Tag Archives: work systems

Overcoming Irrational Forces in Work Systems

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.


Coming soon, more time for consulting to organizations!

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.