What kind of Organisational Development (OD)? (And a book recommendation)

both-kinds.png

Mind slightly blown, I discover that organisation development (OD) divides into two schools of thought. Or more accurately, that a crucial aspect of organisation development may have been hiding in plain sight for decades. The two ‘schools’ (if for the moment I can refer to them that way) are diagnostic OD and dialogic ODThey are not in fact mutually exclusive – it’s this that allowed one to hide with the other – but for the purposes of explanation let me begin by describing two ends of an OD spectrum.

Diagnostic OD

At the “extreme diagnostic” end of the spectrum, the OD practitioner (here very much playing the role of the expert consultant) thinks and works like this:

  • According to the practitioner and in all likelihood the sponsor (the latter chooses the former after all), your organisation is best understood by some dominant metaphor: as a machine, an organism, an ecosystem, or a system of autonomous agents (the ‘agents’ being ‘people’ and groups thereof)
  • Accordingly, the task is to diagnose a problem and to prescribe (and perhaps implement) a fix, a cure, a conservation measure, or some reprogramming

Only a short distance beyond that extreme lies dysfunction:

  • Ivory tower diagnosis – lacking in empathy and respect, characterised by dismissiveness and judgementalism – or fake diagnosis whose main purpose is to establish the absence of some fashionable solution (see also snake oil merchants) and perhaps induce an inauthentic sense of urgency (burning platforms and the like)
  • Inviting failure by approaching adaptive challenges as though they are mere technical problems, fixable through linear, step-by-step processes (hey, 20th century change management frameworks, I’m looking at you)

Drawing a safe distance back from that precipitous edge, we have whole systems approaches, in which the diagnosis part and increasingly the implementation part involve meaningful levels of staff participation. As much facilitator as consultant, the practitioner consciously dials down their judgemental side and dials up their curious and conversational sides instead.

What if this begins to describe what successful OD has looked like all along? Would an alternative to the diagnostic model be helpful? Enter dialogic OD.

Dialogic OD

Again for the sake of explanation, let’s put those organisational metaphors to one side and start with something more philosophical:

  • The organisation is socially constructed and the creator of meaning – brought to life, sustaining itself, and continuing to evolve through its discourse, both with itself and with the outside world
  • Change is an ongoing (ever-present) process that is never entirely under anyone’s control; the practitioner’s job is to spark and facilitate new conversations, uncover fresh expressions of meaning, and help set loose new kinds of dialogue

The idea that culture is the product of a process that no-one fully controls is an important one. No wonder that change management is hard! I first saw it spelt out that way by Edgar H. Schein [1], and referenced it in Agendashift [2]. Schein is without doubt one on the greats of OD and it seems to me a little ironic that he is so strongly identified with the diagnostic model. In fairness to him, social constructionism [3] is younger than OD; moreover he contributes a superb foreword to Bushe & Marshak’s Dialogic Organization Development [4] – an excellent book that might easily have escaped my notice without his endorsement.

Before reading Bushe & Marhak’s book and as I began to read Schein’s foreword, I couldn’t help imagining for myself what diagnostic and dialogic OD might mean. Quite naturally I wondered what Agendashift would look like in the light of those two imagined models. I jumped to the conclusion that Agendashift had elements of both: diagnostic wherever it is concerned with the present (in particular the assessment and anything concerned with current obstacles), and dialogic wherever it is concerned with the future (which it does most of the rest of the time).

My instincts weren’t completely wrong, but nevertheless as I read the book I was surprised just how strongly the dialogic model resonated with me. It turns out that Agendashift is much further along the spectrum towards fully dialogic than I anticipated. Some of the more obvious parallels:

  1. Even Agendashift’s more diagnostic tools are there not to measure or judge but to stimulate conversations whose destinations – outcomes – the facilitator can’t even guess at (certainly I don’t try). As the Solutions Focus [5] guys will tell you, the point of scaling  – which they mean in the sense of giving something a numeric score – isn’t the number, but they way that it encourages you to think.
  2. Agendashift makes extensive use of generative images, things – typically terms or phrases – that help to conjure up a diverse range of naturally-aligned responses. Our de-jargonised Lean-Agile True North statement (below) is Agendashift’s most obvious example (quite a chunky one by normal standards), but even the prompts of the assessment tool are used in that way.
  3. And of course there’s the Clean Language, mainly via our 15-minute FOTO coaching game [6], though its influence runs deeper. It’s not just that the game gives participants the opportunity to ‘model’ the organisation’s obstacles and outcomes – conversations that probably haven’t happened before – it also creates the experience of a new kind of conversation.

