What can OD practitioners learn for Christmas?

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Mee-Yan Cheung

One of the nicest thing about Christmas is the unexpected gifts that sometimes arrive without warning. And we have a great one for you, this blog by Mee Yan Cheung Judge. You may know Mee Yan from her fantastic work in the field of OD.

We started this year by publishing a blog by Mee Yan on her hopes for OD in 2017 and here we end the year with a festive blog written especially for us.

Mee Yan Cheung Judge explores what lessons OD practitioners can glean from reflecting on Christmas.

Currently I live in Oxford but I grew up in Asia, I was educated in the United States and I have worked in more than 30 countries. But wherever I am, I have always been struck by how important Christmas as a festive season is regardless of the diversity of religious faith.  Why?  Other than pure commercialism, I think there are four features of Christmas we can reflect on:

  • Honouring basic human needs.
  • Strengthening our relationship with others.
  • Embedding the I into the we (groups and community).  

Four features about Christmas

  1. Giving gifts - someone defined a gift as the “undeserved grace” that we receive. Christmas is a time to express our love, gratitude and grace to those who we give gifts. Both giving and receiving gifts is an affirming gesture. An act to convey our sense of significance from one to another.
  2. Offering hospitality - Christmas is when people invite each other to their homes, community centres or homeless shelters to feast on special food. It is an important occasion to express and exchange warmth, re-enacting the importance of relationships. Whether you are serving in the soup kitchen or at home this Christmas, you have chosen to be gracious to other fellow human beings through your act of hospitality.
  3. Christmas cards and family letters - every year, I am still excited by receiving Christmas cards and family news from those we have not seen for a while.   When we get involved with their stories of pain and joy, friendships and relationships are being kept alive. For me, such communication often evokes love and gratitude to those who we have history with and those who have played a major role in shaping part of our life.
  4. Positive rituals - there are many rituals that keep organisations, the community and family together which creates a memory bank. In our family having Christmas stockings stuffed with little gifts is a big one. It started when my eldest was a toddler, now my girls are 32 and 23 years old, and refuse to give up this ritual. So, we still all squeeze onto the bed to open our stockings at 7:00am on Christmas morning.

What can OD practitioners learn from Christmas?

Giving gifts

As OD practitioners, what are our gifts to people, teams and organisations?  I know we get paid for our service, but what do we give them beyond our experience, skills, time, and tools? What is our attitude towards service above and beyond what we are paid for? What is that extra human touch that we can bring to those with whom we work? Have we considered doing an unspoken favour without being asked, or texting someone to convey we know they are doing their best in a difficult situation, or sending a symbolic card to affirm them, when praise is hard to come from the organisation. Have we ever thought about thanking them for their gifts to us when they ask us to support them in projects?

Offering hospitality

In our OD practice it’s important to remain clear about our role and our boundaries with our clients. These are important issues and for some practitioners they are a key area of development. OD is a helping profession, and as such our relationships are a key platform to enable the process of change. How can OD practitioners demonstrate warmth and build positive relationships without messing up our boundaries? Perhaps the following examples can help:

  • I started offering hospitality when I worked in the North Sea, with oil platform teams in Aberdeen over 20 years ago. There’s something tough about these oil men (they are all men) and our meetings always started at 7:00am. However, I observed that people often arrived in a bad mood and it took a while for us to get going. So, I decided to try something different and brought donuts and healthy snacks. After two weeks, the mood of the team shifted upwards and the atmosphere changed.
  • Whenever I notice a client needs encouragement, I invite them for a cheap and cheerful lunch which I always pay for. This small act of hospitality often results in people willing to open up about matters that do not come up in the office. Many times, I have thought to myself, this is £15 well spent, as both of us left the lunch being more cheerful. This might not be appropriate for everyone to do but there are lots of small acts we can do to show people they are being appreciated. 

Cards and letters

This is not just about communication, but about keeping a connection going. If a specific client comes to mind I will drop them a card, an e-mail or a short message to let them know they are in my thoughts and, if appropriate, I will inquire of their news. I only ask about things they have shared with me before, for example, children leaving home or a tough situation with their boss. These are important gestures that help us to build effective partnerships.

Positive rituals

I think rituals are so important in building community spirit in organisations. I often look for the positive rituals in the organisations I work with - many have them. What they do not realise is that it’s my job is to help them revitalise them. And If they do not have any, I encourage them to create some so that they can have a way to mark a significant milestone. Example milestones might be finishing a specific task, winning a contract or successfully meeting targets. Sometimes, I purposely plan a visit or meeting at a time when I know it’s right to mark a key milestone so that they have an external eyewitness for their positive ritual.

A last thought

I may have stretched this Christmas theme a bit, but as specialists in applied behavioral science, we know an organisation is a living system. And as such we need to create conditions to enable individuals to have their basic needs met within the work place. Knowing that, we can all do better in taking the positive aspects of this festive time into the world of work throughout the year.  

May I personally wish you a great festive season and May 2018 bring new opportunities, growth, joy and peace.     

Mee-Yan Cheung Judge


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