17 July 2011

Organizational Therapy and Positive Psychology

I was recently asked about positive psychology interventions in organizations, and the use of Appreciative Practices in organization development interventions. In part, here is the essence of my response:

In my role as an Organizational Therapist, I help organizations, their members, and especially their leaders to realize how problematic the traditional ways of organizing and managing have become, especially in today's context. A foundational part of this work is a new model of organization that I developed as part of my doctoral research ("Valence Theory") that serves to rebalance the priorities among organizational engagement among ALL of its members (that include those that are often called "stakeholders" - employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, as well as regulators, and other members of the same industry). A large part of this practice involves transformation of the organizational culture, and that draws heavily from the praxis of transformative learning (from adult education), as well as becoming a values-based, emergent, "organic" (in complexity terms) organization.

Among the big questions are these:
  • How do we help people to unlearn old behavioural dynamics (that are often about vested power, dysfunctional human interactions, command and control, etc.)? How can we learn instead to adopt those forms of mutual engagement that encourage individual and collective commitment to the higher purpose of the organization - those things the organization would like to promote, preserve, and protect? 
  • How can we encourage and assist people within the organization to attain greater autonomy, accomplish stronger mastery, and connect with their individual higher purposes? 
  • And, how can we attune organizations and their people to navigate among their daily (and longer-term) challenges being cognizant of the multiplicity of interconnecting and interacting effects, so as to enable those effects that serve their values, their purpose, and the greater good?

One among many interventions is to help people to adopt appreciative practices in their dealings with each other, and especially in the context of superior/subordinate relationships. (Note that the concepts of "superior" and "subordinate" ideally evaporate in an organization that successfully transforms towards becoming more consistent with today's societal conditions.) Appreciative practices themselves (derived in the organization development context from the research intervention of Appreciative Inquiry) are consistent with and supportive of positive psychology, incorporating interventions and practices that help people attain pleasurable, engaged, and meaningful lives. It's founder, Martin Seligman, does a great job of describing its tenets in this TED Talk. Nothing, of course, should be considered a panacea. Nonetheless, with the opportunity for substantial improvements in productivity, innovation, member engagement, commitment, social responsibility, and most important of all, happiness and satisfaction, positive psychology based, organizational therapy interventions are unquestionably and tremendously effective.