When leaders or managers approach organisation development (OD) consultants, facilitators or other kinds of helping professionals, they will often name an issue or problem and then request a fairly specific solution. The classic example is:
‘The team is not quite gelling and morale is a bit low.’
‘I want a team building exercise!’
That first sentence might mean any of the following (and more):
- ‘No one’s very clear about what they’re supposed to be doing, so there’s constant confusion. And everyone seems to be very angry and frustrated with me…’
- ‘There’s a lot of conflict (hot and/or cold) and I’m not sure how to handle it.’
- ‘Gender / race / sexuality / language / culture / religion / age (or some other ‘difficult’ aspect of diversity) is a major hot potato and everyone is afraid to go there — it feels explosive!’
- ‘Morale is low. I don’t know why … No one will talk to me about it.’
- ‘Our communications skills aren’t great…’
- ‘Everything is actually fine. People just need a little time-out to reconnect and refuel.’
- ‘Things are good enough. But I want them to be great!’
The second sentence might mean:
- ‘I think a few days in a nice hotel will make everyone feel better. (I need you along to justify the expense.)’
- ’We need to work on relationships.’
- ‘We need conflict resolution.’
- ‘We need to clarify purpose, roles and procedures.’
- ‘I like playing group games / whitewater rafting / winning.’
- Some or all of the above.
- Or simply: ’HELP!!!’
Reduce the scope for confusion
Of course, different combinations of meanings would require quite different responses. And this kind of complexity isn’t limited to team building requests: there’s plenty of scope for confusion and miscommunication around strategic planning, conflict resolution, restructuring, decision-making processes, and more or less anything else you can imagine.
Most competent and well-meaning professionals will try to understand your organisation or team, and your particular needs and interests, a bit more deeply, before contracting with you. (Just like most competent doctors will ask more than a few questions before offering you a multi-year prescription for oxycodone.)
However, it’s not safe to assume that everyone is competent (or well-meaning)… So it’s worth being able to engage in a little self-diagnosis that will enable you to brief outside consultants and supporters with more confidence and clarity.
Some basic steps for self-diagnosis
- Take a look back at the ‘Three bubbles model’. Describe your team or organisation in terms of the Task, Process and Relationships elements — and think about what you would like to be different. This ‘difference’ is the outcome you want. Articulating a clear outcome is a critical part of your brief to any consultant/facilitator.
- Think of your organisation or team as a system. All systems take inputs (money, materials, ideas, data, energy, etc.) — and process/transform them into outputs (products, knowledge, designs, behaviors, etc.). If you look at your system in terms of the INPUTS —> THROUGHPUT —> OUTPUTS process:
- Where are the bottlenecks or challenges?
- Why do you think they’re there?
- What might we need to change to address them?
(This is a useful conversation to open up to colleagues if you want to address these challenges together.)
- Look at your system’s key strengths — what are you really good at? What makes you effective? What would it take to maximise these? Or, how might you use these strengths to address the current challenge?
- When you think about your team, unit or organisation, what are the main questions or concerns that come up for you? List these. Again, this is a fruitful conversation to have as a team before briefing a consultant, or getting to work on strengthening the system yourselves.
Frame the assignment
Beyond these simple diagnostic steps, there is a lot of literature online that you could apply: models, questionnaires, and processes. Everything from SWOT to much more complex and subtle tools.
The main point is to look with fresh eyes at your team, unit or organisation and generate a picture of the whole for yourself: of how it is now; and how you would like it to be. Then write a simple brief naming:
- who you are (as a team/organisation);
- the presenting problem/issue/situation; and
- the outcomes you want to achieve.
Allow a little space for the consultant to ‘learn you’
If you do work with a consultant, rather than working on the issue alone, then it’s worth allowing them a little time to do a diagnosis of their own. This kind of brief ‘getting-to-know-you’ phase (which is usually neither lengthy nor expensive) can add a lot of value, and it usually saves significant time, money and frustration later on.
Lastly, choose someone you feel comfortable with and are willing to trust… It takes a bit of vulnerability to ask for help. And it requires honesty for any helper to offer real assistance and support.