On the evening of January 26th, the late Ed Schein had agreed to meet a group of OD practitioners from the comfort of his home. Later that evening, he passed away.
Reading the description of this evening and watching the videos I encountered some beautiful gems describing his approach to organizational development.
The meeting was one of many Immersive Learning Circle events he contributed to. The participants were a mixed group of people. Some had been in contact with Ed Schein for years whereas others took the opportunity to meet him for the first time. The author of the article describes the context of the event as being “about pausing and discussing our assumptions, anxieties, and attachments, which arise in the shared experience.”
The event started with a discussion about the way such a learning circle is facilitated. There is the effort to create a sense of psychological safety as well as an atmosphere in which some provocative questions may appear. The hope being that the event leads to a transformative learning experience.
The conversation that unfolded shared an in-depth view of how Ed Schein viewed and lived the work as a consultant. Much of it seems to turn things upside down. That is for those of us who try to establish a relationship with clients based on what it is we have to offer or try to promise.
Even or especially for newcomers to the organizational development work Ed Schein suggested that they be authentic. Instead of assuming that one has learned it all, he pointed out that they can name their desire to learn how the client sees his job as well as what kind of help they seek out.
Ed Schein also puts the relationship first and builds everything into it. To be able to do the work one needs to have a relationship that allows for it. A relationship is more than psychological safety, it is a client and a coach or consultant who decided to work together. It is a consultant who is willing to be humble, transparent, and honest. These attributes require courage. In some situations, it can mean breaking the norms of social intercourse pragmatically. It can also mean sharing one’s experience of the relationship or making a hypothesis of what may be happening in the moment.
During the evening Ed Schein showed this, for example, by questioning the future of the community he was discussing with. He was inviting them to step out of their comfort zone and think about what may need to be done to keep doing a good job.
As exemplified in his relationship with his son, much of the work Ed Schein did was about love. The love that allows for a relationship and even more so a genuine helping relationship. It is caring for how we transform people we relate to within the existing relationship. And that is where curiosity and being genuine come in. Looking at my clients, I can see that they wouldn’t need me if they knew exactly what they want me to help them with.
As Ed Schein said, much of the work comes to a kind help that is about forcing them to think clearly and finding a way that makes it possible for them. Ed Schein had the courage to use his puzzlement and his ability to see what he didn’t understand.
It is hard work as much of it requires us to leave our ego aside. That is what love allows.