify both short- and long-term goals for the effort;
  • Be honest about what needs to be done and why;
  • Determine whose needs are being met;
  • Plan for and build toward the client managers’ ownership of the OD effort.

In reviewing these behaviours, a practitioner might feel overwhelmed or discouraged.  However, simply being aware that certain negative behavioural patterns are potentially damaging to OD efforts can help a practitioner to avoid such behaviours.  In addition, the practitioner who conscientiously attends to the following activities may have greater success in overcoming failure patterns.

Activity 1:  Building a strategy

As discussed earlier (Section 2.1), one of the practitioner’s primary responsibilities is to formulate a strategy.  The systematic building of a strategy for specific activities and projects protects against failure by forcing the practitioner to consider and deal with such issues as developing a contract, establishing goals for the entire project and related interventions, and avoiding ‘quick fixes.’  In fact, a comprehensive strategy focuses attention on each of the failure patterns.

Activity 2:  Establishing a flow diagram of activities

Another practice that forces consideration of the issues involved in failure patterns is establishing a flow diagram covering all activities of the OD effort.  A flow diagram provides an illustration of the ways in which the various interventions tie together and build on each other, the perceptions of the practitioner and the client personnel regarding progress at various points, and aspects related to the critical question of timings.

Activity 3:  Engaging in joint planning with prospective clients

During proposal development and prior to the launching of a long-term effort, the practitioner should engage in joint planning with the prospective client.  Without sufficient joint planning and exploration, the practitioner tends to proceed with a high risk of falling into at least one, if not several, of the failure patterns.

Activity 4:  Incorporating review and evaluation sessions

Of great help in avoiding failure patterns is the practice of incorporating into a contract a provision for periodic review and evaluation sessions.  Such a meeting allows the practitioner and appropriate organizational participants and managers to examine the immediate activity and to ask such questions as the following:

  • Are we on track?
  • Are the expected results materializing?
  • What feelings are we experiencing about our working relationship?
  • What modifications or changes need to be made?
  • Are any failure patterns beginning to appear in the project?  If so, what can we do to eliminate them?

Activity 5:  Using consulting teams

Directly or indirectly involving one or more fellow professionals enables the practitioner to be more aware of, and sensitive to, potential failure patterns.  Such involvement generates more analysis, the sharing of different perceptions, the use of more specialized skills and experience in given interventions, increased feedback and constructive confrontation.

Activity 6:  Participating in OD activities

Frequently, practitioners attempt to guide clients through OD activities that they themselves have not experienced as participants.  Being a ‘disinterested observer’ does not allow the practitioner to experience the dynamics and feelings of the ‘owner.’  Firsthand experience can be invaluable in planning OD activities for others.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …

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