Action Research

The Grubb School of Organisational Analysis partners with other organisations to develop and deliver Action Research that contributes to the transformation of human capacity in organisations that serve the common good. We are excited to showcase action research carried out by leaders who have participated in our programmes.


Examples of Action Research


Transforming the management culture of an engineering plant in Holland

A senior engineering manager, expert in factory Full Service management, was charged with undertaking the full service of a paper plant in Europe. The work involved his taking over as Maintenance Manager for the whole plant during the period of the full service agreement being responsible for the Maintenance Department’s regular activities in the plant while implementing the Full Service concept, integrating this with the day to day business of the paper plant.

On taking up the position, he soon discovered a culture of resourceless dependence across all the plant’s employees. They were happy while working with what was familiar and within their bounded sphere of influence, but anything that involved grappling with new and unfamiliar challenges were passed on to their senior manager. This was especially true when anything involved cross department liaison which was the normal state of working as the Maintenance Department and the plant’s overall operations.

The assumption the Manager made was that ‘Full Service’ included both the technical engineering dimensions of service – the management of work flow and reliability of work done – as well as the behavioural changes that would be called for in terms of carrying out maintenance. In short, the expectation was that Full Service was undertaken through a partnership relationship with operational staff which delivered an integrated service to the ‘client’. Given the dependent culture across the plant, bringing about the behavioural changes involved in establishing and working as partners proved to be extremely difficult.

Using knowledge and skills from the Masters’ degree, the Full Service Manager began a process of training in co-creation and self-authorisation, carried out on the-spot, teaching the Maintenance Department staff about ways of using power and authority appropriately in relation to purpose – in this case in relation to consciously working to the operational and business objectives of the Department, the plant itself and of the global organisations. At first he was met with stubborn, passive resistance but slowly he was able to demonstrate through the way he took his own role, that he was offering something that was practical and effective in terms of developing more efective ways of leading and managing as a collaborative team which achieved tasks such as reliability and predictable work-flow. He introduced ways of working in management meetings where co-creation and taking authority of the effectiveness of the work one did, became the normal way of working. This contrasted with the passing of the buck which had prevailed before.

The effect of this was that managers who had behaved continuously in ‘fire-fighting mode’, rushing from crisis to crisis began to develop a sense of shared priorities and coherent ways of working together. He focused on working to purpose, defining that as what was being called for from the context of the Maintenance system (ie the other operational departments. Working in role was how he described to those he worked with, seeking to embody the cycle of finding, making and taking his own role and this, through his own behaviour creating a purposeful climate in the Department.

This new culture, at first nurtured in the Maintenance Department and then in the operational departments with which the Department’s staff engaged, began to spread wider and wider. He described this as a ‘ripple effect’ which meant that the purposeful culture began to spread slowly across the whole plant. However, about mid-way through the Service a serious fire broke out that halted both production and the full service process. The impact of this was substantial.
The old culture of ‘fire-fighting’ (sic) returned. The regression to old familiar ways of working occurred, with the ‘old captains’ reverting to type. The changes that had been achieved over months were lost in a few days.

The Full Service Manager had to pick himself up and start again. As he said of himself, he was able to take up the lead through this challenging situation, not simply because he had full confidence in himself as an experienced engineer, but he also had confidence in the knowledge and the skills acquired on the MA programme. He had found that he had developed new and powerful ways of thinking and leading, embodied in how he went about his own work in his role as a senior engineering manager. Over several gruelling months the advance was recovered as the kinds of behaviour in role began to re-gain traction.

Once normal work was back track, he collected evidence of the impact of his leadership. At first this came in a way that was unexpected but most gratifying. In the survey he conducted, the respondents characteristically described what they had achieved as having ‘done it themselves’. He recognised this as his having made a move from having been a ‘change maker’, to becoming a ‘change facilitator’: his staff knew that change had taken place and – rightly – claimed credit for having brought it about. His own further observations were that, over the longer term, he began to discover that the ripple of the changed culture became observable, not simply within the paper plant, but the ‘partnership’ culture was also evident with the company’s suppliers.

A Swiss community devises a radical new provision for school leavers with learning difficulties

The Participant is the Director of a special school for children with developmental disabilities in Switzerland. These students’ present skills and difficulties, which are extremely heterogenic, often resulting in an orientation based on their greatest difficulty rather than emerging talents or intellectual competence. There was no provision for higher education for these students, resulting primarily in an orientation for manual work in protected environments.

Her organisation received a mandate from the state department for developing the continuing education and orientation for students with learning disabilities who had reached the end of their official schooling. While in one way the mandate was welcome, she was faced with the problem that nationally and locally the Swiss educational context is fragmented, contributed to by the four different languages, three regions, different tiers of government, different business and community interests, different professional interests around children and, of course, the families and the young people themselves.

Her approach was to begin by examining all the phases and interfaces involved, first from a conceptual perspective, and then to move to implementation. First she developed a systemic model of all the different bodies that had some investment in the issue, noting their diversity and potentially conflicted these might be. Then she evolved a structured plan which would be most likely to deliver benefits to the young people in whose interests they were all working. This was based on the hypothesis that, since all the interested bodies were real players in the whole, developing a way of working together as stakeholders in a whole system would be most likely to win the necessary support. As she contemplated what she was
considering, she was daunted at the scale and potential complexity.

