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Our Approach – Theory-informed Practice

The field of organization development has evolved over the last decade as a response to the demands of a changing world. Change brings tremendous opportunity, but also uncertainty, instability, and anxiety. Political, economic, technological and social change has shifted organisational models. Organisations are increasingly complex in structure and function, and need to operate integrally, sometimes globally, with fast, immediate communication. Supporting managers and leaders to work, collaboratively in teams, in this environment, with its high performance and productivity requirements, has become the challenge of OD consulting. Successful change processes require a personal, confidential, trusting relationship between consultant and client (whether team or individual). Focused OD support can produce fast results, at individual and team level, as it is client- specific focussed, paced and timed for maximum impact.


Our approach is aligned with what is known as “dialogic organization development,” a new way of expanding organization development beyond the frameworks and tools of a “diagnostic” approach. In this dialogic approach, we appreciate that transformational change is more emergent than planned. As organizations are continually self-organizing, participation, inquiry and engagement are key to changing conversations and how organizations construct meaning of their experience and context. This underlying base of theory allows us to draw on different approaches, innovating in our approach to specific situations. This allows us to tailor the design of our interventions to the particulars of each context that we encounter, including updating our approach to take account of new dynamics and developments since the work began.

The dialogic approach to change and OD have been researched and described in Bushe and Marshak  Dialogic Organization Development: the theory and practice of transformational change Berrett-Koehler, Oakland (2015). See also

There are various methodological foundations to our change and OD practice that rest in established research and/or practice in the fields of psychology, organisational development, leadership.


Gestalt Organization and Leadership Development:

Gestalt work in organisations is based in perception psychology and Gestalt therapy (individual coaching, personal development), and systems thinking (individual-in-organisation/team). In the organizational context, Gestalt work involves respectfully supporting the client to heighten own awareness, manage boundaries, and identify patterns in behaviour, or resistances; thereby taking ownership of own ways of being in the world. The approach is underpinned by a belief that every person is doing the best they can, given what is available to them, in a given moment, in a given situation. This strengths-based and humanistic approach allows each client to start the process of understanding how he/she/they show up in the world, and how this could perhaps be different (for example, exercising more / different influence or impact on others). Systems thinking is an integral part of this approach, and clients are supported in understanding how they conduct themselves in their roles in complex social and work systems. Hence, clients are offered “live-action” coaching in which the consultants sit in on meetings, presentations, and other group events in which the client is interacting with others. The consultant observes the client-in-system and gives feedback to the client on his/her impact on others.

The Gestalt approach to organization and leadership development (GestaltOD) is acknowledged as a foundational influence in many change management, group facilitation and OD approaches that work with underlying process in human systems (see and

Mary Ann Rainey “What is Gestalt Organization and Systems Development?” OD Practitioner 36, 4 (2004) 6-10 (article link)

Edwin Nevis Organizational Consulting: a gestalt approach GIC Press, Cleveland (1987).


Emotional intelligence (EI):

The Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee model of emotional intelligence is used actively in consulting around change and leadership. This model identifies 14 EI competencies in 4 areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Our consulting focuses on cultivating and drawing upon intense self-awareness, in order to become more effective. The consulting supports the client in the development of holistic self-awareness, self-management and social awareness, and a leadership/ management style and presence that evokes resonance in others.  This involves supporting leaders in day-to-day challenges, and assisting them to achieve breakthroughs, develop new ideas, and exercise sustainable new practice. Research has identified the Emotional Intelligence (EI) competencies as foundational to leadership that brings results through climates and cultures that foster delivery; and that the other technical skills of leaders depend on their EI to realise full potential.

A worthwhile starting point for EI coaching and consulting is assessment of the emotional competencies of an individual client or of a team as a whole. There are a number of tools that are used for this purpose, including the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) and the Emotional Maturity Inventory (EMI).

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: transforming the art of leadership into the science of results 2nd edition Harvard Business Press (2013)

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee Resonant Leadership: renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope and compassion Harvard Business Press (2005)



Breakthroughs in brain research have led to a new science of neuroleadership, which tracks how the human brain responds to workplace challenges. The fundamental conclusion is that human behaviour is still determined by primal wiring that prioritises survival through defence (fight, flight) and connection with others, sited in the limbic brain. If the activators of primal behaviour are present then the higher order reasoning in the pre-frontal cortex is de-activated. The research informs coaches and facilitators how to work with groups and teams in order that the brain accesses the creative and innovative linkages in the brain, through creating safety, minimizing anxiety, and maximising connection for collaborative creative thinking. The Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee research findings around EI leadership are founded in neuroscience research.

