Leadership, Organisational development, Staff development

DoOD conference Putting OD Theory into Practice – Creating the right conditions for possibility

It was a sunny March morning when over 100 delegates descended on @Bristol science museum for the DoOD conference ‘Putting OD theory into practice.’

We all had different levels of expectations and different intentions for the day, but our collective spirit was aligned – we wanted to learn more about how to use OD tools and techniques to support real and meaningful change in the NHS.

The day started with Stefan Cantore asking us which came first, the chicken or the egg – very apt for a science museum setting. He challenged us all to recognise that however we choose to answer that question we are bringing our own life beliefs, experiences, observations, academic theory etc to bear on the answer – social constructionism in action. Stefan levied at us, that we are our own experimenters, researchers and practitioners in our own life, which was a real revelation and one that Mark Doughty, a patient leader, reminded us of later in the day.

Stefan went on to ask, how can we start to be generative in our conversations in a way that help us to prepare for and therefore shape our tomorrow? This was a great provocation to start the day; it definitely woke me up and made that 5.30am start worthwhile from the get go.

I went on to Stefan’s next session on Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully (the title from a John Piper book). This session explored the 5 principles of AI and what it actually means. Discussing this concept sitting outside, overlooking Bristol, in the sunshine (as Karen Dumain from the DoOD team tweeted Doing OD with Vitamin D) led to a very powerful conversation with a colleague from Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust about how we develop courage in our organisations – Courage to speak and courage to hear. My first of many networking opportunities of the day.

Next session was Cliff Oswick from Cass Business School on practical change within traditional structures. His provocation of ‘how do you get bottom-up, networked, emerged change (social movement style) within top down, hierarchically organised structures (traditional organisations). You can’t really get more traditional and hierarchical than the NHS so this led to a really constructive conversation about how to create the right conditions for possibility. I once saw a job advert for my perfect job – Director of Possibilities – it sounded like something from the Harry Potter Ministry of Magic and I love the idea of it. The art of the possible is truly vast in the NHS and if we can harness our staff to really make the possible happen, the NHS could be unstoppable.

Lunch was a time of reflection. I have a ‘little book of ideas’ that I take everywhere and over lunch me and my new little DoOD sat out in the sun and pondered ‘how do you create disruption and create the conditions that enable staff to innovate?’ One to take back to my Director colleagues and OD team.

After lunch, in a complete about turn from the usual after lunch slump slot, Maxine Craig got us sitting up and thinking about Dialogic as a new approach to OD. She whammed us with the fact that 70% of transformation programmes fail (a well documented fact) but we keep repeating the same mistakes. So how do we change our approach to change? The provocation that you ‘cannot plan transformation like a project’ – wow! It’s all about sense-making early on and gaining commitment rather than compliance around changing the narrative of an organisation. http://www.maxinecraig.com if you want to read more. I was fascinated and am really keen to learn more so will be reading the white paper from NHSIQ ‘the new era of thinking and practicing in change and transformation: a call for action for leaders in health and care (Firman and Bevan 2014).

The final two plenary sessions were superb and kept most people from slinking off early to get their trains. Firstly, the lived experience of Mark Doughty who has recently been appointed as a patient leader for the King’s Fund describing how he reframed his mindset and became a disrupter for the NHS. This was a really powerful version of the Radio 4 listening project and a great conversation.

Then a great idea, Paul ran a session which created time to think based on Nancy Klein. This was a great way to really reflect on the day and not just run away and all the good thinking to be lost. This created a lot of energy and enthusiasm at the end of the day.

Overall, a thought provoking and inspiring day and I emailed my OD team from the train on the way back to London to share with them how inspired I was and to enthuse about the day, which they sadly couldn’t join me for. Thank you to the DoOD Team for putting on such a great day and can’t wait for the July gathering.