The methodology was designed to create a Forum in which to question the situation by mobilising the range of community representatives to devise an innovative programme together that afforded students with learning difficulties, the possibility of extending their education on the basis of their desire for learning. The Forum was made up of the young people themselves (former students having experienced the same difficulties in their orientation), the different government bodies, men and women from the community, teachers, specialists, and parents. She also recruited as an expert to the Forum, a well-known anthropologist, specialising in adolescence, who was a visiting professor.

The Forum was to bring forth the ideas, hypothesis and experiences which would help to envision the project as a whole. It was to be an encounter, not a ‘conference’ or a ‘committee’, in which it was necessary that each group identify clearly their role and the way in which this role could serve the system.

The Forum’s shared objective was to mark the passage from childhood to adulthood by offering experiences which could favour the relation with the world around them and help cultivate understanding from reflecting on what that called for from them. They also proposed new experiences that would help the students discover the professional world and work environments so as to have real representations for imagining and creating possibilities. They set out to permit orientation and to present learning as a source for wonder and evolution. Their intention was to hope for possible encounters that can create the kinds of opportunities the young people wanted.

Her own leadership was based on using what she was working with in the MA – concepts, models and methodologies – including the Transforming Experience Framework and U-Theory.

The FORUM went very well, which she described as ‘an amazing experience of thinking ‘collectively’.

Through relations created during the Forum, a new higher education program has been created and implemented. With new partnerships within culturally oriented institutions such as museums, theatres, music schools and libraries, a three year study program is offered which will give certification for working within culturally oriented institutions such as these. This program is financed jointly by state and federal agencies in conjunction with the agency for cultural affairs. This is the first time that these different agencies have worked together on a common project.

By working with the different partners from business and industry they are currently creating a centre where students could continue their education while preparing or putting into place projects for companies and the community. Students will be able to organize seminars for businesses, run projects for research and study groups shared with public schools for example, in areas such as community projects related to animation and cultural activities. Several projects were put into place with people from the group of businessmen and women. The state department has accepted the financing for the centre, which will propose services to businesses and the community.

Concretely the Forum facilitated:

  • Students who are able to obtain their professional training through partnerships with private institutions which are publicly oriented in a cultural setting, after having been refused by the federal program.
  • Reinforcement of partnerships within and among the systems concerned, with a real feeling of movement.
  • New ideas and projects emerging from the students and the team which were implemented successfully.
  • New collaborations were initiated and reinforced between the different programs for adolescents and young adults with perceptible energy and enthusiasm.
An academy in the UK develops an effective new approach to inclusion

The Participant was a member of the senior leadership team (SLT) of an Academy formed through the amalgamation of two low attaining schools. The commission to the Governors and the SLT was to change the reputation and image of the new Academy by raising the level of academic results. Her designated responsibility was for Inclusion. This involved behaviour management, special educational needs and English as an additional language. On taking up her post, the students were not achieving academically, attendance was low, indicating that many students were not engaged, and fixed term and permanent exclusions were high. Staff morale was low and trust in the leadership very low. The government’s preoccupation with raising academic results increased the pressure to concentrate on target setting, without addressing the underlying issues that might be related to poor performance.

The Participant was faced with being responsible for some 40 staff members consisting of Teaching Assistants, Special Need experts and pastoral staff. She found that they were fragmented into sub-groups with no sense of being part of a multi-disciplined team. So she set about establishing the boundary of a system which could contain cohesive practice of inclusion, and set about naming and narrating the change that was needed. She designed and carried out a sequence of three interventions. In these she deployed the concepts and methods from the Masters’ programme.

The first was focused around enabling the members of the Inclusion Team learning to belong to the systems in which they engaged with the teaching staff. Unless they felt they belonged, the students with whom they worked would be unlikely to learn to engage with those classroom systems themselves. In the second, the Team members were invited to work at their own maturity. They designed and then implemented a range of projects which would address issues of students becoming more mature in their approach to their work in the classroom by understanding their own accountability for what happened around them. This work was achieved by using focused but non-threatening questions derived from work from the Master’s programme, which supported the staff in identifying their own accountability for what happened. The third intervention involved changing the nature of the weekly staff meeting to focus on the real achievements of the preceding week and planning how to address the coming week.

The impact of these interventions was to enable the Team to work at surfacing from their own practice the shared purpose to which they could work with greater sense of achievement and pride.

Having stabilised the Inclusion Team, the Participant turned her attention to inclusion in the whole Academy. This raised a major challenge. A substantial proportion of the students came from Roma and travelling communities. The close knit nature of these communities, with their own language, culture, history and values created serious tensions which often led to violence in school. This was quickly followed by enraged parents, motivated by rumours, often with little substance, coming into the school to take on the staff, especially the SLT, in the interests of their children. These issues went beyond the scope of the Inclusion Team per se.

Building on what had been achieved at the level of the Inclusion Team, the Participant recognised that the underlying issues of values and beliefs were key to tackling them. She began a process of equipping the SLT to work at these, drawing on the concept of Connectedness with Source which was a major challenge given the determinedly secular culture in the school. The issues posed by the Roma and travelling people, with their cultural emphasis on morality and spirituality, allowed her to explore and speak about morality and ‘how best to be good’ in the SLT’s plans for developing new policies . With responsibility for a new behaviour policy, she was able to consider emergent morality in relation to the development of students and to lead the SLT to taking responsibility for the way in which the purpose of the Academy, included how all students could get in touch with their own moral frameworks without coming into conflict with others.

This provided a basis for sensible and practical ways for the Academy to handle the community issues that had been erupting within its boundaries, drawing in particular on the learning and skills of the Inclusion Team. This steadily led to defusing much of the volatility and enabling parents to have greater trust in the provision being given to their sons and daughters. Attendance from the children of the Roma community steadily improved as did their behaviour.

