Change as a collaborative process: Challenges for HRD professionals

Curiosity and the ability to question the starting points of the organizational culture are at the heart of transformation and professional development.

Jaap Boonstra

Organizational change as a collaborative process means that players deal with unexpected events and unpredictable moments in the life cycle of their organization while creating opportunities to develop themselves and enjoying doing so. The purpose of an organization is part of a dialogue about the meaning of organizations within society. Changes then arise in dialogue between people from different backgrounds who work together and challenge each other. They create new opportunities in an ongoing process of change and development.  

The purpose of an organization is part of a dialogue about the meaning of organizations within society

In organizational change as a collaborative process, organizational development and human development go together in a continuous and ongoing process. It helps to understand the complexities organizations have to deal with and gives an understanding of the dynamics in organizations and the relationships between people. Organizational cultures and patterns become visible. New patterns are created, and the people involved get better and better at their play while developing themselves and the organization they are part of. Being able to contribute to this process is a rewarding challenge for professionals in human development. Since this change is interactive, HRD professionals can play a role in the complete change process together with other players.  

Acting from the commons

When change is seen as a collective process, it requires that players commit to exploring new ways together. Players who play a role in change influence each other. Together, they can share observations, interpret uncertain situations, create meaning, and make agreements on how to act, thus changing the existing context. Connecting these actors is a condition for giving meaning to events, discussing the change ambition, and starting the change process as an adventure.  

HRD professionals with an impact on collaborative change are socially smart, good at networking, influential, and sincere

Especially in organizations with highly skilled professionals from different backgrounds, players in change will be aware of other players and carefully use their social networks to have an impact. Every player in an organization can take the initiative to change and affect the change process: it is not linked to a formal position but to the logic of action. It is more related to finding it worthwhile to put yourself on the line and run a risk. HRD professionals who want to have an impact on collaborative change are socially smart, good at networking, influential, and sincere. 

Curiosity, an engine for change

Curiosity is at the heart of organizational transformation and professional development. Being curious means daring to ask questions without hesitation and daring to question existing rules and habits. Curiosity is stimulated by visiting unknown places, entering relationships with other people, and experimenting with new ideas. Curiosity helps to discover unwritten rules in play patterns. It is not possible to conduct profound changes until the starting points of a culture can be questioned. Many managers lack this cultural curiosity because, as their initial designers, they have become the defenders of the existing culture and prefer to stick to existing rules. HRD professionals may invite members of the organization to be more curious and open-minded in order to discover new possibilities.  

With organizational changes, most managers and their consultants often start with a problem diagnosis. They use analytical skills and tools to find out what is going wrong and what needs to be improved. It is remarkable that they often forget to observe without prejudice and with an appreciative attitude. From an appreciative perspective, you should ask yourself and others what is going well in the organization, what creates energy, what inspires people and where change is already underway. Unbiased observation, appreciative exploration, and curiosity are helpful in realizing transformational changes. HRD professionals could play an initiating and facilitation role in appreciative inquiry.  

It is not possible to conduct profound changes until the starting points of a culture can be questioned

Within organizations, people from different cultural backgrounds work together. Many international organizations are active in multiple countries and cultures and work together in international alliances. Curiosity is needed to understand and appreciate the cultural customs and values of colleagues. International alliances are successful when partners are curious about each other with sincere interest. When people from different cultures work together, they get to know the values of other cultures. In that way, they also discover and learn about their own cultural values because their unwritten rules are primarily observed in contrast with those of other cultures. HRD professionals can bring people from different professionals and cultural backgrounds together.  

Three kinds of curiosity are useful for success in organizational change:

First, curiosity about the world around you. Second, curiosity about others (which is related to social awareness). Third, curiosity about yourself, your motives, your fears and where you are coming from, which is related to self-awareness. Curiosity about who you are in relation to others and the world around you is essential for organizational innovation and professional growth for HRD professionals and all people in transforming organizations. 

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