Mar 15 2009

In Search of Excellence for the Portland, Oregon OD Network

Published by at 6:41 pm under Consulting,Event design,Stories

Technology for Organization Development

I’ve been on the “leadership team” of the Portland ODN more or less continuously for the last 10 years. I’ve found ODN to be a nice face-to-face home professionally, even though my work is very different from what most OD professionals do. But I thought that being on the leadership team would be fun and give me a view of how a professional community organizes itself over time. It’s been a great opportunity to observe the ups and downs of a community without having to take on an inordinate amount of work.

ODN has been a meeting-oriented community in that it mainly existed on the 2nd Wednesday of the month for a stand-up presentation (with some schmoozing before and afterwards). Moving beyond a flip-chart was a significant shift. The battle to spend money on a website which now serves as a professional directory is now a distant memory. All along, the presentations have been interesting but ad hoc, depending on what people wanted to present more than on an articulated learning agenda. For a while I tried to get people to participate in a note-taking practice so that the questions, answers, and general discussion could be published afterwards. OD folks in general are not early or enthusiastic adopters of technology: often they are the ones who will see technology as getting in the way — between people.

For many years Miriam Lange kept pushing the “Community Consulting Project” (CCP) idea. She just wouldn’t let it die, although many people on the leadership team (including me) didn’t quite get it. The idea was to provide OD consulting services to non-profits who could not pay. It was somewhat independent of the community’s main activities, but with the leadership of Dan Vetter chugged along year after year, giving people new to the field a chance to work with more seasoned professionals and it provided an important kind of public service.

A little more than a year ago the ODN leadership team decided that it needed some support from “outsiders” and asked the CCP folks to pull together a team to help ODN itself. The CCP team, led by Ed Warnock, met with the Leadership Team and did a survey of ODN members and the members of “adjacent” professional communities. The CCP then led the leadership team through a standard kind of “in search of excellence” process, inspired by Jim Collins: focus on what you can uniquely do, disregard the irrelevant activities, identify those middle areas that can be done minimally.

There were two major meetings that I recall. One was a large, four-hour-long carefully scripted meeting with PowerPoint slides that looked at the survey data results and set some priorities. It turned out that the CCP idea was the core on which ODN wanted to build its future, its key differentiator.  The bottom line: ODN would become the best place for interactive learning about the practice of OD. Later there was a much smaller leadership team meeting that took those priorities and tried to put it all in practice.

Based on the program announcements and the sessions I have attended since then, Jerry Zygmuntowicz, as the program chair, has done an amazing job of implementing the change and orientation, making ODN a much more practice-oriented professional association.  That’s really hard to do.  It’s really impressive that the ODN community has pulled this off.  Here are a few characteristics of the process that were outstanding:

  • Recognizing that a change was needed: it is far too easy for a community to just drift into irrelevance.
  • Gathering information from the community’s environment in a disciplined fashion.
  • Focusing the leadership group’s attention on the challenges that the community needed to face. The leadership team more or less put itself in the hands of some good consultants.
  • Lack of conflict in the leadership team, so that nobody stood in the way of moving along “the way forward” that emerged in the process.

But here’s another community development principle: one thing leads to another. I just got invited to meet with a group that’s working on extending ODN’s CCP model to provide some support to for-profit organizations!

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