Overall the impact of the new Inclusion agenda upon the Academy as a whole was striking over the two years. Permanent exclusions were down by 40%; fixed term exclusions by 87%; while overall attendance across a population of 1,400 students was up by 2%.

Developing a new Provincial leadership culture in a Religious Order in South East Asia

The Participant was a religious brother, in an order who lived in small religious
communities and specialised in education and work with young people. The
Participant had been elected to the International Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) for
the whole order. He had responsibility, along with a colleague, for the South Asia
Province (a region) which covered the Indian sub-continent. The SLT had charged
the pair with tackling the leadership challenges faced in this multicultural Province,
related to its major differences of language, culture, geography and religious
variety. This diversity of contexts was creating severe difficulties which had crept
into the Provincial Team and had seeped down into the men working in the schools
and other places where initiatives were taking place. This undermined morale and
was causing personal stresses and, in some cases, unacceptably difficult behaviour
amongst some of the communities in which the brothers lived. He decided to use
this assignment as his project, by undertaking a leadership development
intervention. He gained the necessary consent of the SLT as a whole, his SLT
colleague and the members of the Provincial Team. The Provincial Team
emphasised their wish that the design should strengthen relationships within the
team and to provide space for further reflection, both individually and together.

The design involved a half day of orientation, individual consultations sessions at
the beginning of the Programme, and three two-day workshops on the themes of
Personal and Institutional Transformation; Working to Purpose; The Joy of Realising;
and A Way Forward, and individual consultations which brought the Programme to a
close. Given the human resources available within the team, the facilitators were
optimistic that the collective capacity of the group could be tapped to bring about
personal transformations leading to an institutional transformation in the Province.
Organisational concepts and methods were used as primary tools to process the
dynamics throughout the Programme. In particular, as the Programme progressed,
it became increasingly clear that individual and collective reflection, used from a
spiritual perspective, became increasingly powerful for the work of the Provincial
Team, both within the Programme and in their work in the Province.

In particular this enabled them to appreciate the resources that existed in the
Province. They were surprised to find that there were ‘more’ resources in the
Province rather than the ‘less’ they had been imagining. They discovered a new
consciousness in ‘presencing‘ a new collective leadership capacity to meet
challenges in a more conscious, intentional and strategic way. This connected it to
the spiritual dimension of the consecrated life – vocation – that they had embraced
on entering the order. They realised the systemic effect that the dimension of their
spirituality had on other systems in the Province and the order as a whole. The lack
of this ‘source’ has provoked a struggle for a number of years.

An independent evaluation showed that the Programme had offered them the space
to exercise their personal authority in making their own decisions in line with the
charism (purpose) of the order. More than that the two SLT members discovered
that they were promoting a leadership style with their senior colleagues that would
imbue all the members of the order with sufficient strength and confidence to be
passionate, radical and prophetic in responding to their life call and thus bring
about positive change in the lives of their confreres not only in South Asia, but
across the whole order.

Developing an innovative programme in Iceland on the silent language of leadership

After many years running her own consultancy business and as a senior member of
OD teams in global corporations, this graduate became increasingly convinced that
the prevailing approaches to leadership and organisational development were
failing to pay attention to the silent messages that leaders and managers convey
without being aware of what is being communicated. These silent communications
(which are more than ‘body language’) are often more powerful in creating the
culture which either facilitates or inhibits teams in working to purpose. They
communicate the subconscious processes within the aspiring leader.

As an experienced horsewoman she was aware that horses are highly sensitive to
those silent messages, which emanate from one’s deeply held assumptions about
the use of authority and power. So she decided to focus her MA project on the
creation of a new business in which she would team up with horses as ‘coaches’ for
managers, so that they could become more aware of their impact at the sub-liminal
level. She learned from the Masters’ project to use the knowledge and skills
developed during the MA to master the processes of surfacing her own
assumptions, subjecting them to rigorous scrutiny and taking all the decisions and
actions needed to create a new business from scratch. This included planning the
organisational design, the practical work of workshop development, marketing,
researching results and publicity, without which her new business could not have
got off the ground.

The business has now been in existence for two years and the work is attracting a
widening circle of personal and corporate clients to more and more frequent
residential events. The business is also linking up with others in similar fields of
work on the silent aspect of leadership, in some cases with horses, in other cases
with art or body work.

The youth wing of a Palestinian political party finds new spirit and direction

The project came to this Participant as an invitation from the youth wing of the
Kensett’s Palestinian Assembly Party to consult to them in developing their identity
as a body that would raise political and social awareness amongst young
Palestinians and enable them to engage more effectively both socially and politically
through the establishment of semi- independent entity managed by the youth .
This was expected to include education in the dialectical dynamics between the
youth organisation and the Assembly Party itself as well as developing practical
projects on the ground. Inevitably this work involved two strands: the first
concerned the political struggle of the Palestinians in Israel; the second concerned
how the younger generation could participate responsibly in that context.

