The practice of organization development is difficult. Successful practitioners must…

  1. Support potential clients to take the risk that your services are worth their effort and will produce the desired results.
  2. Consistently make a difference through changing resistant, problematic group norms and organizational culture.

Here are five mindsets organization development practitioners must master to succeed in both areas!

 Own and Be True to Your Expertise

Potential clients frequently ask us to carry out transactional solutions that are not supported by systemic analysis and have little chance of producing sustainable results. It is tempting to accept such tasks from our perception of the client’s authority and/or our need for clients.

Training jobs and retreat facilitations are examples of requests that rarely make a substantive difference unless managed through the systemic and collaborative processes of organization development.

 Our expertise as organization development practitioners is understanding human systems dynamics in a way that allows us to support systemic, root-cause problem solving to build and sustain great teams and organizations.

 This set of knowledge and skills is clients rarely in their backgrounds. Their expertise is typically business operations.

Rather than agreeing to transactional solutions, I ask…

  • What problem would that solution solve?
  • Would you like to solve the problem at its root so that it does not reoccur?

 I then explain my data-gathering process, where I will identify the systemic issues that are at the root of the client’s issue and the resolution of which will improve team and organizational engagement and productivity.

 My mentor Don Klein taught me to never trust a client’s diagnosis and proposed solutions. They rarely have the depth of understanding of human systems needed for better accuracy. The day-to-day activities of running their businesses are their priority and strength.

Be a Partner not a Subordinate nor A Superior

The key human system tools we use to help clients create the needed changes are collaboration and consensus building. These are the processes that build relationships and develop the best decisions. Developing a collaborative relationship with the client is where that starts.

Some practitioners experience the client as an authority figure to be obeyed or as the key to needed work and funds. Other practitioners are clear that they are superior to the client—more experienced, more skillful, smarter, or wiser.

 A perspective of being submissive or superior obviates any chance of the collaborative partnership needed between client and practitioner. Both client and practitioner must feel free to be forthright and capable of expressing disagreement whenever needed.

 A successful project calls for the strengths of both the client and the practitioner.

This can be particularly troublesome for internal practitioners subject to an organization’s hierarchy and can be difficult for externals as well.

 Be Okay with Being Uncomfortable

A significant role that we must play with our clients and their teams includes challenging their fuzzy thinking and helping them confront dynamics they are likely to find distasteful, included in that are likely to be their own problematic behavior and unresolved conflicts.

 We live in a conflict averse society. We’re socialized to avoid rocking the boat with bad news, conflict, or most anything that might create discomfort. Clients and their teams are often skilled at blaming, denial, and passive aggression to avoid overt discomfort. As organization development practitioners, we support our clients to get past these impediments to higher levels of engagement and productivity.

 Being members of the same society, we will experience discomforts as we challenge our clients’ fuzzy thinking and help them deal with the unpleasant truths and resolve the unresolved.

 To do our jobs regardless of our discomfort, hold tight to the fact the discomfort hasn’t killed anyone yet and is often the leading edge of growth. Helping clients clarify their fuzzy thinking and getting on the other side of unresolved conflicts is a major part of how we help our clients get to the desired levels of engagement and productivity we can help them create.

 The Client’s Problems Are Never Our Problems

The client’s problem is never our problem; we help them solve their own problems.

 Many of us have strong leadership skills and it is tempting to simply take reins and get done what needs to be done. We love being the fixer. Others of us, on automatic, automatically see it as our personal responsibility to bring the project to success.

 Both stances make it very difficult to leave clients and their systems stronger than we found them. We support clients to solve their own problem through broadened perspectives and stronger relationships. Their problems are not ours (we have our own). Do not make their problems yours.

To Know Thyself Is To Be Humble

We have the same ego challenges, biases, and judgments that our clients are prone to. A skill that we have worked on, however, is awareness of our ego, biases, and judgements to a degree that allows us to manage them rather than their managing us. This essence of conscious use of self is what we must pass on to our clients.

 Conscious use of self, the mastery of which is ephemeral, creates humility from the knowledge of our own fallibility, no matter how erudite we are or how many degrees and years of experience we may have.

 With each project, the practice of “Zen mind, beginner’s mind” is so useful. Treat each project, client, and group as T. S. Eliot offers to us:

 “We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.

 In closing, the practice of organization development is the most powerful technology there is for managing change in human systems. At the same time, as practitioners, we are always swimming uphill against the problematic and seductive norms and cultures that our clients and their organization want us to help them change.

 Be diligent about the five mindsets discussed above to experience that power. In doing so, you will make the difference that is central to successful projects. You will build a reputation that will generate further success and make our world bit by bit better than it is now.


Michael F. Broom, Pd.D., CEO, Center for Human Systems,

is an organization development psychologist of 45 years of

experience with all kinds of people and organizations.

He is the author of The Infinite Organization, and Power, The Infinite Game.
Michael Broom smiling

Formerly of Johns Hopkins University, he is a Lifetime Achievement Award honoree of the OD Network.

Contact Dr. Broom for a free hour consultation at

You’ll be surprised by the difference a single hour can make!

~~~ ~~~

Contact Dr. Michael F. Broom of the Center for Human Systems now

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You’ll be surprised the difference one hour can make! © Please contact us for use of our materials. All rights reserved.

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