Large Group Intervention (LGI)

Part I – My journey into LGI

I discovered LGIs as a civil servant, on a research trip to the USA, exploring empowerment. As a result, we employed Dannemiller Tyson Associates (DTA) [Whole-Scale and specifically Real Time Strategic Change (RTSC)] to support us in running an LGI, which I was privileged to co-lead with two DTA consultants. Our success with this led to us to develop internal competence, and we ran a three-day training for our internal ‘facilitator’ team. Several of us had eighteen months’ coaching from the DTA consultants who supported us in designing and delivering several ‘events’. When I left the Civil Service, I met Billie Alban for dinner in London, and she encouraged me to learn many other methodologies. Over the next three years (1995–1998), I attended conferences and training sessions to master the core (then known) LGI methods, and since then I have continued to learn and have added new ones, such as The Change Lab (Theory U) as they emerged.

Part II – What is LGI?

LGIs emerged at the confluence of three aspects of OD, social psychology, psychoanalytic theory, and systems theory, as applied to organizations. They were first catalogued and described by Billie Alban and Barbara Bunker in a special edition of The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (JABS), in 1993. They noted that in the 1980s, as talk of ‘transformational change’ (which impacted the whole organization) grew, interventions developed that allowed wider involvement in the change process. 

Billie and Barbara define these interventions as ‘methods for involving the whole system, internal and external, in the change process’, and this definition has expanded over the years to describe them as change processes, which invite the stakeholders in the system to contribute at all stages and on one or more occasions – the ‘whole system is in the room’. This is not meant to be taken literally: ‘the whole system’ is a well-defined cross-section of all stakeholder voices that is designed to ensure that voices can be differentiated, so that different perspectives are heard and integrated and new understandings can emerge. Later literature on Dialogic OD lists the LGI methods as dialogic approaches to OD in that the process involves the whole system in a journey of discovery and co-creation of some aspects of the change.

Part III – What are LGI competences?

These are based, in part, on the research conducted by Tonnie van der Zouwen into the effectiveness of large-scale interventions in which she concluded that one of the key factors in the success of an LGI is that the facilitators are skilled in conducting LGIs. Her evaluation instrument includes a section on this, and these competences are based on that, as well as on integrating key elements from Weisbord and Janoff, and Dannemiller Tyson. 

Element Factors – the consultant can: Evidence 
Making and keeping a clear contract with the client Scope with key players and contract for participation, planning, and follow-through Align leadership, demonstrating the principles and implications for their roles Match the LGI to the task and use the appropriate principles to manage boundaries, anxieties, and participation in the whole process including planning Build follow-through into proposals and plans Recognise when LGIs are not an appropriate intervention and offer alternatives Proposals include outcomes, boundaries, and process including follow-through Leadership meeting and engagement with the process 
Gaining credibility and managing expectations Make explicit the choice of LGI, its principles, its fit to the task and the capacity of the system‘See’ the system and what that means for the task and who needs to be involved Create the planning team as an enabling and catalysing force for larger organizational and system involvement, building competences along the way Develop outcomes and a purpose, with the planning team, that are desirable and deliverable. Track design to those outcomes and fit to purposeBuild confidence in the system so that they can ‘trust the process’ and the principles Explain what they are doing and why at each stage of the process A planning team that represents a microcosm of the system 
Planning team plans and responses 
Clarity of purpose, outcomes tracked, and people are engaged 
Role awareness Track their impact in the system Be aware of their own assumptions about the work and their abilities to complete it Work in partnership with others Co-design ‘with’ the system rather than for them – providing a process that supports conversations rather than giving solutions System integrates LGI principles into their thinking and ways of working 
Large-group facilitation skills Frame the work at each stage in ways that invite participation and engagement rather than compliance Create a contactful environment, so people make contact with each other and with different views, and build a whole system perspective that opens new possibilitiesTolerate ambiguity and the messiness – trust the process and be ready to adjust as data emerges Support systems thinking by designing activities and the flow of work, to build system awareness Accept people and the system as they are, and enable the system to diagnose itself and make meaning out of it Hold onto the vision and not over-control the process, accepting that people will do what they need to Deal with conflict and challenge constructively, supporting people in finding allies and allowing the time and space for common ground to emerge from the group Group barely notices being facilitated; believe ‘we did this’ 
The common group achieved is lasting and memorable 
Beyond the events people continue to hold ‘system awareness’ of the interdependence of different perspectives 
Belief in the LGI principles Adopt an open-systems perspective and pay attention to the emergent system dynamics Hold a sincere and deep commitment to engagement, empowerment, self-management and democratic participation Support the flow of valid information and enable people to hear and understand each other’s perspectives Be intentional about ensuring diversity and respecting diversity of viewpoint and experience Treat all participants as ‘experts’ – believe the wisdom is in the group and treat what they say seriously Focus on conditions, not behaviours Avoid problem solving and reframe in ways that support the group in shifting to the possibilities of the future Promote and support self-management and avoid building dependency Principles are visible and embodied in the process 
Difficulties are addressed using the principles 

Part IV – Path of development (and some resources) 

 For me, developing competence was a combination of 

  • Getting grounded in theory and principles – Learning the underlying principles and theory and what it was in the design of the methods that made them work (from books, conferences, and workshops). This is critical: you need to thoroughly understand how they work before you can ‘cook’ with them and design skilfully. 
  • Practising with coaching and support – Partnering with many skilled consultants (Billie Alban, Jake Jacobs, Dick and Emily Axelrod, Martin Leith and Romy Shovelton, Sandra Janoff, Don and Alan Klein, and many more) in working with my (and their) clients. Getting in front of a large group is intimidating, so be wary of trying to do it alone or unsupported. I had to unlearn many things: LGIs are nothing like training or smaller group sessions. The complexity of what you need to manage is immense (in one of my early events we drew this to show the jigsaw of work to pay attention to during an ‘event’.

  • Creating opportunities to learn and develop my skills – Doing work pro-bono if it supported the development of competence. Given that practice is critical and that not many people need or want to risk an LGI, you may need to work to gain the experience by volunteering to help others. 
  • Sharing my emergent understanding – Co-authoring books and articles, and running training events myself, which helped reinforce my learning and make explicit my own assumptions and principles. Keep track of what you are learning. I recall, in my first year of learning, that I pulled out 22 principles from the RTSC book and reflected on what they meant for me. Even if you don’t publish what you write, journal about what you are learning.

There are many books and websites you can go to for support in your learning. These are books I would recommend as a starting point:

Barbara Benedict Bunker and Billie T Alban Jabs Special Editions Large Group Interventions Large Group Methods 1992 and Jossey Bass 1997  Jossey Bass 2006
Peg Holman and Tom DevaneThe Change HandbookAlso, Second Edition with Steve Cady (less LGIs and more event techniques) Berrett-Koehler, 1999Berrett-Koehler, 2007
Marvin Weisbord & Sandra JanoffFuture Search Guide Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!Berrett-KoehlerBerrett-Koehler, 2007

Websites which will link you to possible training 

Large Group Intervention (LGI)

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