The work was to be with the leadership team in the first place. Though intelligent
and with significant experience of social activism, the team’s functioning as a
leadership group failed to reflect this in the way they worked. From the beginning
the consultant encountered ambivalent and chaotic behaviour amongst them.
There was resistance to formalisation: there were no written goals; meetings were
postponed without notice; projects were set up but never started; some of those
that began were dropped without explanation. It became clear that the way the
leadership team functioned was more geared to meet their own individual needs
than to further the purpose of the organisation, which threatened its survival. As
the consultant put it to them, they were running a ‘self-consuming organisation’
which could not survive unless radical change in their ways of working came about.
His point was that he interpreted their invitation to him as being to help them to
institutionalise the enterprise and become an organisation with a shared sense of
purpose in relation to the complex context of Palestinian and Israeli politics and

He realised that what was required was work which would enable them to replace
their immature behaviour with an understanding about systems and roles in
context. This would effectively mobilise and direct the energy derived from their
ideologies in creative rather than destructive ways. They needed a language and
ways of working which would support the purposeful transformation of their
dysfunctional organisation by enabling them to become more autonomous and
mature in their ways of working together and with the parent political party. This
meant that the consultant needed to work on how he took his own role in ways that
were unexpected by the client. He recognised that how they experienced his
behaviour in role would be key to leading them in finding, making and taking their
own leadership roles in the youth organisation. To do this he drew on concepts and
methods about finding, making and taking roles from the Masters’ degree he had
been taking part in, adapting them to the specific setting of this assignment.

Working on the systemic issues about institutionalisation rather than becoming
embroiled in the lengthy, volatile and unfruitful discussions about the politics of the
struggle and about desired political achievements, which only led to frustration and
paralysis, the leadership group learned ‘how to do things’ effectively. This involved
developing a realistic sense of purpose, leading to a new sense of their appropriate
relatedness to the host political party, with properly defined boundaries for work,
and a realistic sense of their accountability to one another and to others. They
discovered the organisations real identity and their part in it as mature leaders. As
a result, by a route that had not been anticipated by the client, the original contract
was fully completed and even more significantly than seemed possible at first.

A new event improves the effective learning of Business Students in a South American University

A lecturer in the Management School in a Catholic University in South America
became increasingly aware that his last year students were ‘leading a double life’.
These were the ‘life’ they were leading in the University as students and the ‘life’
they were leading as managers in the placements that they worked in. They were
not handling the movement to and fro between these two lives. The lecturer
recognised that the emotional tension and fatigue that this was creating was
causing underperformance in both systems. He tested this through a series of
structured interviews with students, using methods from the Grubb Institute MA he
was on.

Because of its unique practice of placements, the Business School was regarded as
a ‘freak’ in the University as whole: in other Schools, students and Faculty occupied
a system in which the staff controlled what happened. But in the Business School,
the in-School work and the placement experience had practical implications for
everyone, staff and students. So he repeated the interviews with a sample of
Business School lecturers. These interviews revealed the extent to which the
lecturers themselves were also ‘leading a double life’ failing to integrate effectively
their own work in the School with consultancy they were offering to businesses.

The analysis of all the evidence revealed the extent to which the rapid and
substantial expansion of the School’s student intake was putting all its procedures
under strain for all concerned. The defence that was being deployed was to take
refuge in rigid bureaucratic behaviours which undermined imagination and
creativity, and weakened everyone’s capacity to approach decisions and offer
effective leadership in both the School and the workplace. The analysis also
revealed that both students and lecturers believed that business science, as a
discipline, could be a major factor in raising standards and effectiveness in the
well-being of the country as a whole. It was a surprise to discover the extent to
which values, beliefs, spiritualty and ethics were seen as central to the nation’s
wealth creation and well-being, especially since the country’s natural resources
were at risk of being exploited in ways that were destructive to it in the long-run.

To address the issue, he set about designing a new curriculum which introduced
several new topics including an ‘inter-system event’ in which students and Faculty
came together to explore on a regular basis their experiences in the two ‘lives’ in
order to discover what resources they had between them to deal with the tension.
The decision led to the revelation of ungtapped resources in the students and the
lecturers. Important amongst these was the capacity of students to manage those
resources and talents creatively. The research and consultancy work that the
lecturers were doing could be used to enrich the work of the students with a mutual
benefit to the lecturers. The working relations between students and lecturers
became one of collaboration rather than resourceless dependence.

As the study progressed new realisation that emerged: for lecturers and students,
studying business was something that everyone felt contributed to their pride in
their country, which was itself underpinned by their Catholicism.2 Using their own
theological and spiritual understanding, ways of bridging the apparently parallel
experiences emerged. Finding an overarching set of values, enabled the ‘double
lives’ to become two different perspectives on their shared experience of what it
means to take roles in two systems and to integrate the distinct priorities of each
system in the context of the needs of their nation.

The Participant commented a year after completing his Masters’ that his staff
colleagues now approach their work in the School in a different way: they see
themselves as mentors, in a joint working relationship with students, rather than
academic supervisors. Their work with students now has a new action-research
quality, which they find exciting.

2 The significance of this is underlined by the fact that the Lecturer was himself an atheist.

Developing Insight at a UK Borough Council: (a ‘failure’?)

The purpose of this research project was to study a complex organisational
improvement project related to central government recommendations to design a
new shared “insight function” at a Borough Council in the UK. This idea was seeded
by a UK Government initiative where a “whole area” concept approach to mapped
total public spending in a local area with generative efficiencies through joined-up
thinking. The project took into account the interconnecting forces and factors
affecting the Council’s service users, so as to focus on how outcomes could meet
underlying needs, rather than short-term outputs. At the same time, the financial
context was a Government directive which called for 30% cuts on the Council’s cost
by the year 2013. These factors caused the Council to rethink its working methods,
which served a sensitive multi-ethnic mix of people. It was important for the
project to focus on improving the quality of decision-making. This project was to
break new ground, transforming a culture habitually working in disconnected silos
of activity.

The Participant was the lead member of a consortium of consultants commissioned
to develop this insight based approach to tackling the problem of silo mentalities.

