The Internet, email, and Web conferencing tools have created the capacity for collaborating across time and space both within and between organizations. Just as technology has transformed the organizational environment, it’s also transforming the field of OD.
Currently, there are three widely recognized applications of technology in OD:
· quantitative, data-based assessment tools, such as employee surveys and 360-degree feedback
· communications and teamwork, including document management and information sharing
· management and employee development, including online training.
OD practitioners increasingly use technology in their work every day. But, whereas most technologies applied to OD are used for one-way communication, data collection, or individual mentoring or training, we are now on the cusp of a new generation of interventions that use technology to facilitate “whole system” collaboration and organizational change.
Engaging the whole system
Currently, technologies are available that extend beyond dyadic correspondence and simple data collection to facilitate online collaboration, community building, collaborative learning, and the sharing of best practices on a global scale. New uses for these emerging technologies by OD practitioners hold the promise of becoming an integral part of the dynamic organizational change process itself.
Here’s a case in point. In early 2004, World Vision (www.wvi.org) embarked on a strategic planning process to identify organization-wide priorities and goals that will guide the organization into the future. With more than 20,000 employees and offices in 100 countries, World Vision is one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations, and is currently the world’s largest distributor of food, feeding over four million children every day.
An important part of World Vision’s planning process occurred last June, when 150 of its leaders from offices around the world met in Bangkok for a summit. Using a large-group facilitation methodology called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) (http://ai.cwru.edu) to guide the summit, World Vision not only involved its top leaders in the process, but it engaged 4,000 employees in an unprecedented and highly successful parallel summit process through an online collaborative community conferencing platform provided by iCohere.
Technology played an essential role in the success of this unique summit process. First, before the summit even began, 20,000 employees and other stakeholders from World Vision were asked to logon to the virtual community and create an individual profile, introducing themselves to their fellow World Vision colleagues around the globe. Some 4,500 participants ultimately accessed and contributed to the online community in English, Spanish, and French, depending on their preferred language. Additional online pre-work included the sharing of best practices from across the globally dispersed organization. These stories became an online resource of examples of World Vision at its best, upon which the Bangkok summit participants could build and learn from.
Virtual participation continued even once the summit began in Bangkok, with the online community space continuing to serve as a link through which the entire organization could connect during the summit process. With the help of a round-the-clock support staff, highlights from the face-to-face meeting in Bangkok were summarized, translated (from English into Spanish and French), and posted on the community site. Then, overnight, the rest of the organization around the world was invited to read, react to, and vote on issues and ideas that emerged from the face-to-face summit. These entries were translated back into English and summarized into a report for the face-to-face summit participants. Online participation included 4,000 virtual voices each day representing 60 countries.
The World Vision summit is an illustration of how virtual and face-to-face processes can inform one another. This groundbreaking summit created an event that wove together an entire system, merging virtual and face-to-face collaboration in ways that tapped the collective wisdom of the organization. (For a streaming presentation that provides additional detail about World Vision’s approach and process, click