Pebbles on the Beach

A Practitioner’s Account of a 27 year Journey in OD Paper presented at the conference “Organisation Development by Design” held by the Indian Academy for Organisation Development – Sumedhas Academy for Human Context, Hotel Trident, Chennai February 23rd & 24th, 2007

by Sushanta Banerjee



This paper looks at the present position of the field of OD as the “wild west of OD” calling for a more rapid pooling of experience and knowledge. The author has chosen to present a longitudinal study of his own experience.

The paper presents the author’s experience of practicing as an OD consultant over the last 27 years. Beginning with encounters in the practice the paper gives illustrative examples of learning from the experience – knowledge follows practice. He talks of how OD is not a “welfare” or a “feel good” product but is a powerful business tool. OD practice and its intellectual base is linked to hermeneutic phenomenology that challenges the conventional approach of treating human emotions in organizations either as “needs” or as “problems”. The author posits that this field needs to cut across established disciplines and draw from eclectic sources in order to study experience itself. He further states that experience as it occurs is not a set of random occurrences but in fact is a patterned universe. In similar vein he shows that phenomena in organizations follow patterns.

He takes the stand that human beings are a combination of action thought and feeling universes and that, creating appropriate spaces for these universes releases “innergy” and creativity. He goes on to propose the concept of “organizational fitness” linking it up to the capability of the organization to keep finding increasing variety of responses to challenges of internal as well as external adaptation.

The paper closes with an Indian standpoint that rejects the conventional view of human beings principally as “do-ers” and “have-rs” proposing instead that human beings (not human havers,doers) more critically are beings and witnesses. He further asserts that organizations are not only a network of contractual relations but have a collective mind, a being and an identity, and, that it is possible to make planned interventions in the unfolding of all these for the betterment of performance and fitness, The author is of the view that traditional approaches till date have lived with an overemphasis on the masculine aspects of organizations and that the time has come to foster the feminine aspects equally.


One way, it seems to me, to look at the current position of the field of Organization Development in the country is to share longitudinally my own experience of being in the practice for exactly three decades.  From where I stand, taking an  “objective” view, , the field as such is perhaps best described as the “wild west of Organization Development”. Why do I call it that? The title is in use with a large variety of contents.  There are practitioners who do not use the term but engage in similar practices.  There is very little by way of a paradigm that cuts across, very little is taught in business schools.  I am not aware of any rigorous “course” or internship as yet offered by any established institution.  There is virtually no widely accepted network or body of practitioners and very few if any reported research activity.  Compilation of insights, knowledge and experience in practicing it in India has not yet come to light.  In corporate circles, the state and position was best summarized by a very learned veteran as “not only does the corporate world not know about OD, it does not even know that it does not know”.  A few organizations have used it and do know about it, at times even spreading the word.  In my personal experience every time I enter a client organization I find very little awareness of what the field of OD can do for it.  The rapidity with which other practices spread is far higher than this field.  A seminar under the aegis of ISABS did take place some months back and here is our effort.

This conference is the result of three years of groundwork and we hope this maiden attempt will be a nucleus for integrative forces bringing together practitioners and intending/aspiring practitioners as well as users.  There is no gainsaying that pooling experiences and knowledge is likely to have a snowballing effect on the movement in India.

Eastern worldviews, perspectives, philosophies and insights into human processes are replete with seeds that are waiting to provide rich guidance to us.  The more I have delved into it the more material I have found – it seems like an inexhaustible source.  A noteworthy feature is that this, the Eastern worldview is independent of the Cartesian frame (“I think, therefore I am”) which forms one of the main pillars of management perspectives, it is also free of Aristotelian dialectics of either/or.  Eastern knowledge in some sense thus provides a perfect foil to accompany the dazzling attraction of “passionate, driven, focused” lifestyles that a progressively technology driven world proffers.

These Eastern seeds are best used when they have been translated not only in language but also in time.  Translated merely in language they turn into moral weapons and provide no insights.  Translated into the times they yield highly sophisticated, thought enablers and perspectives that are unparalleled in their functionality, applicability and richness.  I have given one small illustrative example later.

