Note: This is the first post in a multipart series. Over the next few months, the ICW blog will be examining the question “How do we go on together?” At this moment of both heightening polarization and energizing hope, how can we deepen our engagement with different perspectives? How can we embrace the complexity both of our field of Leadership, Organizational Development, and Change as it changes; and of the wider world? In this first post, we explore what it means to bridge generations in a field that both holds deep roots and is still working to define itself. We will use the term “organizational development consulting” to encapsulate organization development (OD); facilitation; organizational transformation; and consulting about or facilitating processes of enhancement and change.
Ilene Wasserman | Erin Taylor
In the course of twenty four hours last week, I had the privilege of taking part in two energizing meetings representing what I at first might have defined as two ends of the OD experience spectrum. Both gatherings, and particularly the combination of the two, left me with much to chew on in regards to the future of our field. They also left me excited to see where we will go next as we bridge generations and weave new connections.
First I Zoomed in to a mostly in-person gathering titled “A Gathering of the Upstarts”. Seven young people, mostly new to calling themselves “consultants” said they wanted to gather to hear about my work in the Organizational Development (OD) field. It quickly became clear to me that we all had gifts to share. The facilitator used an emergent facilitation style inspired by Adrienne Marie Brown, and as folks shared their experiences, needs, and offerings, so much blossomed out of the group.
It quickly became clear to me that we all had gifts to share.
Nora helped participants see that they each had their own “box of wisdom” to bring to the world. Lawrence, the facilitator, offered a grounding exercise and an invitation to do more grounding together in the future. AK shared his story of building multiple businesses of his own. Danya offered powerful questions to center the conversation, asking how people define their work and what they dream of doing. Deidra both jokingly and sincerely offered her enthusiasm and humor, as well as her experience helping organizations operationalize their values. Matt shared his love of acting as a sounding board and facilitator. Erin brought in spiritual technology and connection to place. People chose varied and descriptive language to explain what it is that they do and what they hope to expand into. Story based strategizing, relating work to world narratives, spiritual direction, time management coaching, helping people build habits routines, and more.
Though their vocabulary was not always the same as that of my peer-colleagues, so much of what they were describing is OD work. They were using approaches or tools developed over decades, some of which these younger people have gleaned from elders and some of which they are reinventing. They also expressed a desire to learn about the roots of these tools, the lineages and relationships, their ancestors in this work. I strongly believe that knowing such origin stories helps us to recognize the intention behind and relevance of each tool and by knowing the intention, we deepen and enhance how we use them. The Upstarts seemed to share that value.
Early the next morning I joined another Zoom call, this one titled, “How do We Move Forward from the Founders [of the Organizational Development Field]?” Not everyone on the call had been in the field of OD for decades, but many had. An active sub question was clearly “where are the upstarts?” and while we’re at it, who are they? And what are they doing? And what are we doing? How do we define our work more clearly so that we can talk about our field both to our potential clients and to people who may want to join– people who may already be doing this work but are using different vocabulary, or perhaps do not even realize that this field exists. In fact, one participant even cited Adrienne Marie Brown’s work as an inspiring example of someone who is talking about doing OD without quite calling it that.
I strongly believe that knowing such origin stories helps us to recognize the intention behind and relevance of each tool and by knowing the intention, we deepen and enhance how we use them. The Upstarts seemed to share that value.
Here again, folks were energized and excited both about looking forwards and looking back to our roots. To the intellectual lineages that brought this field into being, and the many sub-communities that have emerged over the past few decades. There was talk of apprenticeships, of creating more points of entry. And there was talk of defining our core values, of certification, and making it clear both to ourselves and to others what exactly OD is (and perhaps what it isn’t).
So where do we go from here? How do we bridge the world of the Upstarts with the world of the Founders (and their disciples)? How do we invite new people, new ideas, and emergence while also honoring some core set of principles and values, some definition of what it means to operate in this world? I may not know exactly what that looks like yet, but I do know that we already have many of the tools we need. We know that meaning happens in relationships, so let’s cultivate some relationships. We know that it happens with deep listening and connection, so let’s grow some connections. We know that it happens through face to face encounters and working together, so let’s start collaborating across generations on real projects. And let’s define these generations less by age in life and more by age in the work. Upstarts do not have to be young, simply ready to try something new.
And as we do this, let us all remember that we want to learn from where we’ve been, notice it’s value for today, and continue to expand it in light of change and innovation in the future.