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95 DECEMBER 2006
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Change: Organizational Development

Hy Resnick

Child care agencies are faced with a variety of organizational problems as they struggle to offer quality service to their young clients and families. These problems are frequently caused by funding limits, differing perspectives about child care policy and practices, inadequate staff training opportunities, local or national ideologies, and the like. These differences can lead to significant dysfunctional work environments, staff management tensions, and ultimately poor service delivery. These problems are difficult to “solve” by management efforts alone and usually require professional third party help.

I describe and illustrate in this column an approach called Organizational Development (OD) “a highly interactive method developed after World War II which was first utilized by profit-making organizations such as chemical companies, automobile manufacturing firms, aircraft companies, banks, etc. More recently OD has been and is used by non-profit making organizations such as health systems, governmental departments, public and private schools, religious institutions and social welfare agencies. This method has a record of successful experiences with these organizations.

An example of how this intervention approach worked in a childcare agency follows:

An executive and a staff planning team of a childcare agency in the Northwest contracted with an OD consultant to help the agency with a number organizational problems which the agency was facing. The following plan which was agreed to contained the following phases:

  1. Data Collection Phase
    In this beginning phase the consultant interviewed the child care staff , the support staff and the management team to collect data about the “health” of the agency i.e.its strengths and problems. He met with small groups of staff and management recommended by the planning team. Two individuals preferred to be interviewed individually

  2. Data Analysis Phase
    The consultant analyzed the data collected and submitted a tentative report to the executive summarizing the major themes emerging from the interviews.

  3. Feedback Phase
    In this important phase a summary of these themes was presented to the rest of the staff in a carefully planned feedback session where the staff had the opportunity to confirm or disconfirm the data presented by the consultant.

  4. Action Planning Phase
    When it became clear that the data was seen as accurate and truly reflective of what was going on in the agency the consultant recommended a two day interactive workshop designed to work on the problems and strengths which emerged from his interviews

  5. Interventive Phase “A two day off site workshop
    At the beginning of the workshop the twenty participants were divided into their natural role groups “ (the management team, the support staff and the child care staff) and asked to perform the following tasks.

A. Meet in these groups in separate rooms and come to agreement on their response to the following question:


B. Report Out Session each group was to read out their response to that question. Examples “The support group needs the members of the management team to
– give them more notice when they need a letter or report typed
– not just before closing!
– remember their names!
– make their requests for work to be done not as a demand
– not criticise them at a staff meeting or publically when they made a mistake”.
The total group was asked to listen only and take notes if necessary**

C. After listening to the requests each role group then returned to their separate rooms to discuss and negotiate a response to the requests. Discussions were quite lively and agreement didn’t come easily but each group did emerge with positive responses to the requests made to them.

D. The recorders then read out their groups” decisions on what they were willing to do for each group in response to their requests.

E. A final activity was the selection “ by a vote of the workshop participants “ of a blue-ribbon review team to work with management to help the three groups implement their agreements.

An evaluation at the end of the two-day workshop included comments like “I didn’t expect anything good to happen and I’m really surprised at how much we accomplished” and “I feel we made a good start in increasing our trust for each other. I’m looking forward to the next event where we could take another step forward” and “I’m amazed to learn that I really like you people. I wasn’t sure before”.

Organizational Development interventions don’t always work out as well as this one but good things like this happen often enough to recommend OD interventions to child care agencies which experience some of the problems mentioned above.

* The groups were also asked to list current supportive behaviors of the other groups
** Questions for clarification were allowed.

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