OD is not only about organisations … It is about WHERE PEOPLE GATHER FOR PURPOSE

For many years I (and many of my colleagues) have helped people understand that Organisation development (OD) is not Organisational development.
OrganisatioNAL development is a broad term and can encompass everything an organisation does to develop i.e. estates management programme, mandatory training, capital development programme, continuous improvement programme, talent management programme etc).

Organisation Development with its roots in the aftermath of World War II, the bringing together of the early behavioural and social scientists to coalesce around and consider the parts of lives which take place in organisations is a participative and emancipatory way of working with change.

Early definitions of OD all make reference to organisational life and as such they locate the work of OD people firmly within the organisation. However, the world has changed people do ‘work’ in many places not just organisations. What we define as work, where we do such work and who we consider our co-workers all needs to be explored.

Locally and across the world people gather for a purpose and with passion. They do the work of their hearts, some take a salary for this work, many do not. I am arguing that such activity is the work of contemporary OD.

OD with its base in participatory change, behavioural science and the values …
• Respect for human difference
• Commitment to social justice
• A belief in lifelong learning
• A belief in self-renewal at both the individual and the
organisational level
• Built upon action research methodology
• Building the clients capability and capacity for the
• Working for independence rather than creating

OD people can support people to move their ‘work’ forward towards their goals. Where people gather for purpose, in and between organisations, in communities OD practitioners can be of support, building capability, supporting leaders, enabling people to take their power and use it for the good.

The OD practitioner understands the mechanisms, opportunities and defences experienced within the walls of an organisational structure AND many OD practitioners have extended their range to work with systems of organisations, and to think systemically about the issues people face as they work to achieve their goals.
But work happens in the spaces around organisations and in the gaps created by organisations, exciting new forms of organising work are emerging. If we, the OD people see our work only in terms of the walls of organisations or within the systems of organisations then maybe we fail to move forward.

Many other practitioners from many fields are working in these spaces and gaps and we need to join up our skills and capability in service of supporting our communities, our neighbourhoods, towns, cities to do their WORK.

Let us consider our knowledge, our skill set and our purpose again, let us work where “where people gather for purpose”

More learning about Hope, Inner Journeys and Positive Safe Team Spaces – Best Culture Best Care

Ongoing reflections into the York Street Model

Recently John Walsh   (@johjnwalsh88)   and I got to present our work on the York Street Model of ‘ Best Culture Best Care’ at a safety conference in Maidstone in Kent. We were fortunate to work with some excellent  frontline staff throughout the day.

( If you are not familiar with our work on the origins of the York Street Model you can find a link here http://www.leedscommunityhealthcare.nhs.uk/search_results/index.php?search=york+street+model&x=0&y=0 )

Watching the reactions of  staff as they explore the ideas behind the York Street Model is always fascinating and listening to the questions they posed  gave a great opportunity to reflect further upon how this work can help people and teams. Travelling home from Maidstone I realised that we needed  to adapt our language and explain the work  better. So some further  reflections.40093326_s

The initial work comes from the insights of working with two different clients groups in the NHS ( those experiencing homelessness in Leeds and NHS staff working in troubled teams).
In our initial work John and I realised that people in both groups were , to lesser or greater degree, undertaking or contemplating some type of personal  development work  . We initially named this as an ‘ inner journey ( which it seems it usually is ) however as I continue to work with frontline staff I realise that the term ‘ inner journey’ for some represents too much ‘psychobabble’.

 Personal development work is a forage  into our self , it represents  a journey. Personal development is a part of a natural process – life is a series of ongoing steps – it is a journey. The evolutionary psychologists map out for us the changes we make and must go through as we pass from birth to our elder years. At times personal development journeys can be hard and may be uncomfortable. As  we face the future we often realise that  we have to change at a personal level. Something has to be different for each of  us  to move forward. The alternative is to stay in the same place, static, inert … this is a choice


In terms of creating ‘best culture best care’ for each of us there is a  link to our own personal development journey. We  need to realise and  acknowledge that  our own state and stage of development is key to our work in teams. Team members are all different and are at different stages of development. Our own stage of development combined with our current circumstances come together and  form part of a team context. Our own journeys are about our wants, desires, needs, choices and our mindsets and the autonomy we have. All  of these things play into the our role as a team member. They are part of the culture which is created. So some questions to consider :

  •  As a team working together,  how aware are you  of the individual personal development issues each tm members  faces ?
  • Where and when are such things discussed and debated ?
  • Do we you want such discussions to be… team based , leader focused or private and individual ?
  • How tolerant and support of each other are you  as you each tread your own personal development journey ?
  • How do you  support each other to thrive ?


