Reflections from the ODN Europe conference

Karen and Paul

This year Do OD offered four NHS OD practitioners the chance to attend the 2017 ODN Europe Conference in Sunninghill, Ascot.  

ODN Europe is the European arm of the organisation development network, an international professional association of organisation development practitioners.  

The annual conference provides a great place to connect with OD practitioners from across sectors and countries, hear from leading thinkers in the global world of OD, and share current and new OD thinking and practice.  

In this blog, the conference attendees share their reflections.

Karen Dumain – National Organisational Development Programme Lead, NHS Leadership Academy

The theme of this year’s conference was OD in the Future and Current world.  I liked the mix and variety of great input offered through some provoking keynotes and then different ways of having conversations to make a difference.  The sessions reflected on our complex world both within and outside of the NHS, it was really valuable to hear practice outside of our own system. The world needs OD & Reigniting the fire of OD were two keynotes that really resonated with me sprinkled in with some magical OD adventure and Practice in experimenting in self-organising and Finding inspiration in appreciative inquiry sessions.  

And then on listening to a session from the Corporate Rebels and their lens of engagement following their world-wide travels to interview global companies – I had one of those often wished for, and rarely granted light bulb moments.  Where different streams of thinking and work on staff engagement connected together and I really did feel that ‘ahaha’ moment!  

To fully practice OD, be the best we can be, and make the most difference, I think we need these opportunities like ODN Europe to challenge our thinking and deepen our practice.  Like my fellow NHS practitioners reflections ODN Europe offered much food for thought but less the sweet variety and more the healthy vitamin giving essentials.

Paul Taylor-Pitt – Assistant Director - Organisational Development, NHS Employers
The case study from Tom Carter and Rafal Dziwinski at got my neurons firing. This is a technology company with a superb focus on people development. What stuck with me was the example of team members who take on the role of organisational Sherpa’s. Their job is to help staff develop a growth mindset and forge their own developmental path. Traditionally, Sherpa’s are mountain guides, and I love the image of having a colleague at work who can help you climb your own peaks. It got me thinking about how we all have a responsibility to help each other grow and that it doesn’t need to fall to experts in the organisation to do this. I’d encourage people to check their mindsets and think about how that affects the way we see our roles at work.

Steve Keyes, Head of Organisational Development, Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust
The thing I loved about the conference is it reminded me of the old Woolworths sweet counter trying to choose which sweet tasty morsel I may want to eat right now or consume later.  For those of you not quite so old you can also see them at the local cinema anything from soft chewy sweets to the more sickly chocolate flavoured varieties.

Like anything that we choose it’s based on a variety of key factors, and food for example, can simply be a means to end i.e. I’m hungry so must eat (like I am at the moment whilst I write this) to a satisfying dinner that may also have wine! Less wine at the conference but nevertheless the after effects of head buzzing was very similar.

Being a pragmatist I wanted to hear things that not only resonate with my work but also the work with our own context. A couple of standout things for me where around an open space which led into a conversation about OD supervision which is close to my heart and so important. I met up with a couple of people from Mars UK (nothing to do with Elon Musk and Space X!) and from Jaguar Land Rover both operating in the private sector and in completely different environments.  Both of which had their own challenges particularly around culture in different countries.  I think we have an opinion sometimes that the private sector have got stuff sorted and public sector are so far behind.  What was clear to me in those conversations was that it was the other way around!

The best main presentation was from U2i. I had a chat with Tom and Rafal about psychology and teams which was great. Their presentation was funny, enlightening and very interesting. Just one example was how they leave money in a wallet on the desk (there are about 30 people that work in the company) that anyone can take and use for buying lunch or drinks! What high levels of trust! Imagine what might happen in your team if you did this?  How much trust is there?

Caroline Mabey - Deputy Director of Organisational Development, Royal Free Acute Trust
It has taken until now to be able to stop and make sense of all that I was part of at the ODN Europe conference.  In a sense I was like a child in a sweet shop, I wanted to eat up all that was on offer as if I would never have the chance to enter this sweet shop again. But I was a child who didn’t like the mass of chocolate at Easter time and would give them away to my dear friends who had become use to my annual pattern. You see there was just too much chocolate all at the same time and I felt quite overwhelmed by the prospect of making my way through it. 