Slide12

With the benefit of a few days of reflection, I am over that initial surprise. Agendashift was designed as a positive response to the prescriptive approaches to Agile adoption that at their worst seem to actively embrace all the diagnostic dysfunctions I identified above. Instead of prescriptive and linear, generative. And what do we generate? Outcomes around which people can self-organise, and ideas for action and experimentation that will point the organisation in the direction of those outcomes – hence outcome-oriented change – and all of it done in a coherent way that helps to develop Lean, Agile, and Lean-Agile sensibilities rather than work against them.

That said, I am not yet over my enjoyment of this book. In fact, I’m still wondering if Agendashift could and should move even further towards the dialogic end of the spectrum. Even in the Agendashift book there are hints of what might be possible – helping organisations create their own True North statements or their own non-prescriptive assessment tools, for example. And without creating any new tools, we practitioners should perhaps be keeping a closer watch for powerful new generative images amongst the many outcomes generated by participants, using their “thematic outcomes” (a phrase that is already part of the Agendashift lexicon) not just for organising plans but as seeds for wider dialogue.

I’m even challenged (in a good way) by two alternative visions of the workshop (a large part of my work). Is an Agendashift workshop:

  1. A planning event (diagnostic), or
  2. A “container for disruption” (dialogic)?

Yes!

One thing is for sure: if ever there’s a 2nd edition of Agendashift, Bushe & Marshak’s Dialogic Organization Development will certainly be among its key references. I’ll be adding it to our recommended reading list [7] very soon.

References

[1] Organizational Culture and Leadership, Edgar H. Schein (5th edition, 2016, Wiley)
[2] Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation, Mike Burrows (2018, New Generation Publishing)
[3] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_constructionism
[4] Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change, Gervase R. Bushe & Robert J. Marshak (2015, Berrett-Koehler Publishers)
[5] The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE , Mark McKergow and Paul Z. Jackson (2011, Nicholas Brealey International)
[6] 15-minute FOTO: agendashift.com/15-minute-foto
[7] Recommended reading: agendashift.com/recommended-reading

Acknowledgements

Thank you Mike Haber and Parag Gogate for feedback on earlier drafts of this post.


Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm

Watch this space for Greece, Turkey, London, the Benelux region and Scandinavia in the autumn.


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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

A video for Changeban (and related: what’s in store for Featureban)

Changeban is our Lean Startup-flavoured Kanban simulation game. It is based on our classic game Featureban, with easier mechanics, a Lean Startup-inspired board design, and some different learning objectives. Both games are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (Yay! Open!).

As promised a couple of days ago in the April roundup, the Changeban page now includes a video of a game session recorded at last month’s London workshop. I’m grateful to Agendashift partner Steven Mackenzie for its production. You’ll find it and loads more information at agendashift.com/changeban.

Questions? Channel #changeban in the Agendashift Slack; request access here

In store for Featureban

At around the 37:05 mark you will notice this exchange:

Dragan: Can a work item – a sticky – move more than one step in a round?

Mike: Yes they can. I know where that question is coming from – if you’ve played Featureban, the rules discourage the cards from moving more than one column per round (per day). The reason for that is technical, and it’s annoying, and it makes the rules unnecessarily complicated. The language is changed in Changeban so that it’s just that if you can’t do anything for yourself, you help somebody.

The Featureban rules in question are those that mention pairing. Instead of helping someone (anyone!) as Changeban allows, you’re allowed to pair up only with someone who can’t otherwise move. These rather frustrating rules generate more questions than the rest put together! The technical issue I mention in the video is that disallowing cards from moving more than one column in a day happens to make the calculation of flow efficiency in the metrics iteration very easy. I’m convinced now that the complication and restrictiveness is an unnecessarily high price to pay.

Admittedly I’ve been saying this for a while (I also had a book to finish!), but soon(ish) I will publish a Featureban 3.0 beta version that ditches the pairing rules in favour of Changeban’s much kinder “help someone” rules. While I’m at it, I’ll complete the transition from coins to playing cards as the source of variation.


Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm

Watch this space for Greece, Turkey, London, and the Benelux region in the autumn.


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

More ‘Open’, and my first online workshops

I’m getting ready for a busy couple of weeks mid May:

Partly in preparation and partly as housekeeping, I’ve updated the generic workshop description page Advanced Agendashift: Coaching and Leading Continuous Transformation as follows:

  1. Very much in the Open spirit of the Boston symposium, it now has a Creative Commons 4.0 CC-BY-SA license. That’s not quite the big deal that it might sound since the Overview pages that describe all Agendashift-based workshops have long had one, but it’s good to get that sorted.
  2. Its structure now tallies with recent improvements. Day 1 is Learning the language of outcomes. Day 2 is Organising for impact, and it reflects the “rejigging” described in last week’s Notes from the April 2019 Advanced Agendashift workshop, London. I’ve updated the abovementioned Overview pages also.

As a spinoff from Boston (there’ll be discounts for attendees), from June I’ll be offering an online workshop, also titled Learning the language of outcomes. Presented as two 2-hour sessions on consecutive days it will be a great way to get up to speed quickly with outcome-orientation and Clean Language, getting some real practice in applying the latter to the former. At a minimum we’ll cover:

Officially, we launch these at the Symposium, but for a sneak preview (and early bird prices):

In person or online, I hope to see you soon!


Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm

Watch this space for Greece, Turkey, London, and the Benelux region in the autumn.

workshop-2x1


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
Community: Slack | LinkedIn group | Twitter

We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

Notes from the April 2019 Advanced Agendashift workshop, London

Thursday and Friday last week was the 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop in London. The quick version of my takeaways (all confirmed by the retro stickies):

  1. Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper
  2. The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster
  3. My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate
  4. Some rejigging
  5. Excitement around “wholehearted

Also, details of the next four of these workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm.

Mike Haber’s Celebration-5W template is a keeper

Announced only a couple of weeks ago, I would definitely recommend using Mike Haber’s template – it makes the exercise easier for everyone involved, and the output vastly more presentable. I’ve updated the Celebration-5W page to make it more prominent.

Celebration-5W-template-2019-03-v1

The beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card passes muster

Also announced recently but previously untested, a beta version of the 15-minute FOTO cue card is now made official:

No-one missed the old “Is there a relationship between X and Y?” question (a question that comes with health warnings) and according to the retro sticky, the new question “Where does X come from?” rocks!

My “Rule of Three” seems to resonate

I mentioned my “Rule of Three” in answer to an important question about who should be invited to internal workshops. I had already written it up for my forthcoming book Right to Left but I was encouraged to put together a page for it with an easy-to-remember url, agendashift.com/rule-of-three.

After a few iterations on the text (helped by feedback in the #right-to-left channel in Slack), here’s the key quote:

Clicking on the image or the link above you’ll find a condensed, bullet point version, and some notes that hint at what’s to come in the book.

Some rejigging

Consolidating experiments described in Stringing it together with Reverse Wardley, The Cynefin Four Points exercise moves from day 1 to day 2, the launchpad for Mapping rather than the conclusion to Exploration. It allowed me to run “my slowest ever Discovery” on day 1, and nobody minded one bit.

Update: The name “Reverse Wardley” is (as we say in the UK) “a bit Marmite”, meaning that some loved it and others hated it. Is it “way too geeky”? This was already suspected, but I still don’t have a better alternative.

Excitement around “wholehearted

Remember Towards the wholehearted organisation, outside in (May 2018)? For the evening of day 1, Steven Mackenzie (one of Right to Left‘s reviewers) suggested we held a “Lean Curry” around the topic. Here he is with his heart-shaped picture:

Before Right to Left is even published, perhaps a spinoff! Definitely one to watch.

Upcoming workshops – Boston, Berlin, Oslo, and Stockholm


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

A new template for Celebration-5W

Nicely following on from my post a few days ago on ‘Open‘, here’s a community-driven enhancement to our Creative Commons-licensed workshop kickoff exercise, Celebration-5W, in which participants capture the ‘Who, What, When, Where, and Why’ (the journalistic 5Ws) of a celebration that will take place some months from now. I use it to capture or create some shared context not just for classic Agendashift workshops, but also for my ‘outside-in’ strategy workshops (more on those coming soon in Right to Left), where a sense of timescale is very helpful.

