Happy New Year!
What’s on tap for 2016?
- Continue consulting to organizations–especially libraries–that are motivated to transform themselves through leadership, strategy, and innovative organizational design.
- Integrate a lifelong commitment to community service through service learning advocacy.
- Explore the possibility of bridging polarized relationships that are obstacles to transformative change.
I am excited about the publication of a chapter on developing service learning programs in academic libraries forthcoming in Service Learning, Information Literacy, and Libraries in April. Publication of the book will follow a working session on developing an assessment framework for service learning programs in academic libraries at the Libraries and Service Learning Embedded Institute before the Campus Compact 30th anniversary conference: Accelerating Change: Engagement for Impact. Involvement in service learning provides an opportunity for all types of academic libraries to participate in their communities at the campus level and beyond in a variety of ways.
Could libraries prototype models for overcoming structural obstacles to transformative change? It would be great to explore possibilities for creative destruction of barriers to change. Many of these issues were topics at the Taiga Forum at DLF Forum 2015 in Vancouver, BC last October.
Colleagues here in the bay area shared an inspiring story about a direct conversation between union member and managers of a local transit company that they facilitated. Drivers and managers met to exchange information about one specific process–scheduling, but left the meeting with their relationship transformed. For the first time, they had communicated directly rather than through lawyers and mediators about an issue important to both parties and about which there was little initial agreement.
Libraries generally include both managers and union members in strategic planning processes, so it is not really the case that union members and managers do not discuss important issues directly. However, sensitive issues that fall under the Taiga Forum topic “employee relations” are usually omitted from these discussions–sometimes out of fear of grievances or otherwise motivated by conflict avoidance. Even in non-union environments general discussions about faculty status or tensions between librarians and other library workers are rare.
What would it take to try something different? I don’t have a plan, or goal, or preconceived notion about what might create a shift in structure to create positive change but would love to collaborate on an experiment in this area. Ping me if you’re interested!
One of the fundamental principles I bring to my consulting practice is that people are better able to solve problems and think creatively when they are less anxious. In an article based on my dissertation research, I explain how this idea fits with neuroscience research–that cognitive impairment, which translates into poor problem solving and reduced creativity is related to high levels of anxiety. I also explain how a consulting approach based on Bowen theory–the approach used by the consultants I studied in my dissertation research meets the challenge of reducing workplace anxiety.
In the article, I provided examples from my own experience and from stories participants in my study had told about their work. These examples show how, by applying principles from Bowen theory, the consultant can be a catalyst for a shift in the work system. Anxiety goes down and the organization begins to function more effectively.
The article Applying Bowen Theory to Work Systems, was first published in Volume 46, Number 3 of OD Practitioner, the peer reviewed journal of the Organization Development Network. The theme of the issue is Reflections on the OD Network’s 50th Anniversary and Beyond. I was honored to have my article on Bowen theory–a theory that is less well knows than it should be among organization development professionals included in the section called Rethinking Core OD Practices and Exploring New Roles for OD.
Last week, I had the privilege of attending iPRES 2012 in Toronto. The conference was replete with case studies and research reports detailing the state of the digital preservation field. A number of presentations provided strong evidence for progress in web archiving and frameworks for understanding data curation, as well as development of tools and systems to support preservation workflows.
Two obstacles seem to stand in the way of going beyond incremental progress in digital preservation practice:
- Continuing to re-invent the wheel rather than building on the work of others–sometimes referred to as the “not invented here” syndrome.
- The incredibly local nature of funding. Where is the global economy for digital preservation in cultural heritage organizations?
In one of the sessions, I asked how we could move beyond the drive for perpetual involvement in sexy new development to a focus on adaptive re-use and improvement of existing tools for implementation. Paul Wheatley, SPRUCE Project Manager at the University of Leeds commented that his organization has run some workshops that focus on building workflow support from existing tools. CURATEcamp has also experimented with this model and would seem to be well positioned to continue to support and extend it.