I. Encounters and Discoveries; Reflections

A. Beginnings

I have in this paper shared my own evolution with the practice of Process Centered Consulting in India.  A few key experiences of disappointments in my engineering education and training ended up orientating me towards the “way people and organizations work”.  It remained a private despair until I saw the world of experiential learning.  The first experience was a revelation of a lifetime and suddenly opened up a new vista and a goal worth dedicating myself to.  This was in the second year of my studenthood at IIMA.  Although there was no established career path in the field, the journey into the world of Organization Development – Institution Building – Personal Growth had begun.  My first employment was with the Indian Space Research Organization in the capacity of a Social Scientist with knowledge of management tools and techniques.  ISRO, being a science and technology organization provided a fertile ground for nurturing my interest in the social sciences in general and developmental communication in particular.

The popular term we had learnt then was sensitivity training.  It was not an established “profession” in the 70’s.  A few personal experiences led me to believe that there is much more than meets the eye, in the world of human experience.  The mystery was far too attractive and I found myself becoming committed to pursuing it.  Circumstances built up in such a way that I found myself in a teaching job that offered more legitimate and acceptable ways of staying in pursuit.  As a member of the faculty at ASCI, Hyderabad, I could take up consulting assignments as well engage in the College’s curricular work in the area of human processes.

In order to ensure that exigencies of income and employment did not detract me from the central pursuit, I actively remained engaged with building up an institution which subsequently became the ground from where Sumedhas took birth.  This institution, ISISD as we christened it, would help nourish and foster the growth of a paradigm of Applied Behavioural Sciences that has a firm anchoring in Eastern thought and philosophy.  In spite of my own basic beginnings in the world of science and technology it was clear very early on that the Behavioural Sciences certainly draw a great deal from the cultural roots of origin.  As such one of the missions I held is to discover the Eastern roots of such work, as well as viable and relevant applications in India.

B. Early assignments in OD

Early consulting assignments were mainly focused on conducting stand alone programs that dealt with human processes.  The first OD assignment came in 6 years after I began the practice.  In 1984, I was called in by a client to increase the levels of collaboration in the top management team.  This was the first time I was privy to the organization as a whole, not restricted to an individual “program” chosen by the HR department.

In those early days organizations came in largely with an intent to improve the sociology of co-operation.  I found myself in the main addressing the need for shifting the organization’s culture from authoritarian, compartmentalized fragments to more egalitarian democratic and transparent working.  I remember inviting one client to begin costing the OD exercise so that at the end an ROI may be crystallized.  The request was immediately turned down.  The GM (Personnel) apprehended that the whole exercise may only be a cost.  In some ways at that early stage of OD’s maturing in the corporate firmament, it was seen largely as a “welfare cost”.  Clients rarely if ever linked up OD exercises with business considerations.  Quite clearly users then, as I suspect even now, did not have the confidence that upgrading the human context of the organization would raise business performance.  Today I have a distinct preference for evaluating any OD or related exercise in terms of its financial impact on the business of the client. Later experiences have led me to conclude that in fact investment in upgrading/fostering human processes are likely to yield returns higher than most other areas of investment.

C. Knowledge Foundations

What were the stock-in-trade tools that I carried?  My grounding originally was in what was called “unstructured” lab work.  As an outsider to the client groups it was very easy for me to believe that an adequate dose of personal growth should solve all problems.  Not unlike a technician at all!  However, I saw very early on that as a consultant I had no moral ground to deploy or prescribe personal growth on anybody unless he was joining in on his own volition.  New methods had to be developed to focus on sectoral aspects such as role taking, leadership, conflict management.  A new journey had begun.  My stint at ASCI introduced me to the world of “structured” exercises and sectoral “agreed upon” areas of confrontation.

A very early recognition that dawned on me was that membership in an organization ordinarily focuses the mind and the eye of the individual on his immediate environment.  Summed up over the organization, very few individuals have a view of the organization as a whole, not very different from the old adage “missing the woods for the trees”.  Therefore, we as the “outsider” must gather data to build up the picture of the wholeness of the organization.  Changes in parts create unforeseen impacts on several other parts.  Unless the OD exercise responds to the wholeness as well as requisite partial needs it will not create the “right” new alternatives.

Clearly knowledge was following practice.  I for one certainly feel grateful to clients for helping me learn.  The learning was at several levels at once.  At the core was an evolving universe of learning about myself.  My own motivations, vulnerabilities, fears, disappointments, followed with discovery of new responses, the potentials of which I had no inkling of prior to the discovery.  A series of apparently fortuitous “accidents” as it were.  There was a series of learnings of the spectrum of human response to situations.  Soon I discovered that the core resource I was carrying was an ability to not get caught with “heroes” and “villains” that in fact all human beings are essentially made of the same elements, the configuration and levels of the elements varied to form the wonderful melange.

