An "Art-Full" Organizational Development Process

I have just finished reading a fascinating report from Demos titled “All Together: a creative approach to organisational change.” It chronicles organizational development and change at the Royal Shakespeare Company from approximately 2003 to the present (the report was published in March, 2010). I won’t go too far into the details of the report here. It is quite long, at 180 pages, but if your time is limited, I found chapters 4, 7, and the note by the Organizational Development Consultant, Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge, at the end the most interesting.

While it seems that this report may have much to do with large organizations (at 807 employees, the RSC is MASSIVE – the biggest I’ve ever heard of), there is a lot in this report that is of wider interest. The best things about it, however, were that a) the organizational development model/concept that the RSC used was based on the principle of “ensemble”, an idea that comes directly from the Art the organization produces, b) the fact that the report clearly states that the model adopted by this organization was not touted as a “one size fits all” solution, and c) the amount of time that was allowed for the process to happen: this process started not less than seven years ago, and the RSC’s Artistic Director, Michael Boyd, is quoted as saying that he believes they are only 50 percent of the way to the point where he would feel the model/concept has been fully adopted.

As those who have read some of my previous posts will be aware, I am a big fan of both process and of allowing time for process. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not in favour of endless process that leads nowhere. What I am in favour of is considered, thoughtful change, which, in order to be sustainable, needs to take some time. Change in a organization’s culture, such as what the RSC was and is attempting, must be fit in amongst everyone’s day-to-day tasks and challenges. In organizations as dynamic as those in the Arts, this type of change takes not only commitment on everyone’s part, but a great deal of patience.

Another aspect of the RSC’s solution that I admired was that everyone, including external consultants, realized that a unique, custom-made concept was required in order for any change to be sustainable. This model discussed in this report is a model made by and for the RSC, not another organization’s model grafted on. It recognizes that each place is unique and therefore requires its own solutions. The report also concludes that while the “ensemble” concept adopted by the RSC has many possible applications within the Arts and beyond, it does not advocate widespread adoption of ALL the concepts to other organizations.

And finally, I found the ultimate humanity inherent in this organizational development process and its desired outcome extremely refreshing. Throughout the report (and the process itself) there is a recognition that the Art is made possible by all 807 people in the RSC – human beings, with human passions and human desires and human emotions and that it comes down to their relationships and their methods of working together that makes it all work. We all know this, and we likely experience it to various degrees in our work – I believe that’s one of the reasons we all work in the Arts in the first place – but to see it in writing and particularly in the context of a report on organizational development was a welcome change. I say, “Bravo” to all involved.

I hope you have time to read even a little bit of this report. Even if it raises more questions than it answers, it certainly stands out as an endorsement of the uniqueness of what we do and how we do it.

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