Aligning Organization Development to Global Organizing, Part4

By Allon Shevat



VII Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing:

Designing group interventions

Let’s have a look at designing group interventions in Organization Development in an acutely diverse global configuration.

Effective group OD interventions are the most difficult to execute in a global organizations. There is a tower of Babel of conflicting expectations in a group setting. Eg,

  • avoid conflicts /discuss conflicts
  • highly structured meetings/ relative lack structure.
  • facilitator as “expert” who “teaches what needs to be done” /facilitator as process czar

In planning group interventions, a facilitator needs to follow a few key principles:

  • Bring value to the work being done
  • Create ongoing value for the sustainability of the relationships between people
  • Create an environment where meaningful exchanges can happen in a safe environment with minimal “face” damage. So let us look at an example of what this might look like.

The client management team (from the medical devices domain) consists of business analysts, architects, software and hardware developers, sales and pre sales folks. The team has severe trust issues between members, unclear roles and responsibilities, infighting and communication vacillates from guarded to flaming. A simple issue can generate 150 emails.

The 11 participants include Larry from London, Francois from Paris, Som from Thailand, Jean Marie from Montreal, KT from Bangalore, Paresh from Singapore, Mark from Vladivostok, Inbal from Israel, Oya from Tokyo, Corazon from Manila;  Gordon from Dublin manages the team.

Team leader Gordon procured a budget for a 2 day offsite in Singapore to “straighten things up”. Up until this point, the team had not yet met face to face because until now, HR had tried to solve the issues via webinars

The Organization Development offsite plan sent to Gordon entails face to face interviews with all participants before the offsite. After the interviews, and before the offsite, Gordon and the consultant will look at the issues and weed out issues which should not be discussed in the offsite, or perhaps, should be discussed in smaller sessions or in personal meetings. If something very controversial will be discussed, participants will be told in advanced and asked to prepare. Mastery of the English language in an offsite provides a clear and unfair advantage, so for some populations, translation will be made available.

The session will as follows:

  • 25% of the time will be devoted to pure relationship building: Relationship building is critical in a team in which cultural differences impair the ability to cooperate. Relationship building is done by longer meals together, lots of time socializing with loosely and semi structured activity to encourage people to get to know one another.
  • 25% of the time will be used to build a set of ground rules relating to trust and communication. Examples: we call one another and discuss hard to solve issues instead of creating an email chain; we assume good intent before we react; we talk one on one before embarrassing one another in an accusing escalatory email.
  • 25% of the time will focus on building an understanding of how cultural differences impact the specific tasks at hand. For example, such a group must get their hands around how they share risks instead of blaming one another, since risk taking is deeply impacted by culture. All folks must understand how each culture views risk taking and how people guard themselves against shame of failure.
  • 25% of the time will be used to identify a shared list of problem definitions. While Sales may define the issue as “lack of transparency” about product release date, Development may define the problem as “too much wasted on reporting status as opposed to actually working”. The reframing of the problem definition to “we need to increase predictability” is a shared understanding of what needs to be fixed, and this moves the group one step forward.

The meeting must be very well controlled, not loosy goosy. The facilitator does not just facilitate, but rather balances between expert and facilitator. Contradictions between various cultural needs are juggled. The Organization Developer must have deep domain knowledge of the various participating cultures. Otherwise, major facilitation decisions, like when to be open and when to be discrete, will be flawed. The facilitator must be a master of when to ask for input and when to present input. He must be able to navigate between solving problems and avoiding all embarrassment. This type of OD is an art mastered by decades of experience.

VIII Summary

OD’s future is not in its past. Nostalgia is ok however, being real is more important.

To be relevant in the world of global organizations, Organization Development needs to rethink their values and concepts, retool, and acquire intercultural skills.

Allon Shevat 1

Allon Shevat


Go back: I Prologue

Go back: III Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing

Go back: VI Adapting Organization Development to Global Organizing


read also: Contribution