The experience itself became an element of study.  To my delight, I found that experience itself is a patterned universe.  Experiences are not random, they are connected and follow fairly set pathways.

The core knowledge I had started out with was the distinction between “experienced reality” and “constructed reality”.  Our Guru Pulin Garg was the chief architect of this learning.  It became an anchor and remains so till date, in fact with increasing strength and unfolding.  In the world of OD, knowledge was following practice.  Insights had to be developed to meet with the challenges at hand.  Practical means had to be developed for meeting these challenges, and, in the final test these insights had to be usable by others and the means had to be accepted by others.

Insights formation, I found, had an interesting and curious pattern.  The beginning is always a small flash, small because almost always it had an air of familiarity with it, as if the awareness was already there.  Soon bits and pieces from unexpected sources would get attracted and like crystal formation a cogent insight would get built up.  Insight formation seemed to have a life of its own, not quite a distinct voluntary effort that I was making.  The seed was like an attractor and just as a magnet pulls the iron filings together the seed became a sapling.  I found many sources that were a great help.  This confirmed my own value for eclecticism.  Erving Goffman (1) and Nevitt Sanford (2), the world of cybernetics, systems theory Bertalanffy (3), Toynbee’s (4) study of history, Fr.Gregorios’ statements about the Indian Identity (5), the poetry of Tagore (6) and Eliot (7) were some of the significant sources. They showed me the way to study organization as an unfolding of human experience and endeavour, without getting caught with evaluative frames.

Cybernetics and history were converging with social psychology, psychotherapy and later even fractals.  Therapists had used systems theory to develop extraordinary insights into human communication, paradoxes and existence itself (8).  Slowly the apparently diverse sources of knowledge and human processes were coming on to the same field.  It was bewildering, for it completely befuddled any answer to the question what am I?  No answer was sufficient.  I have recently found to my relief that the word experientialist is present in the dictionary.

The practice clearly led me to work with social and organisational phenomena as well as individual processes.  The connection lay in studying experience itself and phenomena themselves.  Some key tools had been given to us by Pulin and some came from Eastern sources.

D. Eastern source – an illustrative insight and diagnostic tool

The Geeta says in shloka 4 chapter 18, that there is nothing called inaction.  For any action to happen the actor has made one choice and given up several other options.  Thus for that action there are several inactions.  Likewise each inaction is also an act in itself.  Pulin taught it to us “In doing what you are doing what are you not doing?”  He then demonstrated how the verb doing could be replaced with any other verb.  This is a very potent tool for any practitioner.  Likewise he taught us a whole set of tools derived from their esoteric ancient sources that pointed the way to study behaviour, experience and phenomena.  The study of behaviour led to the recognition of phenomena, and clearly the link between social phenomena and human behaviour is the experience of the actors.

E. Patterns and Concepts

In my view sociology, psychology, history are different only due to distinct methodologies that they have evolved, but they and other fields (art, literature and language) are all associated and are closer to cybernetics, spirituality and mysticism than any would perhaps like to admit.  Thus to me the world of OD and the world of Personal Growth are only two ends of the same spectrum.  The spectrum consists of phenomena both objective and subjective.  In this line of thinking the world of meditation becomes the extrapolated pole of Personal Growth.  I do not hesitate to use it even in my OD practice. As we make experience the central anchor, patterns begin to emerge which cut across established lines between psychology and sociology, and indeed management.

Illustrative Concept 1

The following material is intended to give a flavour of how the study of patterns crystallizes into a frame or concept in the domain of phenomena and experience.  Originated by Pulin Garg in the late seventies it has been an extremely useful tool for diagnosing organizations as well as creating solutions.

It postulates that an organization consists of (a) a community of people that has its processes of unfolding and being (b) an ownership body (c) an institution embodying the values, philosophy vision, aims and energy (d) a structure with targets, practices and rules that are written down.  These four are put into a 2 x 2 as follows:


These four are independent variables. It is possible to recalibrate or change their constituent characters.  For instance the structure of the organization can be redesigned by choice, its reward and punishment systems can be redesigned etc.

