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Is organisational work different to therapy

Carey Glass, one of the editors of InterAction, posed this question to us all after publication of the article in the latest InterAction bt Christine Kuch and Susanne Burgstaller - Their article is available at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/sfct/inter/2011

Here is my response:

 The case studies presented in this article make good reading and I would describe them as recognisable pieces of SF work.  However, the introduction and conclusion confuse me, especially as I read the article with Occam’s Razor close at hand. I do not understand the importance the authors give to the distinction between the organisation and the people in it – nor what implications they see for SF organisational developers in the future.

Perhaps this goes to the heart of what is radical about the SF way of thinking, stemming from the interactional view pioneered by Gregory Bateson, John Weakland and the Mental Research Institute.

In keeping with the interactional view, I challenge the premise that the organisation is “in part independent of the people who are working in it ..... People are relevant  for the organisation not only as specific individuals, but also as representatives of their specific roles. The consequence of this description is that individuals are interchangeable.”  In SF-land, we take the position that every case is different – and so is every Finance Director!  Introducing the idea of the organisation as a separate entity adds an unnecessary element of complexity to our work, one that can be shaved away with benefit to clients and practitioners.  People and the way they act and interact ARE the organisation, and the procedures and processes people have devised to further their aims can be changed when they are no longer effective or efficient.

The literature now contains many cases and descriptions of OD work using SF – see for example previous editions of InterAction, Solution-Focused Management edited by Günter Lueger and Hans-Peter Korn,  Daniel Meier’s book Team Coaching with the SolutionCircle and Solution Focus Working edited by Mark McKergow and me. 

In the cases presented by Christine Kuch and Susanne Burgstaller, the authors were asked to help their clients with mediation or conflict resolution.  What characterises the SF consultants’ approach is to turn the focus away from what is wrong (interpersonal conflict in these cases) towards what is wanted.   Naturally the participants are preoccupied with what is wrong and the shift in focus can take time.  This is the art of platform building, an often overlooked tool in the SF tool box, as described in my article in Solution-Focused Management (Lueger & Korn, 357 – 362).  

 In the first case, what was wanted  was revealed in the second workshop as better preparation of the core meeting; in the second case, the focus was shifted to the task: what are we trying to do here, and how could that be achieved in an ideal world? 

The question “what are we trying to achieve?” is often a good starting point in building a secure platform, especially in mature organisations which tend to take the answer to that question for granted, without regularly checking that it is still relevant and widely understood within the organisation.   SF consultants know that time spent in this phase is well spent: it gives clients confidence that they have been listened to and their concerns taken seriously AND that they have some idea of the direction they want to go and the benefits of setting off in that direction.  As well as choosing the next small steps in the desired direction, we might spend some time casting back a step or two from the Future Perfect to ask “what do we need to have in place in order to support this?”   This is an elegant way of looking at the processes and interfaces as described in the two case studies which does not require any OD “expertise”.

In summary, I cannot see the added benefit of viewing organisations as somehow separate and different from the people working within them – a distinction which seems to me to be contrary to the SF tradition and, at the very best, redundant in the task of making progress in a desirable direction.  

  

Jenny Clarke, sfwork, UK  Contact jenny@sfwork.com

 

References

Lueger, G. & Korn, H-P. (2006). Solution-Focused Management. Rainer Hampp Verlag

McKergow, M. & Clarke, J. (2007).  Solutions Focus Working. Solutions Books

Meier, D. (2005). Team Coaching with the SolutionCircle.  Solutions Books

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