When I was little my mam used to ask me “what do you wish for ?”

That was easy I wished to be Nurse Nancy from the Twinkle ( a children’s magazine in the 1970’s) . I can’t ever remember my mam asking me what I hoped for. 44It was only when I got to be Nurse Nancy that the role of hope became clearer to me.untitled It always seemed to be mentioned when patients faced adversity – chronic disease, a life changing event, a terminal illness. I had not questioned the role of hope much further until I began to work alongside NHS staff and teams in difficulty . And in this context I realised that in their darkest moments they reported that “things are just hopeless” Being without hope is awful. Working on the development of the York Street Model brought the important role of hope in our lives into clear focus. Many of us live with hope but how often do we talk of hope in our teams? ( and what of hope’s near neighbours our dreams ? ) It seems to me at the very core of our humanness we are all striving to be better, improved and perhaps the best version of our self.

So our hopes and dreams are important in the team context . Some questions in how this relates to best culture best care ….

  • What are you hopes and dreams and how do they fit with the contribution you make in your team ?
  • What are your collective team  hopes for the public you serve ?


As I observe people who want to know more about the York Street Model what strikes me is that without exception people understand the idea that we all need positive, safe spaces, both at work and at home. When discussed no faces twist , no arms fold and no eyes look to the floor. It seems we all understand the precious nature of a positive space in all walks of life .

For those people without a home the talk of a ‘ safe and positive’ space means a lot , and I have learned that if you are vulnerable in your team environment it means the same . We all strive to live as best we can , the physical and psychological value of a safe space seems to resonate with all and needs little explaining. What does need ongoing exploration is HOW we create positive and safe team spaces. And this quest goes on ….




You cannot plan transformation like a project ( Bushe 2013) ….some thinking on grounded change


Over the past year I have been working on how the field of OD can help us with the challenges we face in health and care. This blog was actually written as a paper ( so it is rather longer than normal ) , however a number of people have asked me to share it via my blog so here goes ….

This paper aims to help us consider new era approaches to the way we lead and nudge change in the 21st century health and care system. It focuses upon the ideas presented within the field of Organisation Development. I hope it will help practitioners consider how we focus on improving the 70% failure rate for change programmes http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/change-management-3-key-reasons-for-the-catastrophic-70-percent-failure-rate.php

I have worked with change in our health service for over 30 years. Starting my career as a Nursing Assistant I found that ‘tricky’ change became a theme for me.

In the mid 1990’s I undertook a postgraduate degree in Change and Organisation Development which transformed forever my view of what ‘good change’ looked like . The classic text of Cummings and Worley ( 2001 ) clearly identified the behavioural scientist’s perspective on why change is all about people. The eclectic field of Organisation Development (OD) emerged in the 50’s and 60’s with its roots in the emancipatory movements in the USA (for a brief and readable account of the origins of the field I refer you to Chung- Judge and Holbeche , 2011). I personally define OD as “business improvement through people”, this definition seems to cut through the arguments about what is and what is not OD. For me OD is about action and improvement and its founding principles include :

  • The seeking of social justice
  • Ensuring equality of voice
  • Enabling diverse views to be considered and used
  • Action research as a primary methodology
  • Improvement driven by data

All of the above are vitally important for our current agenda. We see in Simon Steven’s “ Forward View” a focus on the NHS and care system as a “a more activist agent of health-related social change” (NHS England, 2014 , pg 10). The vision requires us to work differently , differently with others in the system and differently within ourselves. This is an exciting and big ask and it is one which needs us to significantly change our approach to the stewardship of change and the field of OD can help us.

In the early 90’s most change and improvement work was viewed via the scientific lens by people searching for the ‘single truth’ that would solve all the issues we faced. This view is rooted in the industrial and mechanical view of organisational life. It is a view which, if taken in isolation, can ignore the social and human reality of the world of work. I am of the opinion that this view of organisational life is outdated in the social era and that we need to develop our mind-sets and our change practices to include the human reality of working in ‘the care business’.