Mike Haber took my “Clean sheet of A3, portrait mode, big bold headings down the page” and came up with something significantly better:

This is great, and not just because it looks good – it’s really clever!

The original guidance as described in the deck and in chapter 1 of the book suggests that you start with ‘When’ (How long will we need to achieve something meaningful?) and work backwards through the ‘What’ and the ‘Who’ before finishing up with the ‘Where’ (a venue that makes some kind of statement) and the ‘Why’ (the importance of not just the celebration but the whole endeavour). With Mike’s layout, this translates to “Start with the When (bottom right) and work anticlockwise” – much more elegant! For presentation purposes, it’s natural to start either top left with the ‘Who’ and work clockwise or left-right, or in the visually impactful middle with the ‘Why’.

The Celebration-5W Dropbox now includes an updated facilitation deck with instructions for both old and new layouts, also a printable template (I just bought myself an A3 printer with very much this kind of thing in mind). Request access here.

I will of course be using this new template in my upcoming workshops; Julia might too. Check out details of events in Seattle, London, Boston, Berlin, Stockholm, and Oslo below.


Upcoming Agendashift workshops

See also the recent blog post: Agendashift workshops in Seattle, London, Boston, and Berlin, which includes a detailed description of the 2-day workshop. Workshops facilitated by Mike Burrows (yours truly) unless otherwise indicated:


Blog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
Links: Home | About | Partners | Resources | Contact | Mike
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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…

 

Agendashift workshops in Seattle, London, Boston, and Berlin

With two new dates recently added to the calendar I’m taking the opportunity to share what’s currently available, with workshops in Seattle, London, Boston, and Berlin. Dates for Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Greece will be published soon. And in case you’re not sure what an Agendashift workshop actually entails, I’ve included an overview of the typical 2-day Advanced workshop at the end of this post.

First up, in late March, Julia Wester is holding a Core, 1-day workshop in Seattle, WA, USA. To my knowledge this is the first public Agendashift workshop to be held in the Pacific Northwest:

Soon after (in early April) and added to calendar only this week, I’m holding a 2-day, Advanced workshop in London. Note that Advanced doesn’t mean “more complicated” or “for experts only”! Rather, it has more space and depth – for better experience if you can make the time for it – and it includes all the Core exercises. At the end of this post I’ve included the workshop description so you can easily check it out for yourself.

That’s only a few weeks away, but still there are some discounted early bird and super early bird tickets available for a limited period.

On the 14th & 15th May I’ll be speaking and facilitating at the Open Leadership Symposium in Boston, a very exciting development that I’ll be writing about soon. Immediately afterwards, the Advanced workshop will be one of a selection of post-conference masterclasses:

Finally, the week after Boston after I’ll be back with my friends at Leanovate in Berlin for what is becoming a regular fixture:


Overview of the 2-day Advanced workshop (taken from the London event)

“Looking back to the Agendashift session a few weeks ago, it has been incredibly helpful to me in my professional development”

“What stood out for me was how the participants started to develop a shared ownership of organisational change through shared outcomes and values. It managed to align even a bunch of strangers”

Expanding on (and including) the core Agendashift workshop Facilitating Outcome-Oriented Change, this 2-day workshop is aimed at coaches, consultants, and managers wishing to:

  • Develop their coaching and leadership skills in the areas of enquiry, facilitation, strategy deployment, and change leadership
  • Broaden and deepen their appreciation of the Lean-Agile landscape and related bodies of knowledge and their strategic application to organisational development

Who should attend?

The advanced workshop is aimed at agents and leaders of organisational change – whether internal or external, specialist practitioner, or sponsor. Whilst the majority of attendees have been coaches and consultants, a significant number have held managerial and business leadership roles.