The consultants’ first working hypothesis was that insight involved an
interconnected journey of discovery to unlock deeper understanding for the
traveller(s), to reveal existing resources which often remain untapped because
frustrations of language are both a barrier and a potential resource to the real
relations that connect people.

The project depended on enhancing the levels of perception through which staff
experienced their working world resulting from how they were led. It was evident
that language often kept them unknowingly disconnected, maintaining an illusion
that they understood each other, leaving them feeling that they did not need to
reach out to understand ‘the other’ fully: so communication failed. It was evident
that insight was as much a behaviour as an outcome. The project design set out to
enable the client to know how to live insight as a culture.

The core work needed to address three prevailing cultural issues: not going too
deep; avoiding important conversations; dismissing an ‘other’ because they are
different. Organisational transformation involves engaging in the messy everyday
conflict of connection attempts across boundaries, adjusting one’s views and taking
the next step. This involved entering an underworld of discovery, such that what
the client began with was not recognisable when held against what they ended up

The project was designed as an experiential journey of sense-making and
exploration of how language and diversity affected the work of the Directorates.
The exploration was of how all Departments did what they did and why, and how
that impacted on others. This was intended to unite stakeholders in a shared
journey of discovery through gaining living insight into the working of the system
of the Council as a whole and how that could assist generation of a “Fairer Future”
in the community (the Council’s strap line).

The approach developed by the consortium of consultants was to work to make
meaning of the lived experience they had themselves, seen as a fractal of the
experience of the Council as a whole. They were a ‘sponge’, soaking up the
emotional moisture in which they were working and analysing it. The team devoted
significant time in working together to make sense of their own experience, in
order to develop an evidence based understanding of the whole system of which
they were a temporary part. To do this, they used concepts and methods drawn
from the MA. In particular, at the heart of their work lay developing understanding
leadership and management in terms of boundary definition and the management
of transactions across them.

This stance called for the consultants to hold themselves in true authenticity and
humility and to contain their own agenda and to stay connected and accompanying
the client.

The second working hypothesis, which emerged in the later part of the project, was
that leaders in the Council were actively disengaged from the project’s energetic
exchange of human interaction. This was because of their anxieties about
‘annihilation’. In organisational life continuous letting go – ‘dying’ – is a part of
‘living’ with which leaders, especially at executive level, must become familiar.
Without a capacity to manage the effect of both one’s own anxieties and of those
one leads, real transformation cannot take place. Political life with its polarised
culture and its regular cycle of elections faces this paradox almost more acutely
than any other sphere of life.

In this Council the elected politicians and their senior staff were actively disengaged
from the energetic exchange of human interaction which the majority of their staff
faced, because of their anxieties about ‘dying to themselves’. This left staff
focusing on personal and departmental survival. The unrecognised impact of
language differences produced scarcity mind-sets, as people lost the living force of
leadership that could help them both to live and to let go – in a way that connected
them to one another and to the common good, for which the Council existed.

However, awareness at the middle management level, at which the project was
commissioned to work, turned out to be an unrecognised part of the ‘silo mentality’
that bedevilled the whole Council. But this was not vertically bounded silos (which
the consultants were addressing quite successfully), but horizontally bounded silos
between different levels in the Council. Contrasted with the relational, workshop
approach used at first the Chief Executive and his team categorically commanded
that the outputs and insights of the work to them were to be in the form of a
powerpoint presentation. Then they would sanction any new recommendations.
The consultants’ suggested pre- and post-presentation reflection time with
Executive Team members, in order to mitigate the possible ‘freezer-effect’ on the
delivery of this complex project of the way top level management had engaged with
the project. The request was refused on the basis that the CMT were too busy and
it was up to the Directorates to come up with the ‘answers’. The significance of the
process itself being essential to any transformation failed to be grasped.

The conclusion the Participant drew from this project was that Insight is a Journey,
not a Noun. Everyone in an organisation needs to be part of developing a shared
insight as a necessary agent of transformation. Improvement programmes in public
institutions that are intended to provide ‘greater intelligence’, fail to do so when
sufficient depths of authenticity and relating inside themselves are not achieved at
all levels, because of the challenge of containing the necessary anxieties of the
work, which in turn is due to a cultural mental model that is limited in its ability
work with the level of complexity of day’s challenges. This springs from the anxiety
generated by a climate of ‘scarcity’ which results in tunnel vision and an inability to
see beyond the familiar, reinforcing the very problems one seeks to solve.

Postscript A year after the project came to an end, the Participant was told by the
project’s commissioning officer, the Head of Strategy, that he had been asked by
the Chief Executive to develop the project’s principles himself across the Council!
He proposed using what he had learned to respond to this request.

3 It is important to recognise that participants were not assessed in terms of the ‘success’ of
their project but on their use of the skills a organisational analysts.

A new leadership spirit is established in a children’s hospice in German speaking country

The Participant had been working in a children’s hospice as an external supervisor
accompanying staff in their work for seven years. The hospice provides space for
eight children with life-shortening illnesses and for some of their parents and
siblings. It was part of a private foundation, mainly responsible for fund raising,
which raised and donated a huge amount of money to cover the hospice’s operating

There had been a high turnover of hospice managers since its foundation, which he
felt needed addressing. He asked if he could use his work to develop the
organisation’s first management team as his project and dissertation in his
transition to becoming an organisational analyst. The client agreed and his work
took place over a period of more than a year. To mark the difference from his
earlier supervisory function he devoted his work entirely to the management team,
working with a different rhythm of meetings. The agreed aim was “To accompany
the management team on their transition to becoming a management team offering
real leadership in the children’s hospice”. The agenda was to be around strategic
operational and team management issues.

