A major area of concern in Organizational Development (OD) is the dysfunctional conflict that exists between groups. As a result, this has been a subject to which change efforts have been directed.
Inter group development seeks to change the attitudes stereotypes and perceptions that groups have of each other. For example, in one company, the types, and the human resources department as having a bunch of ultra liberals who are more concerned that some protected group of employees might get their feelings hurt than with the company making a profit. Such stereotypes can have an obvious negative impact on the coordination efforts between the departments.
Although there are several approaches for improving inert group relations a popular method emphasizes problems solving. In this method each groups meets independently to develop lists of its perception of itself, the other group and how it believes the other group perceives it. The groups then share their lists, after which similarities and differences are discussed Differences are clearly articulated and the groups look for the causes of the disparities.
Are the groups’ goals at odds? Were perceptions distorted? On what basis were stereotypes formulated? Have some differences been caused by misunderstandings of intentions? Have words and concepts been defined differently by each group? Answers to questions like these, clarify the exact nature of the conflict. Once the causes of the difficulty have identified, the groups can move to the integration phase working to develop solutions that will improve relations between the groups. Subgroups, with members from each of the conflicting groups can now be created for further diagnosis and to beg not formulate possible alternative actions that will improve relations.
Appreciative Inquiry: Most OD approaches are problems centered. They identify a problem or set of problems the look for a solution. Appreciative inquiry accentuates the positive. Rather than looking for problems to fix, this approach seeks to identify the unique qualities and special strengths of an organization which can then be built to improve performance. That is, it focuses on an organizations success rather than on its problems.
Advocates of appreciative inquiry (AI) argue that problem solving approaches always ask people to look backwards at yesterday’s failures to focus on shortcomings, and rarely result in new visions. Instead of creating a climate or positive change, action research and OD techniques such as survey feedback and process consultation end up placing blame and generating defensiveness. AI proponents claim it makes more sense to refine and enhance what the organization is already doing well. This allows the organizations to change by playing to its strengths and competitive advantages.
The AI process essentially consists of four steps, often played out in a large group meeting over a 2 or 3 day time period, and overseen by a trained change agent. The first step is one of discovery. The idea is to find out what people think are the strengths of the organization. For instance, employees are asked to recount times they felt the organizations worked best or when they specifically felt most satisfied with their jobs. The second step is dreaming. The information from the discovery phase is used to speculate on possible futures for the organization. For instance people are asked to envision the organization in 5 years and to describe what’s different. The third step is design. Based on the dream articulation participants focus of finding a common vision of how the organization will look and agree on its unique qualities. The fourth stage seeks to define the organization’s destiny. In his final step, participants discuss how the organization is going to fulfill its dream. This typically includes the writing of action plans and development of implementation strategies.
AI has proven to be an effective change strategy in organizations such as GTE, roadway Express and the US Navy. For instance during a recent 3 day AI seminar with Roadway employees in North Carolina, workers were asked to recall ideal work experiences when they were treated with respect, when trucks were loaded to capacity or arrived on time. Assembled into nine groups, the workers were then encouraged devise money saving ideas. A team of short haul drivers came up with 12 cost cutting and revenue generating ideas, one alone that could generate $1 million in additional profits.