Boys on step drinking smoothies

September is Back to School: We’ll go back to basics

The school bus just picked up my youngest child for his first day of middle school orientation. As we all gear up to go “back to school” I thought I’d do a quick sweep of the national “theme” weeks and the primary theme for September. What I found was a mishmash of days and weeks for different awareness efforts. It felt like the people in charge of this month where caught in the same swirl of activity as our household and threw something together.

I did find a commonality, however. The themes that spoke most loudly to me had the thread of getting back to basics; for example, September is National Courtesy Month. 

This month I’ll share a variety of topics that help us get back to basics when it comes to our businesses and our lives. I’ll share curated content on my Facebook page that support the themes of the month as well. If you’re interested, please “like” and you’ll share in the content too. I always appreciate comments and answers to questions I may pose.

Here’s a list of topics that got my attention:

  • National Courtesy Month
  • Patriot Day (Sept 11)
  • Step Family Day (Sept 16)
  • World Gratitude Day (Sept 21)
  • International Day of Peace (Sept 21)
  • Business Women’s Day (Sept 22)

Let’s all get back to basics and share what we learn this month.



Systems Theory in OD

Any person living in this generation is abundantly clear of the importance of connectivity. As a society, we are connected through social networking, through cell phones, through video chat, and email. Researchers of systems theory can see these connections as a technological interdependence of elements that already existed. What does this mean? Organizations have always been interdependent.

The definition of a system is a great place to start. “A system is a set of interrelated parts unified by design to achieve some purpose or goal” (Brown, 2011, p. 38).

Although this definition sounds very business-like, it can be applied to any organized systems. Let’s use a family as an example.


A system has five basic qualities (Brown, 2011, p. 38). After each quality I’ll use the example of a young family with kids.

  1. The system is designed to accomplish an objective
    • In the case of this family, the objective is to raise independent, self-reliant, children.
  2. The system has an established arrangement
    • Adults (parent or parents) and young children
    • Note: this example is anchored in American culture. In other cultures the system would also include extended family.
  3. The elements of the arrangement are dependent on each other
    • As young children, this element requires the supervision of adults as well as the operational support (driving, feeding, etc.) that they provide.
    • The adults, committed to the objective stated in quality one, are committed to interacting with the children to create the desired result.
  4. The system thrives on the flow of information, energy, and materials.
    • Systems, and thus families, can be seen as gathering inputs, processing those inputs, and producing results.
    • In the case of this family, input can be the behavior of the children, school and activity schedules, physiological needs, and similar inputs from the parents. All this input needs to be processed into useable and actionable knowledge like schedules, grocery lists, division of responsibilities, etc. Finally, decisions must be made to benefit the whole system, the family.
  5. Overall objectives of the systems are more important than that of individual elements.
    • Keeping the family healthy and functioning is an important objective in order to meet the goal of raising independent, self-reliant, children.
    • In this case it’s important to note that sometimes the adults need to prioritize their needs in order to keep the family healthy and functioning. Still, the overall needs of the family are paramount.


As with any organization, the environment will flow into the open system, requiring change for continued success. Let’s consider what happens to the change the system as the children approach the age of 18. Please note that changes need to be made prior to children reaching this age, but it’s interesting to see how the system changes. The goal is to maintain a high performing system. There are five considerations in pursuit of this goal (Brown, 2011, p. 41).

  1. The business situation (forces in the environment)
    • With grown children, the system becomes looser in structure. Environmental forces have more impact.
  2. The business strategy (goals, values)
    • As with any organization, as the environment changes, so must the vision of the organization.
    • The family’s goal is now to parent children who actively contribute to society and their communities.
  3. The design elements (technology, structure)
    • With a looser structure family members must rely more on cell phones, computers, and less face to face interaction.
  4. Culture
    • The culture of the family has evolved from a focus on operations to a focus on autonomy.
  5. Results
    • Rather than look at the narrower “result” of the children themselves, in order to gauge the success of their goals, the family must rely on common goals and combine results.


Systems theory can be observed in families, colonies of ants, large corporations, and even entrepreneurial ventures. Although the concept is not new, the focus on systems in OD can bring about great change in a company functioning as separate parts.


Works Cited

Brown, D. R. (2011). An Experiential Approach to Organizational Development (8th Edition ed.). New Jersey: Pearson as Prentice Hall.


