A few days ago I was a guest at a ‘holding group’ meeting for organisational development within a UK Housing Group.
My colleague, and partner of some 22 years, who is the lead consultant, invited me to facilitate a review process as a way of bringing deeper meaning and shared understanding to what has been a two-year journey since they committed to engaging with a whole organisation development process.
The meeting began with what Oasis term a ‘check in’, a practice we have engaged with since our earliest days.
Each person, in a protected uninterrupted space, says something about what has been learned, what is new, what has been significant, and how they begin the meeting. Done well, it’s a potent way of establishing a learning environment and often highlights a critical focus for the meeting.
One of the members, from a finance function, talked of the enjoyable busyness of this time of year and the annual planning process.
Another, a managing director of an operating company, with his head in his hands, talked of the feelings of frustration around change and feeling like he was going round in circles, and of one step forward two steps back.
It left me saying in my own ‘check in’ about how much more meaningful it could be for organisations if they were as awake and engaged with their feeling process as they are with their planning process.
On reflection, as the day progressed, we encouraged exactly that.
What emerged was an emphasis on three aspects of the change process, feeling, thinking and willing.
In looking back over a two-year organisational development initiative we considered critical moments, key events, choice points, challenges, tensions, achievements, celebrations and any identifiable phases as a way of capturing the biography of change, and deepening our learning and understanding, and to inform intent for the future.
The eight people, a cross-cutting membership from different parts and levels of the Group, including the Oasis development partner, mapped their own experience of the last two years, since the OD contract was agreed, and created a map of the whole process.
After they had built a fuller picture, and weighed and valued their findings, each person identified three or four overlapping phases to describe the journey so far.
All the phases shifts were marked by critical challenges and a mix of interconnected factors, both internal and external.
Every shift was accompanied by a level of feeling that contributed meaning and memory.
I’ve listed five different perspectives of the phases, that add up to a shared journey. There were high levels of congruence of experience despite different words being used.
What are we doing? – Elephants in the Room – Cold feet – Where are we going?
The ‘Federal’ debate – Tough times – Re-engagement
The Clarification phase – Storming – Clarity
Confusion – Liminal Space – Review – Executive Change
Toes in the Water –Testing Out – Stormy Waters – Getting on, getting real
The first phase took about a year, with subsequent phases representing two to four months.
From a human relations approach that fosters a shared direction through freedom, trust and accountability, whilst sustaining the engagement of those involved, these timescales have pace.
As to the feeling of going round and round in circles, during the review I realised once again that effective organisational change is not a cycle but a spiral; that whilst sometimes thinking ‘here we are again’, there has been genuine progress; that authentic development is a process that calls for consciousness, engagement, commitment and care; and that we need reflective time and space with others to assess whether ‘being here again’ is an illusion rather than a reality.