28 August 2006

Individual vs Group Change

I have worked with many established consultants as their right-hand assistant over the past years. Keeping in mind my goal of arriving at an ever-dynamic theory of organization development and combining it with my love for philosophy, I've realized that all my mentors have subscribed to one way of thinking. When you've been in business for 30 odd years, ego is bound to set in, with the belief that "my way always works". Sometimes, brilliant professionals may not want to admit that their ways are no more applicable in the new world, and that 30 years of experience may have been the wrong kind. I do not want to digress from the main idea of discussion which is how positive change in organizations can be brought about.

Two schools of thought stand out in this discussion. One of them believes that positive change in organizations only comes about through large group processes, where the minds and hearts of the team members become aligned through an interactive large group intervention. Achievements of goals will not be accomplished in the little meetings of departmental heads. Every employee who is going to be affected by that goal needs to be in on the managerial strategic meetings. I like this whole idea because it increases employee involvement and participation in the organization, and motivation levels are heightened ten-fold.

The other school of thought centers around personal philosophy of individuals. Here, individuals are inspired by personal goals, rather than a corporate group process. Every employee is a leader, and maintains personal responsibility to deliver the best in their work. Position titles do not mean much to them.Change comes about through individual belief and dedication to their organization. I also like this idea, because unlike the group process above, I do believe organization change is a result of the individual changing first. However, the group process might be an easier and more realistic route to take because of the general human nature of resistence to any change. It is highly unlikely that people who have served their organizations for 30 years would change themselves, their outlook, their beliefs, and their work styles. In addition, personal leadership seminars might also not be effective in personal change due to rudimentary lecture-type formats.

So what is the best way to bring about effective change? The large-group processes that I have facilitated along with Mr. Sullivan, one of my mentors, has been a truly unique and inspirational experience for all those involved. It seemed like all the individuals involved in that 3-day offsite meeting came out changed and renewed, as if they went through a transformation tube of some sort. As a group, they were motivated and believed they could take their organization to new heights. However, the long-term effects of this change process have not been established and cannot be guaranteed. The short-term burst of excitement dies down with time, and the action plans that come out of the large-group interactions might not even be implemented. That's why individual change is so crucial at this juncture of an organization's changing nature.

Individual employees must change their entire outlook to life, and their relationships with each other, if organizational change has to occur in a truly genuine way. Connecting to the self, why they've chosen to do the work they do, and what they want for their organization needs to be worked out in individual hearts and minds for the large-group interactive process to be effective, with the result that the organization never comes back to its original state. It is important not only to think about how you can serve the organization, but how one's work serves one's life.

Therefore, I would add a mandatory 'Connect your Work to your Life' piece at any transformational 3-day offsite meeting. Ideal implementation of the resulting organizational action plan depends on this very facet of individual leaders.


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