OD – creating the conditions for possibilities


Some notes from Cliff Oswick’s talk at CIPDOD16 and a few mullings from me.

“Emerging OD – action, discourse, action, discourse, action, discourse reflection – Cliff Oswick, Cass Business School”


Key principles of emergent OD

Emergent OD – about looking forward – a whole raft of emerging techniques which go beyond tradition/contemporary.

Change as a blended/diffused process – don’t just focus on “let’s figure out the problem, or blue sky”– a process to mix it up, by taking real action, in a robust way, reflection, action, reflection – (Meg – an evolution of action research?)

We don’t just talk about it, we just don’t do stuff.  We engage in both.  Action without talk is meaningless, talk without action is meaningless.

Possibilities – create something more broad than improvement, things don’t just have to be better, can be different – learning, action, learning

Rhizomatic – nonlinear – like roots of plant, tree – branches grow where there’s light, a path, and it’s spontaneous – changing their path and direction according to the circumstances.

Doing stuff in the present. Taking action, reflection, taking action.


A summary of some of the thoughts that Cliff shared:

In our turbulent and socially connected world – digital connectness is changing everything.

Action is simultaneously unfolding in different locales.. We can be in more than one conversation at once; this is relevant to the way we do OD and how change unfolds.

Rhizomatic processes (non linear, emerging, developing – eg rhizomes move towards the light) – utilising dialogic methods e.g. World Café/AI – imagine these were an ongoing conversation always going on where people who are interested mobilise around together and create new realities.  More actions, more conversations.

Orgs will look more like social movements, as they become more networked, and less hierarchical – evidence that it’s a case of when, not if.

Bottom up and sideways rather than top down; people coalesce around things they are interested about.  Create the conditions that people who care about stuff have the space capacity and resources to do so.

Employee activists, a process of dialogue; create conditions for people not to resist but to activate and mobilise about things they care about.

White paper produced by New Horizons group Bevan and Fairman NHS, download PDF – sets out a process of change in the NHS.  AN amazing example of emergent OD.

Instead of power through hierarchy, it’s about power through connecting, the move from hierarchy to networks.  All organisations are starting to engage more with the networks, and playing down the influence of hierarchy; exploring networks in very meaningful way.

Shared purpose talks about what have we got in common, rather than vision, mission – shared purpose is a process.

To summarise:

  • Treat change as an ongoing process not as a punctuated activity
  • Create conditions of possibility where networks can flourish
  • Encourage managers to learn to let go
  • Actively promote radical autonomy
  • Seek to engage mavericks not just committed individuals

A potted summary of a rich and engaging session.  I think Cliff is talking to a room of people who are in, moving towards, curious about and loving this space.    I experience a work world in which the word emergent itself is counterintuitive; there is much invested in holding on to the hierarchy; organisations often only embark upon change when they are in some way forced to, sometimes when it’s too late.  A world that wants a tidy text boxed up solution.

I think OD requires courage for the practitioner/teacher and all others who trust the process.  It’s about letting go …….moving with the system.  It’s not letting go of reality, but recognising there are multiple realities.

It’s beautiful.











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