"Peace Corps" Model of OD
easy to talk about values and ethics in our work when we feel encouraged
to bring our values to the client. What happens, however, when
the client system is built on a value base different from the OD
consultant's? We are not talking about being afraid to leave your
laptop in someone's office, or of unethical behavior, but rather
of the work-related value system of most Silicon Valley engineers.
Frequently this segment of the population engages in win-lose thinking,
sees communication as expressing weakness, values isolation and
individual achievement, avoids conflict, and devalues social norms
without understanding (or even identifying) the consequences of
of our colleagues find that doing OD work with engineers can often
be extremely frustrating. However, we have evolved a model that
has allowed us to intervene successfully in engineering organizations.
The model is derived from our many years of working with engineering
and manufacturing organizations in high-technology companies. This
experience has enabled us to evaluate the similarities and differences
among these organization types. We have observed and contributed
to fundamental shifts in the meaning of the term "team," how teams
are perceived and utilized, and how best to develop teams and collaborative
work environments with engineers.
a client system is built on a set of norms and values that differ
from ours in this way, OD models and experience has taught us to
and validate the client's value system
the overlap between our value system and the client's and make
that visible to all involved in the intervention
to try to "convert" the client
the behavior and values we think will be in the best interest
of the client in order to meet their goals
the client discover the consequences of their values, beliefs,
be successful, the model must be used in an appropriate context,
which involves four elements. These elements, which we discuss below,
reflect our values of:
in process as well as systems
new processes to evolve locally vs. being imposed from outside
that any new processes be integrated into the business activity
and not simply be an "add-on"
that the OD practitioner must be accountable for behaving according
to the values we are asking others to adhere to
respect for the existing system and its accomplishments
genuine belief that everyone's perspective has its own integrity
We comprehend and accept the fundamental differences between engineering
work and manufacturing/process work. By definition, manufacturing
and process workers have respect for the concept of process. Because
of the obvious interdependencies of the components of a process,
and the relative ease of cross-training and work-sharing, process
workers have been using teams for a number of years. To them, the
team concept is simply part of their regular work environment. In
engineering organizations, however, we have found that frequently
the concept of team is associated with a loss of creative freedom
and individual uniqueness. In an organization where the charter
is to imagine and invent, even the possibility of losing the freedom
to innovate is traumatic. (Practitioners know that teams increase
in innovation and creativity--but that's looking at it from our
engineering work is not a matter of continuous improvement, but
rather of creation and innovation, leading to technological and
conceptual paradigm shifts. This type of work does not easily lend
itself to cross-training or pay-for-knowledge reward systems that
are typical within team-based process organizations.
length of feedback loops in engineering organizations is much longer
than those in manufacturing organizations. On an engineering project,
it may take years before one knows if the customer or the marketplace
thinks positively about the product. This is in contrast to "quality
control" or "internal inspection" in manufacturing organizations,
where feedback may be received in a matter of hours or days. Traditionally,
engineers were trained to be independent workers. They are often
frustrated that today's technology and market demands impose structural
constraints on their work environments. They generally prefer being
measured on individual uniqueness and heroics, not on collaboration
and team behavior.
Working with intact teams (to the extent possible) will increase
the effectiveness of the model. This
shows our interest in helping them with "real-world" situations
rather than abstract classroom exercises or perfectly constructed
cases. It encourages them to believe that our work is relevant to
their situation. Once we have a few early adopters, working with
the intact team helps create peer expectations and support for the
We engage team members in the process. We
do not come in to an organization with a complete plan for how everything
will be. We come, instead, with a working plan and a desire for
the rest to evolve. Engaging the team members in this evolution
increases buy-in and allows us to make the necessary modifications
to our plans.
We integrate team development with the core business. Through
this methodology, teams become the way the core work is done rather
than management's "flavor of the month" or something to be done
only when management is looking. We learn about the core business
and their current concerns--not to be sympathetic or popular, but
to know enough to be genuinely helpful. Yes, sometimes this requires
learning about things we didn't intend (or desire) to learn about.
