Organisation Development Consultant

Self-diagnosis (& briefing consultants)

[4-minute read]

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.

team training warren banks self-diagnosis-briefing-consultants-facilitator-organisation-development-consultant-durban-south-africa-notebook

Some basic steps for self-diagnosis
  1. 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.
  2. 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.)

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

About these resources

These articles are for people who work with and in organisations of any kind – as leaders, managers, formal or informal change agents. If you are trying to work more consciously and effectively with change in your organisation, I hope you’ll find some ideas here that make your work (and your life) a bit easier, and your organisation a more effective, creative and positive place to be.

If you would like to engage around these ideas, ask a question or discuss the possibility of working together, please drop me a line.