The Participant struck by the structural complexity around the organisation worked
with its Charitable Foundation. Each component of the infrastructure had different
characteristics and intentions with implications for the hospice.

In the first months of working he discovered that the organisation lacked
fundamental things such as rules, regulations and a developed concept of purpose.
There were some standard procedures for the standard care treatment, but no
guidelines on how to behave when a child dies, and no space for remembering the
deceased children. The idea of a being a ‘hospice’, providing palliative care for
children with life-shortening illness providing a place where they could die, was not
evident in the organisation in reality. This surprised him because the institution was
professionally presented to the public by the Foundation as a hospice.

Sometimes he was close to despair because of the lack of management and
leadership he encountered. He thought that reflecting again and again on the same
problems would not help. This was the major difference between the supervisory
work he had been doing with staff and consulting to a management team. The
code of practice changes accompanying supervisors every three years to maintain a
stance of being ‘neutral and abstinent’, preventing the relationship between the
supervisor and the team becoming too close. He now found he had to offer
leadership which meant engaging with emotional experience of the managers and
seeking to use that as his major resource in working with his clients.

It became clear that leadership called for him to develop a new skill in experiencing
and analysing the complex ‘bundle’ of emotions involved in working with dying
children, and seeking ways of in developing a systemic understanding which could
provide practical leadership to the management team. At first he felt impelled to
act as if he were the ‘saviour’ who had the solutions which would bale the team out
of taking the roles that were in reality theirs. He recognised that unless he provided
an example of leadership, the management team could not learn from him.

So he explored the fact that in all his time working in the organisation he had not
encountered any discussion about purpose. Approaching it from the structural
tensions between the hospice and the organisational superstructure, using the
Transforming Experience Framework to develop a spirit of enquiry he had learned
on the MA, he surfaced issues about salaries and other areas of dissatisfaction.
This led to deeper understanding of why there was an apparent ‘rift’ between the
different tasks of the operational unit and the overarching function of the Charity.
He led the management team in exploring their own sense of calling to work with
dying children and to contrast that with the more general desire on the part of the
Board of the Charity to be recognised as being do gooders/starry-eyed idealist,
people who are proud of doing good things. Their powerful fundraising capacity
rested on this. However, the trustees were reluctant to have anything to do too
closely with the death of children, nor did they need to. There was no practical
need for them to come close to the demands of the everyday work and problems.
Their task was to raise the finance needed. The managers on the other hand
needed to be motivated to be close to dying children and those who grieved for
them. What surfaced in one session was that what they wanted to be part of was
enabling children and their families to experience a good farewell.

The existential work of the management team’s leadership of the whole
organisation was to work at the boundary between these two parts of the overall
system, integrating these two different perspectives that made up the organisation
as a whole.

In the sessions with the managers it became clear that were few actual deaths.
There was long-term illness which occupied beds but which prevented real
palliative work being done. This led to a review of the admission process, in which
preference was given to terminally ill children in their last phase of life; those with
long-term illnesses were referred to suitable hospitals. This resulted in higher staff
morale and greater job satisfaction. This was evidenced in reduced staff turnover:
before the management team’s work began five staff members a year left (30% of
the staff); in the year after the project began, no-one left. A policy was developed
maintaining 20% of the beds available for immediate emergency occupation. The
levels of appreciation of the hospice’ palliative work increased amongst families,
the trustees and society.

Additionally, the Participant recognised that he had acquired a new and distinctive
skill as an organisational analyst that had delivered a real transformation in the
provision of terminal care for children which could be used as an organisational
analyst in other fields.

A project for young adults in Singapore transforms their contribution to society

To carry out her project and dissertation, the Participant approached a voluntary
organisation which had been founded in Singapore by a young woman seeking to
engage young adults in a forum which will provide them with: 1) the networks and
2) the skills in order to develop social action projects. For two years a core team of
volunteers had been working in their spare time to run workshops and conferences
for their 300 members using the resources of 20 active volunteers. The members
and volunteers ranged in age from 20-30s. The project was to formalise,
professionalise and gain clarity over their work for the future sustainability of the
organisation. The request was to assist them in developing more rigid structures
and strategies to sustain their work. The Participant worked with the core team
which had up to five volunteers in their twenties and early thirties, to enhance the
effectiveness of their role taking. Their stated vision was of “a world where our
young people feel empowered to take action so as to create the change they want
to see in this world.‟

Her working hypothesis was that an unconscious fear of creating ‘more of the same’
was limiting them. Her work revealed disconnectedness from the context in which
the organisation sought to make a difference. In a prevailing culture of compliance
and conformity, behaviour of the core group such as not attending key meetings,
not completing tasks they had agreed to, being unable to work consistently both
together and in the way they led the members, provided important evidence to
understand her hypothesis about fear of ‘creating the same’. This behaviour
indicated a phoney form of autonomy from the ‘norm’. They were preventing
themselves from fully actualising who they wanted to be through task related work
– authentic action.

To unlock the organisation from this unrealistic culture, central to her work was the
way the Participant used her lived experience in role as evidence of the state of the
organisational system to which she was consulting. This particularly included her
sharing her experiences of helplessness, obstacles to initiatives, dreams, being a
‘stranger’, being ‘different’, and being lost, as well as experiences of being
idealised as the ‘expert’ from overseas. Drawing on these as appropriate material
for work, she offered a living model of how to work with freedom in role in a
system. At first she worked in weekly team meetings with the core team, and, later
supporting them through a series of interventions with a wider circle of members.
This was emotionally demanding for her and for the members, but increasingly led
to a shared realisation that the organisation was a setting in which increasing
maturity was developed which could be applied by members in taking their roles in
their lives at work, in their families and in civil society.

