The Challenge for Internal Organisational Development Teams

Article 17 April 2019

Having moved about the field of OD and leadership work - both geographically and job-wise - I’ve experienced in-house roles, freelance consulting, and being part of our consulting team here at Sheppard Moscow.

People often ask me which role I think can be most effective in supporting the development and transformation of organisations. However, the question I’m most interested in is ‘what enables OD practitioners to make a difference?’

Consulting firms work with the tension between needing to ‘win’ work and keep the lights on. However, what you’re more likely in it for is the lifelong purpose of making sense of complex human systems, accompanying leaders through their development, and designing best practise learning experiences. Not, writing proposals, pitching ideas, or calculating programme fees.

What are the common challenges for an internal OD consultant?

The in-house OD consulting role has its own version of tensions but is more mired in multiple expectations. It has a particular flavour of confusion and challenge that feels far less explored or understood than the traditional consulting role. I’m left wondering what provisions we make for these practitioners as we ask them to perform the ‘impossible task’. These questions underline the in-house role:

  • How do I bring enough creativity and ‘outside thinking’ to be challenge the status quo when I’m part of the organisation myself?

  • How do I consult to a client who is also my employer? How do I challenge a client who is also my employer?

  • How do I work in a hierarchical corporate structure when the Coach/Facilitator/Consultant role requires me to meet my client eye-to-eye?

  • How do I gain commitment from my client in the contracting phase when they may not have financial skin in the game, such as if my costs are paid centrally?

  • How do I manage projections of being the cheaper ‘home brand’ option and gain the respect and confidence from clients required to do this work?

  • As a subjective employee myself, how do I navigate boundaries such as confidentiality, neutrality, the need to be non-judgmental and other containers vital to development work?

The list goes on.

When we disentangle the dilemma we find two strong threads at the root: the employee role, and the consulting/practitioner role. There may be further roles depending on the set-up: OD team manager or leader; supervisor; manager of external OD providers.

How can an internal OD consultant overcome these challenges?

Clarifying which role you’re in, or which ‘hat’ you’re wearing is the most potent form of navigating this complex web of roles, expectations, and of course organisational politics.

Are you consulting to your client? Reporting to your employer? Managing your team? Supervising other practitioners? Being supervised as a practitioner or managed as an employee?

Without this clarity the fine line to be trodden between consultant and employee becomes treacherous. On one side you compromise the quality and honesty of your consulting; on the other you risk your employment. There may be no clear answer but raising the question out loud with colleagues and clients is the most critical first step.

Olivia.jpeg Olivia Margo