My Department, Our Organization

LO / OD Application

by Shawn P. Quigley and Jon M Quigley

We will need to start this discussion with a question: “What have you ever done that did not teach you something?” It is by the nature of any activity especially those that require coordination and preplanning either learning or development occurs. Most commonly both will occur. This is either by plan or through pain. In our previous post: learning through mistakes, we eluded to this fact.

While there are many organizations that have people who specialize in Organization Development and the Learning Organization, these people are not always used to their fullest. These people are commonly used for post mortems on a project or specialty projects. While this does provide some benefits it is leaving the majority of what could be gained from these philosophies off the table.  To put it more clearly, our solutions will often be to lock the barn after the horse has left. This type of application of these disciplines is common to organizations that are very compartmentalized.  This is probably a function of one area manager thinking that they have no control or input into another area. This thought is directly counter to one of the primary tenets of a learning organization, Systems Thinking. In fact, we venture a guess based upon experience that many companies out there are losing millions of dollars due to this myopic or impaired approach. Fixing only intradepartmental issues, of the organization while the whole hemorrhages profusely will not improve the company at large.

While specialization provides a higher level of skill with the subject area and numerous associated improvements, it often comes at the cost of the ability to see the entire forest.  This division of an organization can: and commonly does, fosters an atmosphere in which each part of the organization only focuses on their issues. These organizations are often referred to as silo organization and communication across silos can be difficult to non-existing.  Commonly to the point where the whole picture is not even a thought due to a feeling that each area (department) can only change or better itself and has little to no effect on the other areas (departments). We have personally seen businesses focus on solving a problem to the tune of a few thousand dollars because it was departmental while neglecting a few millions of dollar problem because it is organizational. That is no way to run a business.  If this were not the case then more organizations would have the discipline of organizational development and the learning organization embedded into their planning phases of their projects vice being mainly in the post-mortems.

As we have discussed in our article LO/OD and Project management when these disciplines are applied in the planning phase and throughout the organization then the improvement is not only easier but is commonly sought. This desire for constant improvement of people and processes is personal mastery and the understanding how one part affects another is systems thinking. If these two of the five disciplines are employed the remaining three will begin to develop themselves. This cycle when actually promoted by an organization will sustain itself, but it cannot be done through anything less than complete and true support.  It requires more than hand waving, specifically, we will need management to recognize the importance of this way of working and support it.

How does adding these disciplines to the beginning of a project help?

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