The four quadrants give rise to the objective phenomena and the subjective experience of its members.  Quadrant 1 for instance gives rise to the levels of commitment and the sense of belonging that employees will experience and display.  To build up Q 2 let us say the organization in our view has strong and clear structures and de jure rules that are aligned with de facto practice, members in it are likely to use their managerial discretion effectively and in the interests of the organization as well as the community.  This will hold true if the community processes are healthy and supportive.  If however either the organization (as a verb) or the community processes are weak, managerial discretion will tend to either dry off or be subject to misuse.  Likewise Q3 will give us the experience of taking roles in the organization, while all employees are given roles whether these roles are taken or not, and to what extent will be determined by the good health or otherwise of the organization as well as the ownership body.  Q4 gives the possibility or otherwise of organizational and individual renewal (read learning) towards resurgence.  It gives a clear assessment of the resilience of the organization.

The contents of the four quadrants are manifested in the behaviour and subjective experience of its members.  No individual has the power to change any of them.  If, for example, employees in an organization display a low sense of belonging and commitment it will directly reflect in low ESS and CSS scores.  Exhortation, ESOPs or other coercive/lucrative means will not create any worthwhile change.  If however the organization examines, discovers and owns up the lacunae in its Institution (vision, philosophy, values) and makes the right changes in them, and, intervenes in the community processes the core issue of commitment and belonging will take a quantum jump.

The frame thus helps diagnose as well as arrive at realistic action choices.  It has brought together experiences and phenomena into the same plane.  It can also predict, by studying the four poles, as to what are the likely ways in which its members will experience the organization.   A study of the four poles will also help predict the ways in which the experience of the members will be patterned. It is also possible to study the patterns of subjective experience of the members and zero in on where the root of problem lies, in the institution, the structure, the processes or the ownership body.

Organization problems manifest themselves through the four quadrants while the roots often lie in the four poles. The poles can receive interventions and can be changed by choice. Making such changes lie within the authority of the management.

Illustrative Concept 2

Observations across several organizations were falling into patterns that have crystallized into the concept below.  It is a patterning of phenomena of behaviour as well as a patterning of collective experience.  Here we see the organization as a set of four arenas.  The most dominantly visible arena is listed first.  The second to fourth arenas are less visible but strongly present in every organization.  The model channelises the enquiry into the identity (9) of the organization.  It further assists in developing ways to help synergize the four arenas.  It also helps to design the process architecture such that neglected arenas can be adequately activated and aligned to contribute to the organization fitness.

Task, Strategy and Execution Arena:Organizations develop characteristic and specific processes for setting tasks and targets.  Issues of target setting, compliance mechanisms, power, discipline, leadership and related rational requirements of the organization’s working are displayed in this arena.  Crucial to the organization performance this is the first face of the organization.

It brings to the surface how rational and structured (or otherwise) the organization is in its basic character.  This is the arena where all problems of performance and working are tabled, processed (or denied) and expected to be resolved.  The socio psychological characteristic of the organization develops set patterns of responding to challenges.

OD helps client organizations to review existing set patterns and emerge with new lines of responses.  Sustained OD(or Institution Building, IB) helps clients develop sustainable ways of continuously upgrading these patterns.

The Idea Market: Organizations behave as idea markets.  Employees at all levels have ideas for improvements, new vision, new products and processes.  The inevitable forces of differential power and role structures however make a large bulk of these ideas, especially if new, inaccessible to the Task arena.  OD creates fora and disciplined processes for these ideas to surface and become available to the mainstream.  Institution Building goes on to design practices to sustain the creation and flow of ideas.  OD/IB further modifies the organization arrangements such that these ideas are taken into the mainstream.

The Organization as a Home: Members in organizations spend 70% to 90% of their waking hours at the workplace.  In a manner of speaking the office is a second home.  OD/IB develops the organization capability to become proactive in this domain.

Dream Fulfillment: Work is the single most potent window for enhancing one’s own self worth, social prestige and of course status rank and wealth.  Organizations become arenas where all members are engaged not only with the business of the organization but also with their own individual agenda of dream fulfillment.  OD in the first stage of application facilitates the resolution of the business to this collective agenda.  In its subsequent stages it helps the client develop mechanisms to assist the process on a self-sustaining basis.

The two concepts are usable as diagnostic probes.  They also became aids in discovering what action in terms of organization change will create what new responses in its processes.  Thus they provide assistance in designing changes.