This is part of our cost (and benefit) of offering a higher quality
our effort to articulate what enables us to be successful working
with this population, we created what we now call the "Peace Corps
Model of OD." This model bridges the contrast between the value
set of the client system and the OD practitioner by:
them to use their best skills and intentions (e.g., curiosity)
to understand our work and beliefs
a way for them to adopt new values and behaviors without having
to lose face or totally abandon their original approach
Corps workers live with the indigenous population learning the local
language, customs, and culture. We have had to become experts
in the language and culture of intuitive, analytical personality
types. We "live" with intact, cross-functional, and cross-organizational
teams by attending their meetings according to their time schedules.
We also participate in quasi-work events, such as birthday lunches
and team celebrations, and we learn about supposedly non-work issues
such as people's hobbies, passions, and pet peeves. This enhances
our credibility as we encourage new forms of behavior.
Corps workers are asked to respect the accomplishments of the natives
and to bring only those tools that can be useful to the population.
OD consultants working with engineers must recognize the difficulty
of what today's corporations are asking of their engineering organizations.
It is easy for those of us working in and around Silicon Valley
to become complacent about computer technology. A healthy respect
(perhaps even admiration) for the work being done by these engineers
is necessary if we are to work with them in a collaborative way.
as no Peace Corps worker would bring a fax machine to a village
that lacked electricity, as consultants we must resist the temptation
to bring a client the newest state-of-the-art OD intervention simply
because we are eager to use this new tool. The appropriate foundation
work must be done before any new technique is introduced, always
respecting the organization's current practices. Each intervention
must be modified to meet the specific needs of that particular group.
Off-the-shelf solutions are suspect in a community of inventive
is imperative that Peace Corps workers maintain their own core values.
Although we suggest constant modification of our processes and our
behavior, we recognize the importance of maintaining the integrity
of the intervention. We must always "walk the talk," remembering
that we are dealing with a population trained to find flaws in systems.
Engineers are often willing to work with us to fix the bugs in our
process, but if they find an integrity problem, they will define
the whole intervention as fraudulent.
Corps workers must acknowledge how difficult change is and continuously
support and coach the natives while reinforcing the new behavior.
When OD consultants work with engineering organizations, we
must do our work in such a way, however, that the population does
not feel patronized. We must remember that we are on their turf.
If we pay enough attention to this factor in the model, we may even
learn something new about change from our clients.
contrast the Peace Corps model with that of historical Missionaries
and Crusaders, who scorned local beliefs, felt superior to the
natives, abrasively replaced local customs, and pursued their own
agenda (to conquer or convert). The subtle but important distinctions
between Peace Corps workers and Missionaries and Crusaders are easily
noticed by engineers. While retaining a healthy amount of cynicism,
they are willing to work with and respect the ideas of the Peace
Corps--but they are, justifiably, ever-vigilant against Missionaries
danger in using the Peace Corps Model of OD is the risk of "going
native" or colluding with the client. It is possible to become
so involved in the local values and customs that you no longer bring
a new perspective. Although we strive for understanding and valuing
the engineering culture, we cannot start making excuses for antisocial
behavior nor should we collude with dysfunctional parts of the culture.
may be in danger of "going native" if you find yourself:
that starting or ending meetings late is not a problem
to push back on the client system because they are certainly "trying
to shorten meetings or interventions to half the time you know
they should really take
overly accommodating to changes in the client's schedules and
order to counteract these dangers, Peace Corps workers make sure
they write home regularly, receive their hometown newspapers, and
take sabbaticals when necessary. OD consultants can honor these
same standards by staying in contact with others doing similar work
and attending professional conferences and meetings when possible.
Although we must maintain a healthy respect for our engineering
clients, we need to remember that we are not engineers. We bring
a unique perspective to our clients which they need us to maintain
as we help them develop their culture.
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