Data-Gathering, A Cornerstone of Organization Development

by | Sep 26, 2023 | Organization Development | 2 comments

Data gathering is not seen as glamorous part of organization development. Many practitioners think of it as the precursor to the exciting things that practitioners do that really make a difference. Some consider it optional and could be skipped. They are mistaken.

This article will focus on formal data gathering as an essential process in the technology of organization development. Skip it at your own risk, as you will see. By formal, I mean the initial data-gathering process used to identify the systemic, cultural behaviors that are supporting and/or hindering the success of the organization.

We will focus on interviewing as the data-gathering process of choice. It provides the richest, most reliable information, and is my favorite. There are other useful data gathering processes, such as surveys and focus groups, I may write about some other time.

The Necessity of Data Gathering

I learned the hard way never to skip the formal data-gathering process. Early in my career, a client asked me to facilitate a retreat to do some planning and reward his team with some fun. The project seemed straight forward as did the client who appeared to have his act together.

We weren’t an hour into the retreat when a conflict that had been festering for months surfaced. Blindsided, I was ill prepared to deal with the virulent acrimony. My fault for not doing a formal data-gathering process as I had been trained. I’ll not make that mistake again!

It is the rare leader who is fully up to date about the systemic dynamics of their teams and other human systems. The reasons range from the perceived inaccessibility of the leader to the leader’s trust in their erroneous perceptions.

More important, leaders often miss systemic patterns because western society emphasizes individuals as the fundamental unit of society and organizations. Identifying those potent systemic patterns makes organization development the powerhouse technology it is. We identify systemic problems and use identified systemic strengths to resolve them. We do that through data gathering.

Transforming Client-Offered Solutions

Leaders have a strong tendency to ask consultants (internal or external) to implement solutions. They ask us to coach, to facilitate a retreat, to conduct management training, or to resolve some other ill-advised issue.

Agreeing to such solutions without data gathering can lead to poor results and unfortunate reputations. A formal data-gathering process allows us to offer the client a systemic analysis that will identify issues more precisely and generate stronger solutions.

I will not work with clients who refuse to allow my data-gathering process. Making a significant difference with each client is important to me and my reputation. I can only do that by transforming client-offered solutions into more effective projects via my formal data-gathering process.

Data Gathering Is a Significant Intervention

I was asked to work with a group of partners in a financial consulting organization. The presenting task (a solution) was to coach the CEO to be a stronger leader. A third of the way through a dozen interviews with the partners, I was clear that a significant and unresolved conflict between the CEO or managing partner and another very senior partner was a major impediment to the success of the organization.

The two combatants were avoiding each other. Meeting in social or business settings, they treated each other with only rudimentary cordiality. The other partners had either taken a side or were avoiding involvement.

After completing the interviews, I got back to the client to share with him the systemic themes. Surprisingly, he and the very senior partner had had a significant conversation the day before. How did that happen?

The interviewing process has three purposes:

Gathering information to determine systemic strengths and weaknesses.
Building relationships which will help me facilitate the meeting where all the players will resolve the identified issues.
Coaching those interviewed regarding issues presented.
It was during the interview with the very senior partner I learned that he and the CEO were avoiding each other. I asked how that was enabling a successful organization? Of course, it wasn’t.

I suggested a conflict resolution meeting with me facilitating. After much hemming and hawing, he agreed. That set him in motion to begin rebuilding the relationship with the CEO well before the resolution meeting could even be scheduled.

That was by no means an unusual occurrence. The interviews put folks on notice that change is likely. They trigger for many people that it is time to get ahead of, or at least with, the change process.

There are several lessons here:

  • Don’t trust your client’s diagnosis. That’s your professional expertise, not theirs.
  • Data-gathering does more than gather data. It directly impacts the change process as well.
  • Data-gathering can turn simplistic request into significant projects that make a difference.

Do not skip formal data-gathering. It is essential to organization development as the most powerful technology for creating change in human systems.

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Michael F. Broom, Ph.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 https://chumans.com or michael@chumans.com

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

Click to check out his intensive programs and two-hour workshops.

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

Ask for your Free One Hour Consultation

You’ll be surprised the difference one hour can make!

CHumanS.com © Please contact us for use of our materials. All rights reserved.

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

Ask for your Free One Hour Consultation

You’ll be surprised the difference one hour can make!

CHumanS.com © Please contact us for use of our materials. All rights reserved.

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

Ask for your Free One Hour Consultation

You’ll be surprised the difference one hour can make!

CHumanS.com © Please contact us for use of our materials. All rights reserved.

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