F. Commentary on the nature of these Concepts, a Conclusion

The concepts contain within them the worlds of action, thought and feelings.  They are based on observation of how phenomena pattern themselves and, they postulate a relationship between clusters of phenomena and entities.  The organization, in concept may be taken as an entity, the Institution is an entity in the minds of the members.  The Institution in its playing out is also a set of processes.

The concepts look at bundles of phenomena and multi variate interconnections.  Reality has not been simplified in order for it to become amenable to study.

The unit of study is the total body of phenomena and experience occurring in the organization as a whole.  Implicit in this is the view that the organization has an identity of its own.  Another implicit postulation is that this identity includes a “being” of the organization.  This being is not an anatomical or objectively manifest entity.  It exists in the sense that Heidegger, breaking away from the Cartesian frame, asserted that the act of “being in the world” is a fundamental fact.  In this perspective the individual is not merely a thinking object (“I think, therefore I am”) but a set of processes of unfolding. We state here that the same principle can be legitimately applied to the study of organizations. To that extent the intellectual tradition of our school is closest to hermeneutic phenomenology.  We stoutly hold that human beings are a combination of action thought and feelings, and, that behaviour will express not only the rational but also the emotive planes of his existence.  We hold that the same principle holds true for organizations.  Management discourse till now treats the world of feelings as either a set of “needs” or a set of problems.  The concepts and our approach carry no rejection of the emotive world or for that matter does not see the “unconscious” as a “dark thing”.  We accept that the world of phenomena and experience is a complex system and believe that we must continue to study these not by simplifying, but by expanding our vision to apprehend and comprehend the reality “as it is” rather than “as it should be”.

We have also found that it is in fact the emotive world which contains the well springs of energy, imagination and creativity.  Mobilizing and harnessing it does not create chaos, it in fact creates harmony and order that are realistic and of great value to the organization and its business.

II. Engagement With Clients: Applications

A. OD/IB as the key to challenges of Internal Adaptation

1. Classes of Manifest/Felt Problems
Clients approach me with specific problems.  The problems are usually formulated in terms of mismatch of actual behaviour against some expected behaviour.  The most frequently voiced problem is “insufficient team work at the top”.  Several variations such as “there is a lack of trust”, or “insufficient ownership” also come in.  Often times there is a wish that the behaviour of a few individuals in key positions would change.  Conflicts latent at senior levels is often the first-reported problem.

At times there are organizations that have not grown as rapidly as had been expected.  Alternatively an organization that has grown rapidly has had remarkable business success but is confronted with attrition and low morale. Both of them are facing problems of culture building, where the culture that has evolved is not appropriate to the business and the people therein.

A third class of problems, the fastest growing class, is emerging in the new industry sectors.  This is where executives have risen rapidly into positions of leadership.  The rate of rise has not been matched with growth in the leaders’ integration capabilities.

In all cases an unstated aspect that surfaces in later discussions is that the organization is performing below its actual potential.

2. Nature of the “Problem”
In all cases, further enquiry shows, that the problem as stated has a context.  The problematic phenomenon is invariably linked to several other aspects of the organization.  Unless these other elements are also addressed and action taken, the “problem” will not resolve.  The people who are connected with the “problem” and the associated elements also form the total set that needs to recalibrate itself.  My work focuses on the total set.

3. Developing Solutions
As the work at small group level progresses, relevant organizational level solutions begin to crystallize.  Progressively the client needs diminishing advice from the consultant and begins to develop his own capability to direct his own evolution.

4. The Issue of Organizational Capability
The organization as a whole can be viewed as a living entity with a mind.  This collective mind, much like an individual mind, has a worldview, a vision for itself, fears and limitations.  Ramanathan (10) from the field of TQM talks of organizational capability as a step function.  Organizational capability is defined as the ability of an organization to maintain, improve and transform itself in a changing world.      

He goes on to postulate 5 steps of organizational capability. In my experience, as Ramanathan mentions, most organizations are in Stages 1~2.  The most frequently missing elements are:

    (i)    Adequate processes for review,
   (ii)    Organizations do not have a picture of the phenomenology of the whole organization.
   (iii)   Adequate processes of upward communication, feedback and reality assessment.                

From a TQM perspective he sets standards for evaluating the stage at which each organization lies as of now.  His approach goes on to delineate the worldview that characterize organizations at various stages (See attachment).

