The A to Z of OD: J is for Joint Diagnosis


I’d like to thank David D’Souza for suggesting Diagnosis, Perry Timms for suggesting Analysis, Russell Harvey for suggesting Collaboration (“You have to do OD with others”, he says.  “OD can’t be done alone!”), Inji Duducu and Francis Lake for suggesting Systems Thinking and Simon Daisley for suggesting Uniqueness as topics for the A to Z of OD.  I have attempted to draw these seemingly disparate topics together, along with my own musings on Consulting, Contracting and Whole-system events under the auspice of conducting robust diagnosis before enacting change.  J is for Joint diagnosis.

OD by another name

We have already seen that the terms OD, Change and Consulting are somewhat interchangeable.  I have at time acted as an OD consultant, change agent, change manager and OD manager.  Peter Block suggests consulting flawlessly requires the consultant complete the work of a five-stage consulting cycle.  These stages are: (1) Contracting; (2) Discovery and data collection; (3) Feedback and the decision to act; (4) Engagement and implementation and (5) Results.  At each stage, he recommends the work is done jointly between the consultant and client.

Joint diagnosis

Joint diagnosis is undertaken in stages 1-3.  Meeting a prospective client or internal change sponsor and contracting for what OD can achieve is an act of joint diagnosis and discovery.  It is also the moment the OD practitioner can acknowledge the uniqueness of the situation, whilst seeking commonalities with other systems and hence suggesting she is able to help.  Specifying and then collecting the data required is also a joint diagnosis exercise, which can be undertaken as a series of whole-system events.  Such events engage representatives from right across and up and down the organisation.

Feeding back the findings so client and consultant can both decide what to do is best undertaken as a joint decision.  In this way, the OD practitioner role models working in collaboration and establishes a ‘partnering of equals’ working relationship.  I go so far as to say, “If it ain’t collaborative, then it ain’t OD.”

Diagnose the whole system

Furthermore, I am firmly of the opinion that you are undertaking OD only if the scope of your diagnosis considers the whole client system.  And that means diagnosing the current system and likely impact of the change on the overall organisational system.  Anything else is just tinkering and is likely to have unforeseen impacts on other areas of the system.

There are many whole system thinking models out there.  Allow me to outline the thinking behind below my version – the Whole System Leadership Model – in the diagram below:

  • Firstly, there are three main levers leaders can pull to make change happen: Strategy; Business process and People
  • These are interconnected by three further systemic elements: (1) Organisation (things like structures, policies and planning and performance management routines) links your Business Processes to your Strategy; (2) Engagement links your People to your Strategy; and (3) Team culture links your People to your Business Processes
  • Leadership is right at the heart of the model. Leaders must hold all the other elements together in some sort of alignment.  They are the both glue and the lubrication that allow the whole system to function effectively.
Whole System Leadership

© CMdeltaConsulting 2018

You might also spot that the top half of the model is outward-facing (towards customers and other stakeholders) and the bottom half faces inwards (staff and internal workings), so the leaders must balance the tension between the two.  Equally, the left of the model represents rational, design-led thinking (the organisation led by the ‘Head’), whereas the right of the model represents the emotional connection to the organisation (the organisation led by the ‘Heart’).  For a system to be effective, leaders must find a way to balance the head and the heart.

Joint diagnosis at this depth of systemic understanding can yield insights into the mindset and emotional capability of the whole system, and the overall culture, and yields a joined-up OD plan. The plan is fed into the following phases: decision to act and implementation.  The results that follow positively impact the whole system and lead to the change sticking.

While we are here, it is worth mentioning the implementation phase can also be enacted as a series of whole-system events.

OD thought leader: Claes Janssen

I’d like to share a story.  Recently, I was driving home from Bristol after a long day delivering a facilitated learning session (incidentally, the topic was ‘leading change’).  This was some 225-mile trip.  I had just stopped about halfway home to get something to eat, fill up with fuel and grab a takeaway coffee to keep me going, after which I returned to the motorway, filled with a sense of Contentment.

A few miles up the road and unexpectedly, an amber warning light illuminated my dashboard against the rapidly-darkening evening sky.  This warning light was shaped like an engine!  “I wonder what that means?” I mused.  “Well, I’m not stopping again…I’m sure I’ll get home okay.”  And on I went, in Denial as to the possible ramificationsAs I drove on, uncertainty and Confusion entered my head.  “What if the engine suddenly packs in, or if I do more damage to it by driving on?”  I thought.  “Perhaps I should stop and look up in the manual what it means?”

And so I bargained with myself, oscillating from the childish denial of “it will be okay… press on… I wanna get home” to the more grown-up response of stopping and at least knowing what the problem might be and perhaps even following the manual’s recommended course of action.

I did not stop.

I drove home in this state of somewhere-in-between Denial and Confusion.

Thankfully, I made it home.

It was only the next morning, when I referred to the manual to seek guidance, “Stop immediately.  Seek diagnostics from your dealer.” it said. Or something like that.  “NOTE: you may experience significant loss of power if you continue to drive; your vehicle may enter ‘limp home’ mode.”  This made me chuckle as I imagined a cartoonish version of my car limping home like a scene from Roger Rabbit.  Anyway, I set myself on the path to Renewal by phoning the garage and booking the car in for diagnostics.  It was a fault on a sensor with the engine, by the way.  Nothing serious, but it did need fixing.

These are Swedish psychologist Claes Janseen’s Four Rooms of Change: Contentment, Denial, Confusion and Renewal.  He suggests we all live in one of these rooms at any one time, and there really is only one path from contentment (before change happens) to renewal (when we have found the way to internalise and survive/thrive following the change).  And that path goes through Denial and Confusion.  How long we spend in each room is about our energy for change, our resilience and our experience of coping with and leading change.  It is also worth noting there are many doors out of the Confusion room, and many of them lead back to denial.

It is a simple model – much simpler than a detailed change curve – and it is one that has many practical uses.  These include monitoring your own state and spotting the signs in others, so you can help them through change.  Curiously, I had referred to this model in the learning workshop in Bristol earlier that day.  Oh, sweet irony!

Recommended reading: Four Rooms is a copy of chapter 1 of his book The Four Rooms of Change, Förändringens fyra rum (Wahlström & Widstrand, 1996)