Public workshops are focussed primarily on skills. You will however have ample opportunity to put them into your organisational context and demonstrate Agendashift’s ability to meet organisational needs in ways such as these:

  1. Launching, refocusing, or re-energising continuous transformation in your organisation
  2. Enhancing your organisation’s internal coaching and change management capability
  3. Embedding outcome-orientation and continuous transformation through leadership development

Participants will receive a print copy of the book Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation

Overview

overview-overview

Day 1: Learning the language of outcomes

Discovery: Describing where we would like to get to

  • Exploring organisational context, objectives, obstacles, and outcomes
  • Celebration-5W and our Clean Language-inspired coaching game 15-minute FOTO
  • Plan on a page
  • Culture, values, and Systems Thinking

Exploration: Prospecting for opportunities

  • Mission, purpose, and identity
  • Self-awareness and empathy
  • Debriefing your Agendashift delivery assessment (set as prework, sent out a week in advance)
  • Generating outcomes
  • Understanding and supporting the learning process

Day 2: Structuring the response

Mapping: Building a visual transformation plan

  • Multiple tools and models for transformation mapping – Cynefin, (Reverse) Wardley Mapping, User Story Mapping
  • Strategy model reconciliations
  • Other mapping tools

Elaboration: Framing actions, testing our thinking
& Operation: Change as real work

  • Changeban: a Lean Startup flavoured variant of Featureban, our popular simulation game
  • Creating options, framing hypotheses, developing experiments with A3
  • Cross-checking your experiment design
  • Authenticity: stories, requirements, and needs

Outcomes

  • Practice in a range of outcome-centric facilitation techniques
  • Recognition of the role of outcome orientation in the modern organisation
  • Understanding of the integration of techniques and concepts from Lean-Agile, Kanban, Clean Language, Cynefin, Lean Startup, and A3.
  • Awareness of the power of feedback loops in organisational behaviour and evolution

Discounts

Current members of the Agendashift partner programme and attendees of previous Agendashift workshops are eligible to a £50 discount. Attendance at this workshop qualifies new partners to the same discount off their first year membership. We are also happy to offer discounts to employees in the public, educational, and charitable/non-profit sectors. Please email support@agendashift.com for details and discount codes.

About us

Your facilitator will be Agendashift founder Mike Burrows. Mike is the author of Kanban from the Inside (2014) and Agendashift: Outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation (2018); his third book Right to Left: The digital leader’s guide to Lean and Agile is due in 2019. Mike is known for Kanban’s values model, the Featureban and Changeban games, and as a strong advocate for participatory and outcome-oriented approaches to change, transformation, and strategy. Prior to his consulting career, Mike was global development manager and Executive Director at a top tier investment bank, and CTO for an energy risk management startup.

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Changeban has reached version 1.0

After several iterations (including runs at multiple workshops just this month) I’m delighted to announce that our Lean Startup-flavoured Kanban simulation game Changeban has reached version 1.0. As with its older sibling Featureban, it is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

changeban-crazy-wip-2018-11-26
Some crazy, off-the-board WIP happening there…

In recent weeks we have:

  • Removed all mention of coins (the source of variation in Changeban’s older sibling, Featureban), coming down firmly on the side of using playing cards.
  • Clarified instructions, with fewer slides and fewer words
  • Amplified certain concepts, most notably rejection (the positive, celebration-worthy decision to deem an experiment as failed), pull, and double-loop learning

I created Featureban in 2014 and it has been very good to me. In that time it has seen multiple adaptations and translations (thank you!) and has been used the world over. This year, I’ve played Changeban enough times to know that it’s a worthy successor, and it’s my preferred choice unless I have a particular need for Featureban’s metrics coverage (enough justification to use both with some clients, on separate visits). Changeban doesn’t just teach mechanics, it teaches a learning process, and because it feels less tied to a development process it removes a potential obstacle for some non-techies. In short: if you like Featureban, I think you’ll love Changeban.

Attendees of my 2-day Advanced Agendashift workshop in Gurugram (below) will definitely get to play it, and attendees of 1-day Core workshops (Julia’s in Munich or mine in Mumbai) might also. In Core workshops it would be at the expense of other things, but that’s a trade that participants are often happy to make.

Want to know more? Head over to the Changeban page – it’s all there!

Registered users will be emailed download instructions in the next few hours. Agendashift partners will find it under the Commons folder in the partner Dropbox.


Upcoming public Agendashift workshops (Germany, India * 2):


Agendashift-cover-thumbBlog: Monthly roundups | Classic posts
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We are champions and enablers of outcome-oriented change and continuous transformation. Building from agreement on outcomes, Agendashift facilitates rapid, experiment-based emergence of process, practice, and organisation. Instead of Lean and Agile by imposition – contradictory and ultimately self-defeating – we help you keep your business vision and transformation strategy aligned with and energised by a culture of meaningful participation. More…