"Peace Corps" Model of OD: A Values-Based Model for
Building Collaborative Work Environments in Engineering Organizations
Randi S. Brenowitz, M.B.A. and Tracy C. Gibbons, Ph.D.
article appeared in Vision/Action, the Journal of the Bay
Area OD Network, Fall 1997.
easy to talk about values and ethics in our work when we feel
encouraged to bring our values to the client. What happens, however,
when the client system is built on a value base different from
the OD consultant's? We are not talking about being afraid to
leave your laptop in someone's office, or of unethical behavior,
but rather of the work-related value system of most Silicon Valley
engineers. Frequently this segment of the population engages in
win-lose thinking, sees communication as expressing weakness,
values isolation and individual achievement, avoids conflict,
and de-values social norms without understanding (or even identifying)
the consequences of that behavior.
of our colleagues find that doing OD work with engineers can often
be extremely frustrating. However, we have evolved a model that
has allowed us to intervene successfully in engineering organizations.
The model is derived from our many years of working with engineering
and manufacturing organizations in high-technology companies.
This experience has enabled us to evaluate the similarities and
differences among these organization types. We have observed and
contributed to fundamental shifts in the meaning of the term "team,"
how teams are perceived and utilized, and how best to develop
teams and collaborative work environments with engineers.
a client system is built on a set of norms and values that differ
from ours in this way, OD models and experience has taught us
* identify and validate the client's value system
* find the overlap between our value system and the client's and
make that visible to all involved in the intervention
* not to try to "convert" the client
* model the behavior and values we think will be in the best interest
of the client in order to meet their goals
* help the client discover the consequences of their values, beliefs,
be successful, the model must be used in an appropriate context,
which involves four elements. These elements, which we discuss
below, reflect our values of:
* belief in process as well as systems
* allowing new processes to evolve locally vs. being imposed from
* insisting that any new processes be integrated into the business
activity and not simply be an "add-on"
* recognizing that the OD practitioner must be accountable for
behaving according to the values we are asking others to adhere
* deep respect for the existing system and its accomplishments
* a genuine belief that everyone's perspective has its own integrity
We comprehend and accept the fundamental differences between engineering
work and manufacturing/process work. By definition, manufacturing
and process workers have respect for the concept of process. Because
of the obvious interdependencies of the components of a process,
and the relative ease of cross-training and work-sharing, process
workers have been using teams for a number of years. To them,
the team concept is simply part of their regular work environment.
In engineering organizations, however, we have found that frequently
the concept of team is associated with a loss of creative freedom
and individual uniqueness. In an organization where the charter
is to imagine and invent, even the possibility of losing the freedom
to innovate is traumatic. (Practitioners know that teams increase
in innovation and creativity--but that's looking at it from our
engineering work is not a matter of continuous improvement, but
rather of creation and innovation, leading to technological and
conceptual paradigm shifts. This type of work does not easily
lend itself to cross-training or pay-for-knowledge reward systems
that are typical within team-based process organizations.
length of feedback loops in engineering organizations is much
longer than those in manufacturing organizations. On an engineering
project, it may take years before one knows if the customer or
the marketplace thinks positively about the product. This is in
contrast to "quality control" or "internal inspection"
in manufacturing organizations, where feedback may be received
in a matter of hours or days. Traditionally, engineers were trained
to be independent workers. They are often frustrated that today's
technology and market demands impose structural constraints on
their work environments. They generally prefer being measured
on individual uniqueness and heroics, not on collaboration and
Working with intact teams (to the extent possible) will increase
the effectiveness of the model. This shows our interest in helping
them with "real-world" situations rather than abstract
classroom exercises or perfectly constructed cases. It encourages
them to believe that our work is relevant to their situation.
Once we have a few early adopters, working with the intact team
helps create peer expectations and support for the new behavior.
We engage team members in the process. We do not come in to an
organization with a complete plan for how everything will be.