The challenge in the 21st Century is that the world has changed and the problems we face are multi-dimensional and may not lend themselves solely (or at all) to reductionist, mechanistic solutions. Such issues present as ‘challenging problems’ which Rittel and Webber (1973) define as socially complex and often, but not always, technically complex too. By focusing upon applying only diagnostic approaches to such problems it is likely that we will continue to contribute to the seemly unchanging 70% failure rate.


We cannot afford to continue to invest our efforts in approaches which are likely to deliver 70% failure. If we are to improve on this rate then we must focus upon changing our mind-sets as well as the processes of health and care delivery. Socially complex change requires adaption, not just better technical solutions (Linsky and Heifetz 2002) http://instep.net.nz/Change-for-improvement/Sustainable-change/Four-views-of-change/Adaptive-versus-technical

Since the summer of 2014 I have been focusing upon how we compliment the dominant diagnostic approaches to change management with new era thinking. A small group of us have been working with models of change based on Dialogic OD. We have concluded that the term dialogic is in itself problematic and is not meaningful in the NHS. We have begun to translate the work of dialogic as ‘grounded change’. Grounded because it emerges from the field of practice (from the ground) and front line.

Grounded change requires us to use both our left and right brain and to engage our emotional energy to find approaches that move us forward. Change is never just about the logic of a situation and is most often about how people feel. The current context of our health and care system demands that we move beyond the reductionist approaches of the industrial era and think about how we bring mind, body and spirit together to mobilise people to action. The table below provides a simple view of both diagnostic and grounded approaches to change:

A Diagnostic theory of change A Grounded theory of  change
Reductionist Expansive
Seeking a single solution or truth of a situation Seeking meaning and sense making   within a situation
Based on compliance Building commitment

The grounded approach is about the reality of situations. It is not about reducing problems to A+B must = C, but accepting that socially and technically complex problems, those with many stakeholders require a different approach if improvement is to be achieved. Grounded change is built upon the premise that sense-making and co-creation of meaning in a community comes BEFORE the creation of solutions. This approach builds emotional and personal commitment. It mobilizes people to action.

Over the last 12 years I have been working on approaches to change which combine working on presenting issues (which some may call diagnosis) with approaches which require people to sit together and create new ways of working together (grounded change). Such co-creation is about using the power and resources of all the people involved in a situation or community, to change things for the better. Over the last decade in my work I have led a team to develop and test how such approaches can help us to work with ‘teams in difficulty’ (Conner and Stabler 2009) and how to design new ways of supporting teams which seem to be stuck in a unhelpful and unhealthy team dynamic (Craig and Moore 2015 , publication pending). All of this work has been developed using a framework of grounded or dialogic OD.

Designing change interventions based upon shared understanding can result in change and movement. Such models are founded upon the assumption that:

“change occurs when the day-to-day thinking of the community members have altered their  decisions and actions, which leads to a change in culture” (Bushe 2013).

The intent of such an approach is to create the conditions within a community which support people to stimulate and emerge practice which acts as the basis for experimentation and moving the issue forward. As this co creation takes place the whole community is changed, in that it moves towards what it aspires to be and do. Key here is the idea of motion and the collective movement towards something of value.

We can see when we are working in the arena of complex social issues we are not in the arena of project management. Bushe (2013 ) advises “You cannot plan transformation like a project” as the motivating forces for such work are usually connected to a big concern or challenge from which the leaders and the community bring all their energy and resources. This is not to say that projects, tasks and improvement work will not be done, they absolutely will be. However they will arise from the dialogue and sense-making of the whole community, rather than a single sponsor, a project manager and small group of representatives.

Grounded approaches are based on meaning-making, the creation of collective wisdom and action, they are not about problem solving per se they are about solution finding. Key in the philosophical origins of this work is the idea of the triad of logic, action, and spirit (mind / body / spirit) ( Turullois- Bonilla 2012).


