Consulting Services for Managing Change and Enhancing Organizational Learning


Establishing vision and values

Implementing systemic change

Diagnosing complex systems

Speaking and listening for action

Leadership as a martial art

Initiatives That Make a Difference

As the 21st Century nears, organizations face global opportunities and challenges of towering complexity. To thrive in such times of danger and promise will require organizations to develop the capacity to re-invent themselves practically overnight, all while continuing to deliver value to their customers. As the philosopher Otto Neurath remarked, it's a little like rebuilding a boat while already underway at sea.

In these times an organization's greatest assets are the creativity and knowledge of its own people. It is the capacity of these people for creative thinking, impassioned work, and collaborative action that will drive continued success. Adaptive Learning Design consultants partner with client organizations to help individuals and groups achieve the kind of high-performance and passion that self-reinvention requires. Often this consulting work helps organizations surface and examine patterns of decisions, thinking, and action which may inhibit the emergence of bold creativity when it is most needed.

With over a decade of consulting experience in both private and public sectors, Adaptive Learning Design has, with the help of its client organizations, developed a refined set of intervention strategies for enhancing systems thinking, leadership, values, and vision. The richness of these processes is their simplicity and their ability to become integrated--owned--by the people with whom we work.

Establishing a Conversation for Vision and Values

Coordinated, purposeful action can be effective if the purpose is clear. Yet, many organizations find themselves adrift and without clear strategic direction. They find themselves lacking a clear, living, inspirational vision.

Without a purpose to achieve, a goal, or a vision for the future, organizations lack a necessary ingredient for the coordination of strategic actions.

Many organizations are concerned, not only with the ends toward which they strive, but with the means by which they strive. If the ends are the vision, then the means are the actions. Values become important when we ask, "what means do we wish to employ to reach the vision?"

At the heart of an organization's culture are the values it seeks to uphold. Often, when these values are not clarified for all, confusion can arise when different sets of values are used to drive actions in different parts of the organization. Clearly, without consensus on what values we should uphold, there is not likely to be a fair way of measuring the appropriateness of actions.

Adaptive Learning Design consultants are skilled in facilitating workshops and continuing interventions aimed at helping organizations clarify and bring forth a living vision and set of values. These interventions can take the form of retreats or working sessions on or off site.

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Making Change Initiatives Systemic

Despite their value, systemic change initiatives, like TQM or Re-engineering, can create bewildering complexity and ambiguity over long periods of time. Moreover, entrenched feedback loops of decisions and actions that can impede the progress of systemic change may be forcefully at work.

Organizations that succeed with systemic change initiatives are often those organizations which have developed among their members skills for describing, analyzing, communicating, and perhaps redesigning structural feedback loops as a key part of the change initiative.

Adaptive Learning Design consultants blend a strong background in systems science and its applications for organizational change with experience in large-scale Quality & Continuous Improvement initiatives, along with other forms of re-engineering. Currently we are partnered with organizations in both private and public sectors to help their members learn and use the language, tools, and ways of speaking and listening that are characteristic of the systems movement. By using these tools, client organizations are creating the results they desire, and they are minimizing the likelihood of unintended surprises.

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Modeling and Simulation of Complex Systems
for either Diagnosis or Design

We have all seen decisions taken that seemed unmistakably correct only to result in unintended, and undesireable, side-effects later on, in a different part of the system. These decisions are costly, we feel, viewing them in hindsight.

Now there is a way by which teams within an organization can create a picture of the causal influences and feedback loops created by alternate decisions, and they can set these decisions in motion, on a computer screen, to see what their results may be, locally, and systemically.

Using one of the most powerful tools of systems practice, system dynamics modeling, these teams can diagram the structures driving the behavior of a system, and then, as a team, construct a visual map that is also a computer program capable of simulating the behavior of key interdependent components of the system over time. This computer map is valuable as a shared "mental model" of the system in question, and it is valuable as an explicit story of everyone's assumptions about key interrelationships among the parts of the system. This model can be developed in a way that anyone who wishes can "try out" a set of decisions during a simulation run.

Backed by over 20 years experience of teaching and consulting with this approach to system simulation, ALD consultants are accomplished at presenting this technology in a way that is simple and effective, and that produces results.

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Overcoming Organizational Defensive Patterns

Research has shown that understanding the entrenched feedback loops of defensive thinking and action within an organization is, while extremely helpful, not enough to enable people to begin spontaneously producing new patterns of thought and action. Instead, it appears clear that periodic sessions, featuring group case work and role plays, are necessary for people to make new behaviors become automatic.

This work begins with an introduction to the conceptual layout of our approach to redesigning patterns of thinking and action. That approach is a blend of the work of Edgar Schein and Chris Argyris and his associates. Once the conceptual layout is clear to all, an organization may wish to extend its commitment to designing new patterns of thinking and action. This intervention phase is marked by periodic gathering of a case work team, facilitated by an ALD consultant.

Among our consultants are individuals who have facilitated all phases of this deep learning process. The people with whom we have worked show a new genuinness and boldness in their interpersonal communications, and they show heightened creativity and risk-taking when it counts.

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The Aikido of Leadership

Managing a large-scale organization change initiative is like sailing a large, crowded vessel through unknown waters, rebuilding it as you go. Leaders of change programs find themselves awash in conflicting agendas, complexity, and ambiguity. There often seems no solid place to take a stand. Commonly, they overlook a readily available source of personal terra firma: their own bodies. By adopting a facilitated practice of physical learning, involving the pursuit of mindfulness and skillful, graceful movement in relation with others, people can become more physically grounded, more aware of the subtle dynamics around them, and more in touch with their own intuition.

One source of physical learning is Aikido, the martial art of peace. Aikido movements foster deliberate, attentive connection with others. With time and practice, people develop a relaxed, balanced attitude within their own bodies, and a way of action that neither rises up to clash with resistance, nor gives in to it. They cultivate a graceful quality of activity, one that helps them engage the trust and confidence of others during times of crisis. Through our blend of coaching with Aikido principles, and those of other contemplative arts, people can learn to use changes around them as a source of power, as sailors use ocean currents and the wind.

Our consultants and associates blend skill and experience in organization change with strong backgrounds in Aikido and other martial arts.

We offer a weekly, continuing public enrollment workshop applying aikido principles and movements to help people manage and resolve conflicts in daily life. for more information see: The Somatic Art of Conflict Management.


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© 1995 Adaptive Learning Design