OD work takes place almost exclusively in the relationship arena—working with leaders, teams, multiple groups, consumers, internal and external stakeholders. The practice of OD engages with people spread across the spectrum of ranks, functions, professions, and business units—not to mention spanning cultures, races and ethnicities, gender and sexuality.
Gaining acceptance and building trust across that broad range of individuals and groups is a critical requirement for the practice of OD, while addressing all the unpredictable challenges along the way. In many senses, the OD practitioner needs to ‘earn the right’ to help. Deep intervention work with a client system is predicated on the practitioner’s ability to create psychological safety, establish authentic connections and demonstrate competency with those who will benefit from the work.
Also, there are multiple visible and invisible traps in the relational arena, particularly in the ‘helping’ relationships. The ‘one-upness’ of the one who offers help and the ‘one-downness’ of those who receive help, if not well-managed, has great potential to derail the best-intentioned OD practitioners. If they are not aware and alert to those potentially treacherous dynamics, OD practitioners can find themselves spending unnecessary energy navigating the minefields of relational work. And, if they are unable to negotiate their way out, they risk losing their credibility.
This relational competence is predicated on the OD practitioner being genuinely interested in people, and able to develop, nurture and maintain high quality relationships with all those whom they serve and with whom they work. They are curious, and careful to avoid stereotyping ‘short-cuts’, being carefully intentional in developing trust and relating to others. They also have honed their ability to work well with a wide variety of people in order to build foundations for deep and effective communication and interventions. Being acutely sensitive toward others, they know how to create a ‘flourishing environment’ in which human energy thrives, and in which clients, colleagues and partners are willing to give their best effort. In all of this, the OD practitioner is subtly (and perhaps not so subtly) serving as a role model of healthy workplace relationships.
Experienced by clients
Practitioners competent with respect to relationships are experienced by clients and partners as being wholly committed to the client’s interests and concerns. These practitioners respect the client system, involving the client in all aspects of the OD work. Taking the building and maintenance work of relationships with sincerity and seriousness, the OD practitioner comes alongside those with whom they work, providing spaciousness and safety in which clients can do their own work. The practitioner is able to form natural partnerships with multiple others to achieve agreed upon outcomes. These practitioners are trusted collaborators, always bringing something of value to the client system.
What the competence ‘looks like’
The characteristics and qualities noted below are not intended to be exhaustive or definitive. Nor are they in any particular order. Nor are the distinctions between ‘Knowledge’, ‘Skills/Abilities’ and ‘Character/Attitude’ hard and fast—rather they are heuristic categories with obviously overlapping edges. The intention is merely to provide a frame of reference for considering important elements of the OD Client Relationships with Others Competence.