Four Fundamentals of Human Dynamics in Organization Design

As one of the co-founders of the South African ODN Flourish Conference, I returned to Cape Town South Africa in September for its 5th annual conference, which this year was jointly hosted with the International Organization Development Association (IODA). 20 years ago my colleague, Lance Cope, who I worked with on Al Gore’s the Reinventing Government effort during the Clinton administration, had encouraged me to attend IODA which holds its meeting on a different continent each year. It took me 20 years to finally get the opportunity to attend, and I am so pleased that I was able to participate in this amazing global collaboration.

One of the keynote presenters was Dr. L Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge from Oxford University in England, and among her myriad of accolades and accomplishments, is the former president of IODA. She is a scholar practitioner, and provided brilliant data with her wry wit and humble demeanor, and I will follow up this blog with her insightful perspectives on “Infinite Change”.

Today, however, I want to share a synopsis I drew from a portion her presentation: “The changing context, the evolving field, and the developing practice – our role in getting ourselves future-ready?” which is drawn from Bob Marshak’s work, and what I am calling “The four fundamentals of Human Dynamics in Organization Design”.

As an organization design practitioner, Bob’s comprehensive review of the human dynamics is worth attending to if you want your interventions to exceed expectations. Mee Yan’s talk was a wonderful reminder about four dimensions that are baked into the best and most successful design or change projects. If you do use these as principles, you won’t need to do structured change management (e.g., ADKAR) or as much top down communication or “dealing with resistance”. Remember, resistance is always “gold” if mined. Never get held hostage by it or try to “overcome it”, rather get curious (that simple shift engages the creative centers and right hemisphere of your brain) about what is or is not happening in the system that gives rise to the resistance – you then find root causes like the lack of engagement. And with the Gallup folks reporting for the last decade that the level of engagement in organizations has been holding steady at only around 30%, there is a strong correlation with lack of organizations attending to these core organization development perspectives in change efforts the 70% or so change efforts that fail to meet expectations. In government, the worst offender, about 20% created harmful outcomes, to less that 10% that met expectations. I have extracted the core of the four principles below:

  1. Positive Orientation – People are inherently good and are capable of developing themselves in a supportive environment, Theory Y versus Theory X.
  2. Participatory Inquiry – For over 50 years, social science research suggest that action research is a critical process to involve people in addressing their own issues in the real world.
  3. Process v. Content – Attention by internal or external consultants, leaders, or accountable parties, is placed on facilitating a good process of inquiry and choice rather than developing the right answer for the system to implement.
  4. Client Centered – Knowledge about the situation and solutions reside in the client system. Seek to develop the short and long term capacity of the client system. Consultant is a partner or collaborator with the system.

Excerpted from Dr. L Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge’s presentation in Cape Town at the IODA/Flourish conference in September 2017 drawn from © Bob Marshak

For more information contact Mee-Yan’s organization:
Quality & Equality Ltd

Organisation Development, Consultancy and Training Services

Suite 10, Innovation House, John Smith Drive Oxford, OX4 2JY United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 1865-744618