In his closing plenary, Kevin Ashley of the Digital Curation Centre made a case for more collaboration between the UK and Canada. Can’t we do better than that? I realize there are structural and political issues with funding models that draw geographic boundaries around our work. This was well documented as long ago as 2006 by the American Council of Learned Societies in their report Our Cultural Commonwealth about cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and social sciences. Perhaps future iPRES conferences could include invitational sessions for funders, focused on leveraging their investments through international collaboration.
My interest in organizational studies may be what gives me this perspective. By focusing some attention on the way we structure our digital preservation work, we can leverage all of our contributions so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. What do you think?
Last week, at a conference, a colleague asked me, “What differentiates your services from those that other consultants offer?” It didn’t take me long to respond.
I pride myself on tailoring services to meet client needs rather than leading with a particular technical solution. Like the organization development consultants I studied in my dissertation research, I use Bowen theory as a framework for my work. Within that framework, in collaboration with my clients, I select other theories and tools to enable us to reach our common goals.
For example, Galbraith’s Star model provides a model for understanding how strategy informs structure and other organizational processes. Appreciative Inquiry provides a way to engage people throughout an organization in creating an aspirational vision for the organization. Technologies such as World Cafe create an environment for large group conversations.
While taking the time to identify theories and tools that fit the client’s situation can delay a project launch, that time is well spent. Finding the best process fit from the start goes a long way towards creating circumstances favorable to a successful engagement.
Are you curious about why some work system engagements go so well and others are so difficult when by all appearances, the presenting issues seem similar? Have you thought about irrational forces at work in human systems and the power those forces have to hijack good thinking? What can a consultant do to help people recognize “emotional process” in the workplace and learn to function better in the face of it?
This is the topic I explored in my dissertation research. I studied how organization development consultants use Bowen theory in their work. I found that consultants who ground their practices in Bowen theory take a different approach and stance than other organization development consultants. The biggest difference is in stance. Consultants who use Bowen theory take a systems perspective and make every effort to remain neutral and stay outside the organization’s emotional process.
Emotional process describes how people respond unconsciously to each other. Murray Bowen, who developed his theory in the mid-20th century believed that awareness of the process, and an effort to engage the “thinking brain” could improve individual functioning. In turn, improved individual functioning makes for better functioning families and work systems.
Following this line of thought, the consultants help their clients become aware of emotional process and support their efforts to come up with thoughtful solutions to their problems. The consultants often engage in coaching to help individuals within an organizational system represent their points of view more effectively with their bosses, their subordinates, and in meetings.
The consultants who use this approach find it effective, especially when they engage with clients who are interested and motivated to learn a new way of thinking about work systems. Based on my research findings, I am developing a reference model for Bowen theory-based organization development consulting. When I have completed the model, I will post the details. In the mean time, get in touch if you would like to learn more.
I am excited by the prospect of spending more time consulting to organizations with motivation to build capacity, improve effectiveness, and grapple with transformational change. For most of my career, I have been engaged in organizational change efforts as a manager and leader. In addition, I have provided consulting services such as meeting facilitation, strategic planning support, leadership development, team building, and organizational design on an part time basis.
Now, I have the opportunity to focus on this important work. In today’s rapidly changing world, it is critical for organizations to cultivate thoughtful responsiveness, and develop capacity for continuous change. My approach blends natural systems theory, adult learning models based in neuroscience, and well-established organization development processes such as action learning. Although individuals and organizations usually have capacity for transformational growth and change within, sometimes it takes an outsider to recognize the potential.
Nothing is more satisfying to me than collaborating with other people to generate ideas for improvements to a work system, and making plans to implement them. My most positive consulting experiences involve working with leaders to plan meetings or other events that engage groups around particular issues. Although I may write a report with recommendations for action based on the meeting or event, those recommendations are the synthesis of collaborative work, not delivery of disconnected stock solutions from an outside “expert”.
If your work system seems a little stuck, or you could use an outsider’s perspective on a tough issue, I would love to hear your story. Perhaps we can collaborate on a strategy to unleash the potential from within and enable the people within your organization to enact transformational change.