5. Classes of Interventions

Interventions can be classified into the following:

a)  Setting off appropriate conversations to include not only the “what” but also the “how”.  Almost all management discourse is limited to direct problem analysis and solving techniques.  These by their very nature often leave out the issues of human responses.  People are viewed as “do-ers” only.  Their limitations are treated as liabilities, differences are treated as acts of villainy and competitiveness is perceived while care is allowed to atrophy.  Interventions for a change create the ground for conversations to become more inclusive.  So for instance the question “how did it feel to do the job?” is not part of the management discourse.  What had to be done in order to accomplish the target is elaborated.  Interventions create the ground to open up this area such that a new line of thought and action begins.  As one client CEO remarked, “the process is the learning itself, discoveries that were made opened new doors of perception as well as new actions”.

b)  Establishing the fact that professionals are human beings first and professionals next.  This simple yet incontrovertible fact has become masked in current management practice.

c)  Expanding and renewing relationships.  Manifest transactions focus on the business at hand in the work place.  A simultaneous underworld of interpersonal perceptions, images and their non-commitment barriers get forward.  As these become repetitive over time they create a hardening, an ossification that reduces flexibility and creativity leading to mundane repetitiveness.  Interventions at the micro level aim to dissolve this ossification by articulating them and clearing the way for new flexibility and acceptances to begin to flow.

d)  Renewing one’s relationship with oneself, the issues of self-concept and self-esteem.  Recalibrations with others will evaporate unless that is matched with individual internal recalibration.  Interventions on the one end of the spectrum aim at organization wide issues and at the other end create space for individual work.

B. OD/IB As The Key To Challenges Of External Adaptation.

1. Classes of Manifest/Felt Problems

The most frequently reported problem in this domain of challenges in external adaptation in the last decade of globalization has been “we are an endangered specie”.  Organization that soon recognized that their then current mode of being was poorly adjusted to the challenges of globalization.  One client illustrated the threat by creating a new word “gobble-isation”.  Clearly the challenge was a need for a change in the core managerial paradigm itself.  A need to become ready to become far more efficient and competitive.

A second class of problem was in the domain of creating a vision beyond “business as usual”.

As the exercises progressed the focus clearly want into a greater level of internality.  Let me elaborate. While in the case of internal adaptation issues the central need was recalibrating and redesigning relationships and expectations, and setting group and organisational norms, here the challenge was the need to foster a renewal of the basic assumptions underlying the very act of being in business. Here are two illustrations:

An engineering major had, till the early 90’s had maintained an R&D Centre with sophisticated plant and machinery.  The de-facto function this centre served was a degree of tinkering with the final product and in the main, providing tax relief.  Professionals perceived a posting to the R&D Centre as a parking lot for “rejects”.  The culture in the centre was to watch the clock till retirement while younger people usually did not last more than a year or two.  Globalization suddenly put the R&D function into a lead role for survival.  It needed a change in culture, vision, leadership practices, learning processes working systems and administrative structures.  Almost an impossible task.  What began as a challenge from outside brought with it the challenge for change like never before. Approaching it from a  Process Centered IB position we saw clearly that the pressure for external adaptation could not even be realistically addressed unless the internal adaptation issues were settled.  The change could begin only when the top team of the centre changed its mission, vision and assumptions drastically. This had to be followed up with active participatory change involving all executives covering all facets of the organization. A more internal change than an improvement in working relationships and expectations.

In the case of a second client who inherited a tradition that was more than 60 years old, not only relationships and practices but core values and vision needed renewal to become contemporary.  Failure to do this would ensure stagnation and inevitable decline.

It is in this sense that change of a more fundamental nature was called for.  The challenge of external adaptation is a more advanced state of “maladjustment” with the environment.  Thus the external interface has begun to create pressure for internal change.  In such situations both internal and external adaptation climb into the “changes required” menu.

C. Conclusion 2

In a sum, the consultant walks along with the client raising the right question at appropriate times, creating settings to facilitate the client’s finding the right answers and assisting the client in implementing the “Sankalpas” he has made during the journey.

III. The Way The Work Has Shaped Itself, the Outcomes

As I have worked in OD, I find that the work shapes itself.  A reasonable level of clarity is essential for the beginning, blueprints are made as the work progresses.  However over the years some patterns have emerged.

