In what way does living in the Middle East impact how I practice Organization Development

Man is but a template of  the landscape of his homeland, wrote the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. These are atrociously difficult times in the Middle East, days which have led me to think about this statement of his.

In this post. I want to delve into the ways that living in the Middle East has shaped the way that I approach the practice of Organization Development. For the sake of brevity, I shall limit myself to 3 major influences that the Mid East has had on my OD work.

1) The hopeless of solving problems teaches the importance of setting realistic expectations

The middle east conflict is insoluble. Religion, poisonous exclusionary  narratives, energy, water, righteousness, tribalism, world war 1 leftovers, Sykes-Picot  and world politics have created the ultimate cesspool for a “perfect” conflict to perpetuate itself.

Living in such a situation decade after decade leads to questions like: what can and cannot be changed? Where is the value: visionary goals and long term strategy?  What can be solved,  what needs to be managed and where is it wise to give up?

The reality of hopelessness breads a very healthy approach to setting appropriate expectations. I don’t tend to sell rose gardens.This realism on my part has led to trust being developed over the years.Clients know I do not bullshit them. I promise less and deliver more that  wow-wow yes we can optimists who live in places where the sky is the limit.

2) Chaos is a system

To get things done in the Middle East, one must understand how the “system” works, because nothing is the way it appears to be. There are accoutrements of western ways, western dress, technology and widespread use of English. But the Middle East ain’t Canada, the US, Germany, Britain or Switzerland. Understanding the  underworld of relationships. corruption, ethnicity and insider/outsider dynamics can shed light on situations which appear undecipherable.Underneath the veneer of the West is another system that has a rhyme and reason of its own. For all its foibles, it is what is it is, and it is the “currency” people use.

As an OD consultant, I tend to somewhat downplay the  organizational veneer, structure, process and HR sloganeering. Instead I tend to look at power/politics,relationships and trust, and Darwin.

I have no naive stars in my eyes which prod me to promulgate my world view about what organizations should look like. Rather, I work with what there is.

The mid east is all about survival, and equipped with this insight and applying it to organizational reality, so much falls into place.

3) Be pragmatic and get real

For many years, I was an Organization Development in the Israel Defence Forces. Liberated from commercial interests, I was free to practice OD “comme il faut”. Freed from “pleasing” the commanders for whom I worked,I learnt to challenge authority all the time. This has been a real gift to me.

However the real value of doing OD for an army of a country at war is zero tolerance for theorizing or pontificating, so to speak. Either the consulting is pragmatic or she/she is sidelined.

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Living in the Middle East is a painful, frustrating and at times debilitating reality. However,I believe I am a better consultant for having learnt and practised OD in this hopeless yet fascinating neck of the woods.

Follow me @AllonShevat

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6 thoughts on “In what way does living in the Middle East impact how I practice Organization Development

  1. As I prepare for an important contracting meeting in a few hours in the middle east. the wisdom you portrayed here is very useful.

    Being from the USA I become aware of the peculiar dynamics in play.

    Specifically I will be direct, compassionate, sensitive and empathetic.

    I will have an open conversation about trust and what is real breaking through your conveyance that things are not as they appear.

    May we all pursue truth and open, trusting, self realizing, interdependent relationships of respect so the world becomes less chaotic and more in harmony.

  2. Shalom Allon, and thank you for another forthright article replete with “insider” advice. I find your commentaries exceptionally useful as I continue to bridge relationships between China and Israel.

  3. coming from the Middle East, and beging a resident if Berlin, I can very mich relate to every word you said.

    I wonder if this could be changed , or simply should be dealt with as is

    interesting and insightful , hats off.

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