Key to the work, in the culture of Singapore, was the exploration of members’ own
faiths and their experience of Connectedness with Source. This work shed light on
the spiritual nature of inherent connectedness between the organisation and the
context in which they sought to make a difference, which steadily led to greater
effectiveness on both personal and organisational levels. In one workshop a man
said: “How did we get to the end of the meeting solving all the problems? We didn’t
see you use a design system, methodology or process, which I expected you to
have. No offence, but we came up with all the answers. How did we do that?”
Revealing the resources already present in them challenged assumptions around
‘experts’ and ‘authority’, and gave them an experience of their own authority and
resources within: precisely the impact they aim to create for others.

By the end of six months the core team came to the recognition that the
organisation’s purpose is to contribute to the organic development of Singapore as
a co-created, creative, and sustainable society. This is done by working with young
people and young adults, providing them with the freedom to engage with the
organisation in a way which feels authentic to them, so that this experience acts a
template for the other systems in which they engage in society at large.

After the project, requests for more strategic contribution in the form of
consultancy projects and partnerships began to flow in. Significantly, the founder
was awarded the title Singapore Woman of the Year for her work, demonstrating
recognition and credibility for the organisation’s contribution to Singapore society.
In the years that followed the core team have continued to go from strength to
strength, attending forums and conferences worldwide as panel members,
workshop facilitators, and consultants.

A project for women in Trinidad finds new inspiration and impact on their society

This is a story about revealing the power of women when they come together.
Women Together (WoT0)4 was a Trinidadian gathering of women inhibited by how
powerful they could be, therefore mainly looking inward until the Participant came
in as a consultant working pro bono and helped them to open the doors of WoT0
House and look outward, discovering what power they had collectively to make a
difference in the context.

WoTo is a voluntary organisation founded in 1999 in Trinidad by its current leader
and a small group of women. Its main objectives were to:

– Build sisterhood through partnering girls with mature, women who act like rolemodels;
– Advocate women’s participation in decision-making and gender justice;
– Encourage women’s consciousness and collective action to develop alternative
learning and social institutions and to enable social and political transformation.

Two years after its foundation WoTo became involved in small arms control work,
starting to analyse the increasing gun violence in Trinidad and Tobago. WoTo
urged States and NGOs to utilise gender analysis for research and policy responses
especially in relation to the social impact of gun violence, developing interventions,
engaging women, gang leaders, police and other institutions. It conducted research
and published reports and papers. WoTo’s organisation was based on principles of
collaboration, transformation, action and sisterhood. It had 20 volunteers and
operated with a small staff, including an administrator and a project-coordinator.
The organisation’s founder was designated as ‘coordinator’.

Funding agencies required the organisation to formalise its structure and financial
reporting. WoTos’ mechanisms had been fluid, with initiatives coming mainly from
the leader. It needed a more effective organisational structure, with leadership that
was less dependent on the founder. Overall, WoTo wanted to move forward with
programmes that had an impact on society, attracting enough resources to its work.

At the project’s start WoTo had no formal governance structure. Its fluidity was felt
to provide benefits to members, so ‘structure’ had been resisted and feared as
‘masculine’ and limiting. The Participant planned to test the hypothesis that ‘the
dependency on the leader actually comforted members and kept them safe from
carrying responsibility for WoTo’s tasks. And that this was happening because
WoTo had ‘lost’ sight of its purpose’. After 10 years existence, changed
circumstances, including rules about funding, meant that the organisation was at
an important moment in its evolution. The offer of a consultancy project from the
Participant was accepted.

The purpose of the project was to facilitate organisational development for WoTo in
order to strengthen the institution and the capacity of its members to work towards
purpose. The project, named ‘Institutional Strengthening’. One key issue was
working with differences and diversity: the clients were Trinidadian and black, most
of them without a professisonal background and training; the Participant was
Dutch, white and with a long experience in professsional practice as a leadership
and management consultant.

Using concepts and methodologies from the MA, the Participant worked through a
series of individual role consultations and group workshop sessions, including an
Appreciative Inquiry workshop. This surfaced WoTo’s embedded purpose by
exploring what the Trinidadian and international contexts were calling for from the
organisation. This turned out to be partly a re-discovery, partly a re-statement,
before it was finalised and agreed to by everyone as WoTo’s purpose statement.

WoTo is a women’s organisation committed to strengthening the capacity
and social consciousness of women and girls to lead social transformation in
Trinidad and Tobago.

WoTo’s programmes enable women and girls to explore and embrace an
alternative leadership framework, which integrates the collective genius of all
the people.

Once the purpose was re-invigorated the necessary decisions and actions were set
in train with the support of the consultant. This opened up a serious on-going
exploration of the crucial role of religion in Trinidad and Tobago. The image held
was of a ‘God-in-control’, a ‘strong-man’. People trusted God to lead them to do
the right things, surrender to his will and either hand out reward or punishment:
this was a vengeful perception of God. Interestingly, WoTo placed itself in an
alternative position towards religion, with an openness to welcome persons
(women) from any religion. However, the underlying assumed masculinity of
religion was an influential factor at unconscious levels in the work.