We come, instead, with a working plan and a desire for the rest
to evolve. Engaging the team members in this evolution increases
buy-in and allows us to make the necessary modifications to our
We integrate team development with the core business. Through
this methodology, teams become the way the core work is done rather
than management's "flavor of the month" or something
to be done only when management is looking. We learn about the
core business and their current concerns--not to be sympathetic
or popular, but to know enough to be genuinely helpful. Yes, sometimes
this requires learning about things we didn't intend (or desire)
to learn about. This is part of our cost (and benefit) of offering
a higher quality product.
our effort to articulate what enables us to be successful working
with this population, we created what we now call the "Peace
Corps Model of OD." This model bridges the contrast between
the value set of the client system and the OD practitioner by:
* inviting them to use their best skills and intentions (e.g.,
curiosity) to understand our work and beliefs
* providing a way for them to adopt new values and behaviors without
having to lose face or totally abandon their original approach
Corps workers live with the indigenous population learning the
local language, customs, and culture. We have had to become experts
in the language and culture of intuitive, analytical personality
types. We "live" with intact, cross-functional, and
cross-organizational teams by attending their meetings according
to their time schedules. We also participate in quasi-work events,
such as birthday lunches and team celebrations, and we learn about
supposedly non-work issues such as people's hobbies, passions,
and pet peeves. This enhances our credibility as we encourage
new forms of behavior.
Corps workers are asked to respect the accomplishments of the
natives and to bring only those tools that can be useful to the
population. OD consultants working with engineers must recognize
the difficulty of what today's corporations are asking of their
engineering organizations. It is easy for those of us working
in and around Silicon Valley to become complacent about computer
technology. A healthy respect (perhaps even admiration) for the
work being done by these engineers is necessary if we are to work
with them in a collaborative way.
as no Peace Corps worker would bring a fax machine to a village
that lacked electricity, as consultants we must resist the temptation
to bring a client the newest state-of-the-art OD intervention
simply because we are eager to use this new tool. The appropriate
foundation work must be done before any new technique is introduced,
always respecting the organization's current practices. Each intervention
must be modified to meet the specific needs of that particular
group. Off-the-shelf solutions are suspect in a community of inventive
is imperative that Peace Corps workers maintain their own core
values. Although we suggest constant modification of our processes
and our behavior, we recognize the importance of maintaining the
integrity of the intervention. We must always "walk the talk,"
remembering that we are dealing with a population trained to find
flaws in systems. Engineers are often willing to work with us
to fix the bugs in our process, but if they find an integrity
problem, they will define the whole intervention as fraudulent.
Corps workers must acknowledge how difficult change is and continuously
support and coach the natives while reinforcing the new behavior.
When OD consultants work with engineering organizations, we must
do our work in such a way, however, that the population does not
feel patronized. We must remember that we are on their turf. If
we pay enough attention to this factor in the model, we may even
learn something new about change from our clients.
contrast the Peace Corps model with that of historical Missionaries
and Crusaders, who scorned local beliefs, felt superior to the
natives, abrasively replaced local customs, and pursued their
own agenda (to conquer or convert). The subtle but important distinctions
between Peace Corps workers and Missionaries and Crusaders are
easily noticed by engineers. While retaining a healthy amount
of cynicism, they are willing to work with and respect the ideas
of the Peace Corps--but they are, justifiably, ever-vigilant against
Missionaries and Crusaders.
danger in using the Peace Corps Model of OD is the risk of "going
native" or colluding with the client. It is possible to become
so involved in the local values and customs that you no longer
bring a new perspective. Although we strive for understanding
and valuing the engineering culture, we cannot start making excuses
for anti-social behavior nor should we collude with dysfunctional
parts of the culture.
may be in danger of "going native" if you find yourself:
believing that starting or ending meetings late is not a problem
* hesitating to push back on the client system because they are
certainly "trying hard"
* trying to shorten meetings or interventions to half the time
you know they should really take
* being overly accommodating to changes in the client's schedules
In order to counteract these dangers, Peace Corps workers make
sure they write home regularly, receive their home-town newspapers,
and take sabbaticals when necessary. OD consultants can honor
these same standards by staying in contact with others doing similar
work and attending professional conferences and meetings when
possible. Although we must maintain a healthy respect for our
engineering clients, we need to remember that we are not engineers.
We bring a unique perspective to our clients which they need us
to maintain as we help them develop their culture.