Rock and Schwartz “The neuroscience of leadership” Strategy and Business, 43 (2006) (link)

David Rock Your brain at work New York: Harper (2009)


Adult learning theory:

Adult learning theory offers insight into how clients perceive and process change, newness and learning. The research of David Kolb into experiential learning revealed that adults engage with new information and process it, in different ways / with different priorities.

Client are supported to understand themselves better – especially in work environments where adaptability and flexibility are expected, and the need for change management is uppermost. Differences in learning styles are usually more important causes of conflict in work teams, than differences in gender, race, culture, religion. Coaching with teams explicitly explores this.

David Kolb  Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall (1984)


Gestalt Cape Cod model team coaching:

The method used for coaching underlying process in teams is the Gestalt Cape Cod model for small systems interventions. The approach has been used to surface collusion and power / hierarchy dynamics in work teams, for 40 years. The distinctive feature of the approach is that the content/strategic work (the WHAT) is put aside, and time is devoted to working on the team process (the HOW).  The team coaching supports the leadership and followership competencies in the team, encouraging individual and team responsibility for achievements and areas of challenge. The approach regards the team as a system (rather than a collection of individuals) with particular patterns of engagement, communication, leader-followership etc. Awareness of these patterns is supportively surfaced (rather than applying standardised norms of team behaviour and teaching these); the patterns of developed strengths are owned as well as related costs of these prevailing strengths, or developing edges. Once patterns of behaviour / norms in a team are identified, then the possibility of change and to explore other stances or differently patterned interactions, is opened up.

Edwin C. Nevis, Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis “Organizational change through powerful micro-level interventions: the Cape Cod model OD practitioner 40, 3 (2003): 4-8 (article link)


Systemic Team Coaching:

Systemic Team Coaching is an overall approach to working systemically with a team developed by Peter Hawkins with the support of Gestalt practitioner John Leary-Joyce through a 30-year process of research and practice. Systemic team coaching generates value at the connection among individuals (their desires and goals), between individuals (inter-personal relationships), around team tasks (content of the team’s work), team dynamics (the underlying process in the team), stakeholder influences and the wider systemic context of a team. The approach explores internal and external aspects of the life and work of a team and the two domains of task and people focus. These intersect in five discipline areas:

  1. Commissioning (external mandate around task)
  2. Clarifying (internal focus on task: purpose, goal, objectives, roles)
  3. Co-creating (internal dynamics between people)
  4. Connecting (external dynamics with stakeholders)
  5. Core learning and integration of reflections and experiences.

The method uses a combination of individually focussed interventions with key team members, coaching in a group, group facilitation around tasks, team building experiences to look at team process, and aspects of organisation development.

Peter Hawkins, Leadership Team Coaching: Developing Collective Transformational Leadership 3rd edition. (Kogan Page, 2017.).

A 4-minute video introduction to systemic team coaching is available.


Group/team development stages:

The research of Susan Wheelan into the stages of group development supports our understanding of the factors and leader-follower behaviours that are critical to the development of a high performing team. According to Wheelan’s more than 30 years of observational work with work groups, the stages of group development are Dependency and inclusion, Counter-dependency and fighting, Trust and structure, Work and productivity, and Termination. Her conclusions inform consultants and leaders of the roles, behaviours, needs, priorities for attention and critical switch points at each stage, for ongoing productive interactions.

Susan Wheelan Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders 4th ed (Sage, 2012).


Leadership transitions:

Research into leadership transitions by Bridget Farrands identified that incoming leaders are subject to enormous pressure to perform, and are usually unsupported, required to ‘sink or swim’. In addition poorly managed transitions can cause disruption in team and organisational life, and can be costly in productivity and time. In contrast, managing leadership transitions strategically gives attention to the leader’s entry into their new role, supporting the leader and the team in specific ways as they face the survival phase before arriving in the thriving phase.

Elsner, R. and Farrands, B. Leadership Transitions: how business leaders take charge in new roles London: Kogan (2012)

Haricharan and Wyley “Facilitating Effective Leadership Transitions in the South African Public Service” National Treasury, Pretoria (2013) (article link)


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