The work on the purpose released untapped potential:


• New organisational leadership style was demonstrated in that the founder
took up the role of Executive Director, showing a real organisational
leadership role
• The call from the context was powerfully recognised and taken into full
account in planning and decision-making
• Draft policies were developed with a Governance structure, committees and
a Financial Plan
• WoTo members themselves become effective agents in the organisation’s
• WoTo House was painted and redecorated, functioning as a springboard for
members to work from, beaming with a regained confidence
• Members responded with enthusiasm which impacted on its neighbours in
one of the more unsafe areas of town
• A new staff member, a young academic man from Nigerian background, was
recruited in the role of project coordinator
• The project evaluation confirmed that other new roles with leadership
responsibilities were taken up
• A desire and awareness for continuing the work on the organisation used
personal reflection resulting in feeling re-energised, clear, re-connected
• ‘Sleeping’ members returned to take a more active roles around the project.
• WoTo members took up roles in the community, which creating situations
where women were supported in opposing the male dominated culture of
violence and cruelty that had undermined the security of family life
• WoTo was recognised as a sustainable organisation, with a seat on a State
Agency Board
• A documentary: Women, Peace and Security in Trinidad and Tobago, based
on a series of Women’s Conversations with women across communities on
how crime and violence impacted on their families, resulting in political and
media attention, including the Prime Minister’s contribution to the media
• WoTo was invited to the monthly forum of Permanent Secretaries (ministerial
heads) in Trinidad
• WoTo had a role as a regional center of gravity for the debate, policy and
advocacy on the Small Arms Treaty
• A series of WoTo Annual Lecture Series: Journey to Womanhood began in

The Consultant’s Learning

The Participant recognised how she came to shift from an intellectual ‘knowing’ to
deeper sensing of the unconscious dynamics at work in an organisation – feeling
increasingly comfortable in realising and using her experience, less as a ‘me-thing’
but something offered as an instrument from the system, in her role. This skill
called for a discipline of reflection, journalling, and role consultations for herself as
a way of supervision and the conversations in the project support. She learned to
work by offering hypotheses or suitably framed ‘hunches’ in meetings. She also
learned to live with sometimes feeling completely out of touch, confused, lost and
at sea yet frequently touching a spot with the client when she shared this as
material for work.

4 This is not the organisation’s real name.

A major NGO in Ireland finds new meaning in its work led by its Chief Officer

The Participant was the National Officer of one the largest NGOs in Ireland. This
Christian organisation is devoted to mobilising volunteers to support families faced
with significant issues including poverty, long term illness, unemployment,
bereavement and homelessness. Those who the organisation set out to help, were
experiencing grief, sadness, loneliness and depression. The volunteers found the
experience of working with those allocated to them challenging as well as
rewarding. The project began at the height of the down-turn in the nation’s
economy, so the question of finding any increase in conventional resources would
not be possible, despite the major increase in pressure on the organisation in terms
of people falling into all the circumstances the organisation was founded to tackle.

The National Officer needed to find new resources from somewhere or live with the
consequences of feeling that the organisation was failing in the duty it was founded
to carry out. He decided to explore a route of revealing resources that might
actually be already available but unrecognised. His initial hypothesis was that
enabling the volunteers to search for the deeper meaning of their experience would
enable the impact of their engagements with clients to be more powerful and
effective. It might also result in an upturn in the recruitment of new volunteers.

His study revealed that volunteers were modest about the satisfaction they got from
their work. They were reluctant to talk about it, feeling shy about the contrast
between their own stable and secure lives and those of their clients. They
recognised that the contrast between their own fortunate – and for some of them
privileged – situations and the vulnerable circumstances of their clients were largely
the consequence of forces and factors beyond the control of individuals and the
personal choices open to them. At first the apparent urgency of the cases the
volunteers were faced with often seemed insuperable, which had a negative impact
on their morale and effectiveness. Action was what was felt to be called for.

In his project, the National Officer introduced processes of officers and volunteers
reflecting together on the deeper, more spiritual nature of their work. This showed
the potential of imaginative new ways of supporting the volunteers which drew on
an understanding of social justice and its part in the lives of a nation’s citizens as
well as those involved in the organisation. The reflective work on their experience
enabled that understanding to become a potent resource in the ways they could use
their imagination in furthering their work with their disadvantaged and derived

The concept of connectedness was key to this reflective work, not simply giving
meaning to the face-to-face work with clients, but which could be shared across
the whole organisation. This included deeper awareness of the organisation’s own
connectedness with Irish society. The volunteers who took part discovered that
they were active participants in a wider network of meaning across Irish society
than had been understood before. When that fuller meaning was surfaced it
became a source of energy, resilience and courage in the work they felt called to
do. This indicated more clearly the purpose of the work to which the organisation
was called at those difficult times. A clear sense of shared purpose could lead to
greater effectiveness in all its parts.

The National Officer’s discovery from the project was that, far from the organisation
being immersed in a situation of grinding scarcity, mutual reflection, could be
mobilised across the organisation to release abundant existing resources that were
not being accessed before the project. His understanding of his approach to his
own leadership was transformed as the organisation whole discovered a new
potency and effectiveness in engaging with the issues it was called to address.


A History of Research Since 1957

The Grubb School of Organisational Analysis is founded on research by the Grubb Institute going back to 1957.

You may want to visit our online research archive with material including papers written by Grubb Institute institute staff describing and exploring different aspects of their work. Some of these arise directly from consultancy, training and research projects. Others comment upon current issues in society. It also contains key papers that underpin the technical development of the Grubb Institute’s thinking over the years.


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