A presentation to European Organizational Development Network: EODF Stream in May 2014, by Frances Abraham and Jean Neumann. This forms the third in the series of organizational design themed presentations that reflect TIHR’s continuing learning around design and culture change.
The presentation outlines the enquiry being undertaken by Frances Abraham and Jean Neumann into what organizational design means for their work, the theory they draw on in thinking about their practice, and the meaning of this for what they actually do in organizational design consultancy settings.
Since the late 1940s, The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations (TIHR) has been a leader in the development of participative organizational and inter-organizational design theory and practice. Perhaps the best known is the classic socio-technical systems (STS) design methodology, which incorporates job design, work organisational design, operations research and Future Search methods (e.g. Trist, Miller, Rice, Emery, Hickling, Friend). Consulting related to some aspects of a TIHR school of thought tends to focus on the design of role, work group, organization and inter-organizational structures, processes and procedures. Such an emphasis on the flow of work typically cannot be separated from cultural aspects of organizational settings, which have been informed by systems psychodynamics and increasingly contemporary theorists (e.g. post-modernists such as Habermas, Foucault and Stacey).
Like most consultants working with organisational design these days, TIHR staff must find ways to cooperate with internal change agents in organizations making use of a wide variety of other approaches that have organisational design implications (e.g. lean methodologies and holographic understanding). Such methodologies (plus many more) may have unacknowledged roots in TIHR methods, but increasingly more likely also in disciplines that have evolved from scientific management, business strategy, management sciences, community organising, etc. Where does that leave us as OD consultants and change management practitioners in terms of what ‘organisational design’ means to us and to our work of today?
Certainly, we need to be able to collaborate with clients and colleagues from other parts of our social systems who are using different models and ways of talking about organisational design from our own. Similarly, genuine innovation in such situations may require mixing and matching of strange bedfellows. The session leaders consider that being able to work from principles, even when our preferred methods are not possible, may help with such collaboration and innovation.