This post is inspired by two days at the University of Minnesota – College of Continuing and Professional Studies, packed with curious people who brought a rich diversity of work and life experiences to our Organization Development Course. Stephanie and I greatly enjoyed and appreciated working with you all!

When it comes to Organization Development (OD) work, there is so much to discuss. This post focuses solely on some of the psychology behind OD work. Lets start with things you don’t need in OD work (or any other work):

  1. You don’t need to own the client’s problem.
  2. You don’t always need to be the smartest in the room.
  3. You don’t always need to be right.

Equally important of course is what you do need in order to be effective in any kind of OD work, such as the ability to:

  • Observe astutely
  • Ask powerful questions
  • Reflect regularly and thoroughly
  • Listen just a little longer than you may want to
  • Understand the influence of self (strength, weaknesses, experiences)
  • Think and help think in alternatives and solicit and utilize multiple perspectives

These six ingredients form the foundation of any success in OD work yet they are only the beginning of course. There are a myriad of other OD competencies, to mention just a few: knowledge of the business / industry / organization, research methods, management / organization theory, teamwork / collaboration, dealing with ambiguity, organization behavior, resource management, and project management. Enough to work on I’d say.

Returning to the psychology of OD work, I think there are six crucial C’s in any OD role in addition to understanding the system and the technicalities of your field:

✓ Curiosity

✓ Candor

✓ Courage

✓ Creativity

✓ Confidence

✓ Communication

You want to apply all of the above with the right intention, timing, strength and focus in order to be effective. Ask yourself, which one of these comes natural to me and which ones do not? Which C’s may I be overusing in challenging situations, since an over-used strength easily turns into a liability? And which ones may I be neglecting or even shying away from and for what reasons?

Much of OD work is people-work so we discussed tempting, human pitfalls. They are nothing to be embarrassed or afraid about, yet you want to recognize and handle these tendencies to move from awareness and acknowledgement to accountability and action – my 4 A’s of professional effectiveness. Example tendencies are:

  • Getting sucked into personal drama
  • Communicating by verbal ping pong
  • Focusing in who is wrong and who is right
  • Being oblivious to the box you are in
  • Complaining, blaming or wanting to fix others
  • Getting in your own/your client’s way by not managing your hot buttons

There’s much more to say about the psychology of OD work yet I’ll leave you with some of the many helpful questions to ask yourself and to ask others:

  • What may I/they be missing?
  • What may I/they be misinterpreting?
  • What may I/they be repeating from some other context?
  • What may I/they be really needing right now or protecting?
  • What can be truly different lenses to look at this situation?
  • What may we confuse as a problem to be solved where it’s a polarity to be managed?