It is about bringing our whole selves to the work of change, not denying emotional reactions or separating them off as something less important than the processing power of our brains. We need both. This is one of the reasons why the social movement approach to large-scale change has been so successful, it taps into our emotional responses and gets us active about things we care about, if you doubt this consider the impact Stephen Sutton had in the last months of his life (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Sutton) and check out the impact Tommy Whitelaw is having as a social activist for better dementia care (http://tommy-on-tour-2011.blogspot.co.uk/). These people exemplify grounded approaches to change, they are transformative. Their work and legacies are inspirational as they reach out to us emotionally as well as logically.

So what is the DOING of grounded change?

Like most people in the field of change management and OD I am a pragmatist, I like to be in the thick of things.


I am a nurse by vocation and my reason for being is to make things better. So as ever I am interested, as are most people, in the ‘do’ of this grounded approach. Bushe (2013 ) lists over 20 tools and techniques, things change agents need to learn about and practice to apply grounded approaches. I recently spoke about this work to a colleague @mikechitty who reminded me we have been doing grounded or dialogic work for over 20 years and he shared with me his curation of dialogic tools and techniques. We must make use of what we already know.

The practices of grounded change are many and varied and are -known to us all. They centre on human connection through purposeful conversation and dialogue with the intent of finding solutions to challenging and often historic issues. Earlier this year NHSIQ published its white paper (NHSIQ 2014) which details change in the new era and sets out a vision for approaches to achieve change. At an organisation or system level moving towards using a grounded theory of change requires the leaders to enable the 5 key practices cited in the white paper:

  • Find, develop and enable your activists and radicals
  • Build relationship which support change from the edge
  • Build the story telling capability of the people , to connect people around their purpose and passion
  • Move toward the curation of knowledge and know-how ( rather than the storage of knowledge)
  • Building bridges which create new possibilities and new opportunities

Summary :

So as we work our way forward trying to improve our success rate with change in health and care we must address the issues raised in this paper. Both the heart and the head of change are vitally important if we are to rise to the challenges before us. We must never lose sight of the importance of the work we do for the people we serve and I leave the final thought to be offered by Sokoloff (2006)…..

“People come to healthcare providers to be healed and comforted.

They come willing to entrust their well-being or that of their family members to us, to strangers.

This is a unique and sacred relationship, far different than what we experience in other day to day business transactions.

Healthcare is not contrary to what some may think, just another business”

References :

  1. Bushe G. R, 2013 , Dialogic OD : A Theory of Practice, OD Practitioner, Vol 45 No 1, pp 11 – 17
  2. Chung- Judge M. and L. Holbeche, 2011 , Organization Development : A practitioner’s guide for OD and HR, London, Kogan Page
  3. Conner M., Stabler A., 2009, “Sharing our learning : Dealing with the hidden side of organisational life supporting teams and clinicians in difficulty”, A practitioner report prepared by South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (this a practitioner paper , which was published locally under my former name Conner. Please contact me if you would like a copy)
  4. Cummings and Worley G. T., C. G., 2001, ( 7th Edition ) Organization Development and Change, UK, South-Western College Publishing ( 9th edition available)
  5. Linsky M., Heifetz R. A, 2002, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading ,Boston , Harvard Business School Press
  6. NHS England 2014 , Five Year Forward View , http://www.england.nhs.uk/2014/08/15/5yfv/
  7. NHSIQ ( Firman and Bevan ), 2014 , White Paper: The new era of thinking and practice in change and transformation A call to action for leaders of health and care   http://www.nhsiq.nhs.uk/resource-search/publications/white-paper.aspx
  8. Rittel J., Webber M>, 1973, Dliemmas in a General Theory of Causal Factors, Planning and Policy Science, Vol 4, No 2, June , pp 55 – 69
  9. Turullois-Bonilla R, 2012, Dialogics : Fixing the world with the triad of body, mind and spirit, Published by Dialogics , ISBN 978-0-9761653-4-7.

*images sourced via RF123

Change , Choice and Windows 8.1

I have been reflecting a lot recently about personal change. Now change is my job, it is what I support people to do, but this change was all about my own choices.

I got a bright new shiny lap top , it is lovely,  it is a dark aubergine colour , really pretty. And it runs WINDOW 8.1

windows 8

Now people who know me think I am a bit of a gadget girl and I love the ‘look at what this can do’ side of technology, but actually I am not very good at working out how it works.