Internal or External; that is the question

Organizational Development is a planned, organization-wide change used to improve organizational health and effectiveness. It is a process that demands that senior management trust the practitioner in whose hands the project lays. The trust can come from an established relationship or from perceived expertise: internal or external consultants. In addition to the differences, there are commonalities in what defines success of any OD project, whether internal or external.

External Practitioners

External practitioners are most common in the field of organizational development. The most straight forward reason for this is you hire an external consultant on an as-needed basis. There are other benefits to hiring an external practitioner as well: expertise, flexibility, and independence. External consultants are considered experts in their field (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). Their primary function is to perform OD transformations for clients. With this external expertise, the organization is also buying the flexibility of cooperatively defining the terms and scope of the working relationship (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.).

An obvious challenge is that external practitioners must learn about the company “from scratch” (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). They are not familiar with the company’s culture, norms, and lingo. This distance makes it more challenging to sway employees toward the needed change. Adding to this challenge is the common problem facing many consultants – they often don’t act as business owners (Bergholz, 2000). The external practitioner is limited to the terms of the agreement or contract, even if the organization’s needs morph into new forms (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.).

Internal Practitioners

Although the overhead and strategic changes of creating an internal OD practitioner team is more involved, there are many benefits to developing an internal team of consultants. The most immediate is that internal teams can “talk the talk” of the organization. They are familiar with the culture, goals, and jargon of the organization. The perception of expertise of internal consultants comes from known working relationships and professional ties (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). Harrison & Tarter (2007), who jointly wrote an article on high-performing internal practitioner teams, recommend that internal groups “live with those you seek to influence” (p. 189). Because internal practitioners have a long-term interest in the company, their focus extends beyond the immediate project. Being rooted in the organization can hold back a practitioner team as well.

Despite the conflicts in strategy and approach that can arise from either external or internal practitioners, there are consistent measures for success. Promised outcomes and results must be achieved on time and on budget. Success is also shown in the development of high quality relationships so the client will reach out again if they need help. Ultimately, a consultant, internal or external, wants their client to become more self-reliant in the handling of changes in their organizations.


Authenticity Consulting. (n.d. a). Comparison of internal and external consultants. Retrieved,

Bergholz, H. (2000). Equalateralists. Retrieved, from

Harrison, B., & Tarter, D. (2007). Building and sustaining a high performance internal O.D. practitioner team. Organization Development , 25 (2), 187-192.

Organizational Development and the MD Analogy

An OD professional is like an M.D. (medical doctor) in many ways. Consider the following scenario:

Have you ever gone to the doctor, walked in and said, “I have a sinus infection,” or something to that effect? You have essentially gone to the specialist having diagnosed yourself and expect that specialist to become “Dr. Fix-It.”

Many clients approach OD professionals in this way, but just as an M.D. would confirm that the self diagnosis is correct before prescribing any medications, so should the OD consultant. Like any good professional, you’d ask questions – when did you first start to feel unwell? This is a critical question for the company, as well.

Once the client (patient) and consultant (doctor) trust each other, the real healing can begin. The first step is to diagnose the real problem. What are the symptoms? How long have they been apparent? What have you tried? Be sure to ask similar questions in your early client meetings.

Then, plan and test to make sure you’ve narrowed down the root of the problem. Interview managers, survey employees, and hold focus groups. The doctor has a whole lab at his/her disposal, and the OD consultant has a full toolbox of diagnostic tools at his/her disposal, as well.

You may find that the problem is more serious than a sinus infection, for example, or that the problem is not in the sinuses at all! Companies must face the prospect that they’ve misdiagnosed themselves and the problems within the organization.

Once you are sure of the diagnosis then it’s time to treat. Using interventions at the individual, small group, and corporate levels, OD consultants can begin to prescribe treatment and generate action plans to help with effective implementation.

To follow up on the success of the treatment, check back, as a doctor would recommend, in “two weeks.” Is the company staying on its plan? Has the leadership team learned to spot trouble and prevent the problems from reoccurring? Many of us skip this step with the doctor when we’re feeling better. Companies are no different, but any specialist will tell you that feedback and renewal are critical to health. After all, we’re seeking a healthy organization that functions at its highest capability.