Just a few tips about doing OD outside a North American context (updated 2023)

For the OD practitioner who has work to do in geographies where the values upon which OD is based are not dominant, here are my top ten tips.

1) It may take more time to build trust. In a 90 minute initial interview, don’t expect to get reliable diagnostic input. And understand that this is an advantage, because when eventually people do open up, the level of cooperation will be higher.

2) Many things are left unsaid. And you must listen intensely to what is unsaid. If you ask a direct question and get a fuzzy answer, you know you are onto something. But do not probe. Listen to what is inferred.

3) If you prefer to be called by your first name, wait a while before you impose this on the people that you are speaking with. THEY need to be more comfortable than you.

4) You can use events that have not yet happened to get better answers than you can from analysing events that went wrong. Future events can help save face which has not yet been lost. Past events involve talking about lost face.

5) Don’t assume that just because someone you speak to has excellent English that this person knows what is going on. Quite the contrary; excellent English can indicate a returning resident who may not know that lay of the land.

6) If at all possible, don’t take notes in first discussion. Try to remember what you are told and jot down notes after the meeting.

7) Take into account that many of your values can be irrelevant or held as distasteful. If, for example, you are a 26 year old female interviewing a 67 year old man, there may so much background noise that all the data is tinted. Politically correct-no! Correct? Yes.

8) Show respect and understanding to people who are stonewalling you. Hint to them as follows, “I understand what you are saying, yet I would like to talk you again at another time, so that we feel more comfortable to develop a better understanding of the issues. I appreciate that this is not yet possible.” 

9) If local culture dictates that the best way to get information is to gossip, then gossip. And if you need to get drunk to get an answer, get drunk.

10) Take a stand and ask for a reaction. This may bypass an interviewees’ objections about being direct. For example, “It seems to me that Mike does not really understand the local culture. Am I wrong”? Then check one more time. “I think that Amy (a local) preferred working with Leonard (Mike’s predecessor). Am I correct?”

11) Political correctness is not a universal religion. Many languages have honorifics. Most cultures are hierarchical. Do not force feed your beliefs, language acrobatics or uniquely bizarre beliefs on others.

12) Move from formality to informality carefully. The other direction is impossible.














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4 thoughts on “Just a few tips about doing OD outside a North American context (updated 2023)

  1. Excellent insights, as always Allon.

    One thing though, regarding note taking. My memory isn’t that great to remember after the interview. Here in the U.S., I take notes in a way that allows the interviewee to see what I’m writing & correct me if I get it wrong. Would that work in the cultures you’re referring to?

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