It takes me a long time to learn new tech. My usual pattern of changing over tech  is a painful one. I get cross with the things that have changed ( it’s unusual for me to get cross in most other walks of life)

angry woman

and I sulk when I can’t work out how to do things and I usually end with my pat phrase echoing round the room ‘ this is just stupid !’

So I decided I had to do this change over differently, because the only person who suffered with my usual pattern of change was me, it was self inflicted !

I decided to be kind to myself , I decided I would give myself the time I needed to learn the new ways of the mysterious Windows 8.1 . I decided I would run two systems for a while until I was comfortable to let the old one go ( normally I am very impatient to get the implementation done and finished – My Myers Briggs includes a very strong J, which drives me onward always to get things finished and in the bag as early as possible ). I decided I would be patient , not with IT but with myself.

And what have I learned ?

I like some of the new functionality of Windows 8.1 and  I love the tiles on the desk top , particularly the interactive ones. I love how I have been able to create a really cool personalised desk top that is just right for me.

And what of my personal learning …

Well given the right context and MIND SET I am ok with tech change. But most importantly it has reinforced a growing realisation for me in my OD practice that exercising CHOICE is fundamental  in relation to change. Some of the most challenged teams I have worked with over the last few years have had people in them who felt they had no choice. Feeling powerless and undervalued they lashed out their anger on all around and at each other. When we feel that we have  no choice  we can all react like this as  human beings.  It seems that feeling powerless  makes us scared and when we are scared ( even if we don’t admit to it ) we can  become angry . But in my OD practice I have learned that  we always have choice , we have the choice to decide what our mind set is going to be.

So changed  my mind set and I have changed my story…. I am OK with tech change . I have a new way to tackle it , I have proven to myself I can do it.

But the best bit about this tech change over to my new lappie … well it is still the lappie’s  beautiful shade of aubergine and the case I bought is just lovely … all the girls love it !

lap top IMG_0633

Eldership and when the wind changes….

It has only been in the last few years that I have begun to consider myself an elder in my field. I realised, about three years ago, that I had served the public for 30 years, full-time, without a break.  I acknowledged that I have been blessed with  30 great years and I began reflecting on the importance of the remaining time.

I began to watch colleagues heading towards the latter phase of their career and I became fascinated and curious about their responses. Some people were packing in as much as possible, although not yet ready to move on they behaved in challenging ways as change came to their part of the system. Other people were angry and difficult.  Some were protective of their knowledge and know-how, and withheld both from younger colleagues to whom the baton would soon be passed. Still other people were treading water, heads down, continuing to do their best while waiting for their retirement date to arrive.

I found myself comparing these people to other elders I know in a different part of my life, within in my church. Here people in their 60s, 70s, 80’ and beyond continue to serve with grace, energy and generosity, taking their eldership seriously and proudly. They are vibrant role models.


I wondered what the difference was. My musings on the answer to that question are for another blog. However one focus of my musing became my own eldership and the key question: ‘How did I want it to be?’

I realised that my team had grown and developed so much in the 11 years I had worked as their leader. All three  of the senior practitioners had either completed their doctoral education, were awaiting a viva or were well on the way. They were (and are) fantastic examples of why doctoral education delivers excellence in a practice-orientated professional setting.  They needed to stretch themselves even further and they needed to do this independently, without me.

My second realisation was that I needed to be true to myself. I have been part of the organisation for 18 years. Yes, I had been seconded out for almost five years and have experienced great career development,  and  I have been around for a long time. I have worked for three CEOs all with different styles and different agendas. I have supported them in flexing the development capacity of the organisation to fit their particular direction of travel. And as I focused on the next phase of my life I realised I wanted it to be different. 

So,  I realised that the wind had changed. When the wind changed for Mary Poppins it signalled that her work was done. It was time to move on.

And this is where I find myself: creating the next phase of my life, making choices, putting my own satisfaction and my desire to continue to do my best work before money. I entered the workforce in Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s when she promised that ‘ you can have it all’. My own learning is that you can’t. We all have to make choices and, often, compromises in order to live well, healthily and with a full heart.

Maybe this is a central part of eldership: the wisdom to know that we always have choices and when the wind changes, perhaps that is the signal that it is time to figure out what your best choices are and how they can serve your future dreams and aspirations.