Leading Organizational Change through large group interventions

I like to watch people dancing. In some cities during the summer there are some places where you can find a DJ or people drumming while everyone manages to integrate in the larger group. People may be dancing with different steps, but everyone is contributing to the sense of harmony with their own movements.  I see strength, coordination, passion.  However, in more structured environments, like in a wedding, when you see couples dancing at the same time every couple or person is following their own direction. Everyone is achieving their personal goal, but they don’t feel like a group with a bigger goal.

Something similar happens during meetings. If the meeting doesn’t call for everyone’s collaboration, the more people you have in the meeting, the less gets done. There is no sense of harmony and everyone is trying to achieve their own goals. Unless of course you organize a large group meeting with the large group in mind. The way of organizing and facilitating critical mass meetings is radically different than a regular business meeting, as it needs to allow people’s creativity and energy be explored and used effectively.

If you haven’t been into a Search Conference, a Participative Work Redesign,  a World Cafe, an Open Space or similar interventions, it’s time for you to check it out. Large group interventions, also called  Critical mass events, are the kind of events that can really generate Change with a capital C in an organization. They’re based on the Socio-Technical Systems Theory, that approaches OD analyzing the organization in three levels, allowing people to have a whole systems view:

  • Outside forces – customers, market forces, community, competitors, and change
  • Technical systems – the processes used to create and deliver products and services
  • Human side of the organization – rewards, motivation, talent development  and the relationship among people

This has created a “new” (although it has been around for several years) way of leading change in organizations. Instead of having a committee that would collect data about the organization, which is a slower and biased way of promoting change, that requires the committee being able to sell the change initiatives to the organization, now we can bring the entire system in a room and work intensively in designing initiatives that consider everyone’s point of view. In this way, the changes will be sustained as people that participate (and whose voices are heard) will be already committed to new ways of working. Everyone who can make a decision is in the room, so there is no need to wait weeks for an answer.

Working this way also has the benefit of improving teamwork, increasing employee engagement and working more efficiently, because the system can re-design the way it works and get rid of the processes that no longer support the organization’s goals.

If your organization needs a real change, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about a large group intervention.