At the early stage of engagement there is a concern with solving some problems.  This concern, as noted earlier, leads to identifying the missing elements necessary for the clients’ effectiveness.   These elements may be structural – e.g. – some key reporting relationships may need to be redesigned, or some processes are absent such as adequate communication – both upwards or downwards.  Interventions rely on group wisdom to scan and detect these “missing elements”.  Cold diagnostics may work, but helping the client go on to discover it brings buy in and the “change” becomes a matter of collective joy rather than something that has to be pushed and face possible resistance.  A change such as this, identified and implemented by members of the organization usually leads to

a) A sense of success in “making a change”

b) Graduating on to higher order issues such as leadership and organizational resilience

c) Awareness of the importance of the “process”

The “process” that is fostered within the bounds of workshop like settings is

-  candid articulation and sharing of experience and ideas

-  data based reality appraisal

-  convergent collective thought

-  equal opportunities to all participants

And the value of sustaining these processes.  A process of continuous openness to learning and the concept of fitness takes birth.

In other words the “change” is the takeaway and the “process” is the learning.  In the longer run it is the process that needs to be institutionalized.  Several clients drop out, happy with the “change”.  A few have gone on to sustain and institutionalize the “process”.

The institutionalization of the “process” takes the organization on to a new trajectory by creating and setting new traditions.  The new processes lead to new systems of coordination, control, responsibility and accountability.  New vision and values become visible and the organization members begin to enjoy “changing” their context.

While this organization level work happens it becomes essential for members to change their own orientation and application of power, authority and collaboration.  The organization changes receive great support and buy in if appropriate safe fora are created and put into place for individual work to happen.  (Atma Kalyan -  Sarva Kalyan)

No individual needs to make a “big” change.  Small recalibrations at individual levels collectively add up to a big force of change.  Reality orientation takes a quantum jump.

From the inside:  While the positive changes start and continue, problems do not disappear.  The old problems subside and new problems begin to surface.  The key change to look for is not a “lived happily even after” problem free state but that, in a collective subjective sense the levels of energy are higher than the level of challenges (Innergy).

If you were to read between the lines above, the experience is indicating:

1) The organization’s capability to develop a variety of responses is increasing.  The variety of responses at any given point of time needs to be more than the variety of challenges.  The key factor in this is the innergy.

2) At any given point of time the challenges are of adaptation – both internal and external.

3) The progress of the growth trajectory is not linear, nor assured.  Many organizations give up after the first flush of success.  Individual orientations of the leadership are a key factor.  This is usually related to issues of worldview.

4) Both short term and long-term journey of this kind have a direct impact on the business performance.  Needless to say that the organizations that have persisted have shown gains not only in increased profitability but this has risen exponentially to go and impact even market caps/share prices.  Other indicators such as ESS & CSS also reflect the change, at times dramatically.

Concluding Reflections

While in the books and brochures compartments are created for bundles of thought like Team Building, Conflict Management, Vision etc., in reality these are found in complex bundles that include action as well as sentiments manifesting together.  In my working the greatest adrenaline rush is when this complexity is at hand and the client persists in engaging with the complexity.  My conceptual frames therefore are constructed to help clarify this complexity without trimming it down into “handlable” parts such as the neat compartments of theory.

Management discourse, a product of the times, technology and the level of development in the knowledge of economics, can be examined to identify current world views implicit in it.  A quick search and analysis for the view it holds of human beings clearly indicates that it focuses primarily on the human being as a “do-er”.  In the social sciences too a great deal of focus is apparent on studying action.  In popular language today, in fact, I find the phrase “Group dynamics” being used to indicate not only behaviour but experience too.  The very title “Behavioural Sciences” to the same extent betrays a strong tilt towards studying action.

In a similar vein there is a great focus on the study of human beings as mechanisms of “want”.  In another way – human “havers”.  A significant part of the concern is betrayed in the word bargaining, or, “barring the gains of”.

These two focal points (human have-ers and human do-ers) are strong influences in the thinking of the management sciences.  All aspects of evocation, inspiration, aliveness (human being) and indeed wellness have been left aside to be dealt with by the lesser worlds of “spirituality” and the “new age” discourse.  These to my mind are the vestiges of the Victorian era where knowledge generation and ownership was vested with the landlord and the wealthy.