I felt somewhat similar to my annual Easter time experience at the end of the two-day conference. The adult version of me didn’t want to give my chocolate away for others to unwrap, but to save it for me to come back to for when I was ready to slowly unwrap without distractions and share in the discovery of the different textures and flavours with many others. 

So here I am slowly unwrapping my egg and hoping it gives you a chance to have a taste of the April 2017, ODN Europe OD feast. Here are a few of my personal highlights:

Mel Ross (Experience Adapt2 Digital) described digital as the new electricity, painting a very clear picture of the pace of change of available data and technology but with Business Leaders behind the curve. So was this a presenting problem for me to be concerned about?  Do we need to help our leaders in the NHS keep up with the curve?  Wasn’t this digital stuff and artificial intelligence (the new electricity) the property of those futuristic, creative type companies only? Yes of course we have data and technology in the NHS but it is the infrastructure that many often complain about?    

I felt significantly stirred by this presentation to meet up with those in my organisation who are the experts in the digital world. And what I discovered was that digital was not something of the future but was here, now and disrupting organisational life, changing patterns of interaction. A four page list of administrative duties, delivered by 30 people was about to be replaced by artificial intelligence. According to Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, “if a task is consistent and described as repeatable, give it to technology.  If it’s inefficient, give it to a human”. And now I am looking all around me at repeatable tasks and wondering how soon before a simple algorithm will replace those too?

The presenting dilemma is more than helping leaders keep up with the curve, but maybe how we help human beings let go of what they have always known, as what they did yesterday and today won’t be what is required tomorrow. How do we do that so that the new electricity can come flowing in and we collectively embrace the future by being data informed, open, adaptive and connected. 

Jacqui Skeel - Assistant Director for Organisational Development, Isle of Wight NHS Trust
As part of the self-organising groups I went for a walk with two colleagues and had a discussion about culture.  Our discussion resulted in a conclusion that it’s so complex, the word culture is often used as a catch all, do people really know what it means?  The important thing is cultural resilience, being able to work in challenging times with lots of different cultures in each organisation and then different cultures again in different organisations.  The need to respect each other’s ways of how we do things around here and an understanding that the individuals in the organisations have different cultural backgrounds. 

And these random reflections and things people said have captured my thinking …

  • People learn through stories.
  • Trust is key throughout everything we do.
  • Everyone is trying to make sense of people, language and behaviour.
  • Doesn’t matter where you work, we all have the same problems.
  • What do I have the energy for?
  • Who could I bring together?
Catherine Thomas - Head of Learning & Organisational Development, NHS South and Central & West CSU
Wow! This was my first experience of attending this conference and it was so lovely to spend some quality time focussing on OD concepts and intervention. The ability to share thoughts and ideas with others and debate the merits of different approaches to the challenges we face as a profession was invigorating! So many interesting sessions during the two-days I find it hard to pinpoint one or two key areas. Meeting people from other organisations, including a delightful woman from The Royal Household, Buckingham Palace, was insightful, comparing and contrasting our different contexts and how we could take forward some of the topics presented. 

We had a session on day one about the role of the digital leader, which was really interesting even for a tech numpty like myself. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the implications of this type of technology on organisations and the leadership challenges that presents was particularly pertinent to my organisation as we have large teams of people focussing on business intelligence and digital transformation. I was struck by thoughts about sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) which feature digital transformation as a key enabler of systems working. More to explore here for sure I think. 

One takeaway point for me stemmed from a conversation with someone who was new to OD. They described their experience of attending the conference and highlighted that sometimes they did not understand the language and terminology that OD practitioners were using during conference sessions – a sober reminder perhaps that our roles are about shaping and facilitating change and growth in organisations and what we are good at is building and developing relationships to support this. Our ability to speak a universal language within and across our organisations will enable us to do that to best effect. Let’s keep grounded my fellow practitioners! Yours, the pragmatist! 

Further information
In the NHS, the purpose of OD is to improve the quality and safety of patient care and we describe OD as enabling people to transform systems. Find out more and how to get involved on our Do OD web pages

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