The biases of Western OD

I practice OD all over the world. I work with Thais, Japanese, Israelis, Russians, Indians, Americans, Canadians, Brits, Dutch and Germans. I initially  tried to use classical, Western OD and failed. As a result, I have adapted OD to global practice, basically by letting go of the western basic assumptions on which OD is based.

Western OD focuses on  humanistic values, and endeavours to  realize the full potential of individuals. Western OD puts emphasis a wide and complex set of peoples’ overall needs, which are important in work and for life in general.

Western OD focuses on creating an inclusive and empowering environment in which leadership shows the way, inspiring and empowering  people to fulfill their mission.

When working in groups which are truly global and encompass a wide range of cultures and very acute diversity, there are many differences that one notices immediately, which questions the universal validity of OD’s assumptions.

1) In many parts of the world, group identity is far more salient than individual identity.

2) In many parts of the world, power is not at all shared, the ability to influence is very safeguarded as an extremely rare resource. In short, leaders and followers have mutual expectations in their genetic code which cannot be changed, even by classical OD.

3) The organizational needs of human beings’ vary all over the world. ( Bill may want his boss Fred to consult him before acting, yet Song may expect Sumchai to dictate with compassion).

Given the above, the very foundations and basic assumptions upon which Western OD is based, are not universally applicable. And this is not “cultural diversity”; what I claim is that people do not share the same genetic code about organizing.

This makes the art of communicating about organizing so challenging, especially since the massive use of English makes a lot of things sound “apparently similar”. This apparent similarity is very shallow.

While all folks use the same words, deep differences appear under the surface. A few examples will suffice.

1-The West values partial transparency the East values discretion.

2-In some places, teamwork is seen as “cool”; in other places it is betraying your boss.

3- In some quarters, win win is something to strive for; in others, win win is stupidity at best and suicide at worst.

3-Empowerment provides an opportunity to develop others; empowerment means giving away the crown jewels of a rare resource.

4-Participatory decision making makes better decisions; top down dictates sweetened with compassion is the way to best make decisions.

The role of value-flexible, global  OD consultant is  to ensure that one set of values does not over rule the other. In other words, OD should not purvey its own values, but rather  enable a dialogue between contradictory values within organizations.

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4 thoughts on “The biases of Western OD

  1. Thanks allon, this is a reminder of one of stephen covey’s principle of seeking first to understand before expecting to be understood. We would best serve our clients all over the world if we took time to understand them from their context rather than imposing our assumptions and presumptions. While you are offering advice from your experiences, there is an overriding principle as stated above.

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