From an Indian standpoint, this outlook is not acceptable and represents a distortion of the reality.  We strongly hold that human beings are beings first and “havers” or “do-ers” later. We further believe that the aim of our work is to promote a strong relinking of the four elements:

Doer – Haver – Being - Witness

The invisible impact of treating humans only as doers and havers would merit study as it is huge from my point of view.  Liberating management thought and practice from this vestige of the Victorian era would in all likelihood herald a new era, not only of how we treat members of organizations, but of how organizations treat themselves, the environment and finally, the earth itself.

In a similar vein organizations are treated as a set of arrangements t at serve a purpose. They are treated as instruments of the purpose in management theory. Members treat organizations largely as a political arena. I believe it is high time we developed a holistic view of organizations as a livin entity with a “being” and a id ntity. This identity much as in Erickson’s model of individual identity, is in a constant state of evolution and can be accessed and its evolution modified for the better.

Management theories have in the main focused on the instrumental (read masculine) aspects of organizations. We firmly hold that being analogous to a living entity the organization also has a feminine aspect as well. The practice of management encourages and rewards the masculine aspect and masculine acts disproportionately more than the feminine ones. The feminine aspects are handed over to roles that are less empowered or, even worse, outsourced. The price, unfortunately, is considered an inevitable of corporate existence. 


  1. Goffman, Erving -  “Asylums,”  Penguin Books, 1961
  2. Sanford, Nevitt   - any of his works on study of higher education institutions
  3. Bertalanffy, Ludwig von – “General Systems Theory”
  4. Toynbee, Arnold – “A study of History”, Dell N.Y. 1965
  5. Gregorios, Fr. Paulose Mar, “Philosophical and Normative Dimensions of The Idea of Renaissance”, The Eye Magazine, Vol.III, No.4, 1995
  6. Tagore, Rabindranath – All his works
  7. Eliot, T.S. – “Selected Verse”,Faber
  8. Watzlavick et. al, “Pragmatics of Human Communication”, Penguin Books, 1967
  9. Banerjee, Sushanta “Towards a Definition of Organisation Identity” in Proceedings of the Int’l Conference on Transience and Transitions in Organisations, Vol 3.(Ed) Pulin k Garg,1986 ISISD Ahmedabad
  10. Ramanathan N.  “The Five Stages of Organizational Capability”, 3rd ANQ Congress, Taipei, Sept. 2005

World Views ( From Ramanathan 2005)

Arrogance, despair, high-talk:

To people in a Stage 0~1 organization, it seems they are actually doing quite fine. Their customers may not think so, their finances may be sinking, or people might resent the “toxic environment”, but they think their difficulties are caused by others; they themselves are close to the best! Another worldview here is one of despair – wanting something external - for example, the labour laws of the land, or the currency rate – to change. If the organization employs highly qualified and talented managers, they might attempt lofty strategies, or policies; but the organization would lack the ability to execute them.

Euphoria, Some consciousness of the outside:

If a company was started with good basic conditions, it could slide back. It would progress only if it attempts to retain status quo and to make improvements with some customer-orientation. If, on the other hand, an organization has pulled itself up from the 0~1 level then there could be the euphoria of having made a breakthrough. For example, the land records Agency of a government moved, from a troublesome manual system subject to frauds, to a computerised system, which the farmers could access in kiosks for a small fee. This appeared to the Agency, as well as the farmers who had low expectations to start with, as a gigantic leap forward. In reality it is simply the restoration of basic conditions. The new system will need to be maintained and improved upon, in the least.

The 1~2 stage is also one in which companies begin to study better approaches such as TQM. They look for teachers and are willing to follow the advice. This is a stage for some emulation of what the best of others do. Organizations tend to be nationalistic at this level.

Internationalism, Learning:

The 2~3 level is characterised by confidence in being able to take up challenges, face tough competition, and pulling off some breakthroughs and innovations. Product development begins to create real value for customers. This is a level at which organizations cease to be defensive – problems are understood at the deepest level and shared, and a multinational outlook forms. They learn from everyone, and energy levels are high. They are humble. Organizations at this level come up with unique innovations in their management systems. They look to the world for setting their standards.

Innovation, Global citizen

In the highest level, 3~4, organizations develop a truly global, rather than a multinational outlook. Egocentric concerns give way to global concerns. They think in terms of serving the world. They are fearless in innovating and in discarding practices and thinking that dominated yesterday. They are no longer prisoners of their past. They have a lively way of recognizing current reality, without blaming it. They express themselves simply, but profoundly.