A World Leader Global OD Solutions

Practicing OD with a Technology Driven Global Organization

“When we OD practitioners find models that guide interventions in multi-organizational mega systems like this one, we will be on our way to becoming a reinvented profession. ”

There was a time when organizations consisted of people who worked in the same building, had face to face meetings and reported to one boss. There was a detailed organizational chart, roles and responsibilities seemed clear, and there were even job descriptions. Many organizations today still follow this traditional form and when consulting in these organizations, OD practitioners tend to draw upon traditional values and methods to guide their interventions. But traditional organizations aren’t as traditional as they used to be, and today many organizations are not traditional at all. Some OD practitioners like myself spend most of our time with new type organizations whose entire structures demand a more fluid functioning and thus a different mode of consulting. In this article I describe Saramir (a pseudonym) as an example of one such new type organization. The unique relationships at Saramir provide the context for my recommendations that traditional OD values and methods may need to be stretched and re-created to meet the challenge.


As a technology driven global organization, Saramir exhibits two striking characteristics. First, It

operates almost exclusively through virtual teams made up of individuals who are globally dispersed.

Second, its pace is so rapid that all parts of the product cycle take place simultaneously. Saramir is

an internet company, therefore a dot.com organization, and has a multi-million-dollar valuation that

does not yet generate profits. Jim Miller is its head of product marketing, stationed

in San Jose, California. Yossi Karmi is the Director of the research and development unit in

Tel Aviv, Israel; and Marge Ayoun directs research and development in Dublin, Ireland. T.S. Tashahaki

manages sales in Japan and Asia Pacific. The legal department is located in New York City, and managed

by Constance McGuire. Finally, the CEO, George Lubell, leads the company from his home

office in San Francisco, California. These Saramir executives spend a lot of their time on airplanes,

on their cell phones, on email, and with voice mail. Face to face meetings take place only irregularly.

In Saramir products are not necessarily produced and shipped only after the technology has

been fully tested. Everything runs in parallel. At the very early stages, even before design of the

product had begun, the CEO had already branded the company. Furthermore T.S., working his sales

territory, had closed deals with customers in the Far East.


Jim, Yossi, T.S., and Constance did not share he same values. Looking at the world from his

pragmatic and expedient marketing perspective, Jim viewed working with the Israelis as a disaster.

In his view, the Israeli-based R&D team, led by Yossi, was argumentative

and always wanted to revisit decisions no matter how final they

were seen by others. The people in Yossi’s camp, on the other hand,

viewed the American marketing people in Jim’s shop as processdriven

and rigid. They considered Jim’s preferred decision making

methods to be maladapted to the world of rapid change.

T.S. thinks that Western corporate values are incompatible

with doing business in the Far East in general, and with the Japanese

in particular. Nowhere is he more uncomfortable than in his relationships

with Jim and his California based product marketing group, who seem unwilling to prioritize software bug fixes

to Saramir products in a manner needed to please his demanding Japanese customers. Jim, on the

other hand, has expressed his side of the issue during various visits to Japan. He claims that double or

triple effort is required to satisfy Japanese customers as compared to customers in other markets.

The Japanese tend to withhold repeat business until they are satisfied with the operation of

present products, even if the delay of repeat sales lasts for many months. Thus, by dealing with

Japan, Jim looses time from equally lucrative territories

and reduces the likelihood of his reaching his overall performance targets. His career goal is to

become a CEO within five years, and anything that interferes with his opportunity to meet or

exceed his targets is troublesome for him. A third side of this culturally complicated

interaction surfaced when Jim appealed to Yossi in R&D not to put product revisions requested by

Japanese customers on a fast-track. He argued that Yossi’s Israeli engineers could concentrate on the

“sexy” releases of other products for less demanding customers; customers who are more willing to

take risk with having unsatisfied customers because they are getting technological innovation.

Yossi however wants to succeed with the Japanese because he finds their demands very challenging,

and working with Japan is a good way to recruit engineers in the Israeli job market.

Cross-cultural dynamics contribute special challenges for the OD consultant especially if the

client is a high technology company. For instance, in some cultures it is quite common to revisit a

decision after it has been made. In others, attempts to revisit once a decision has been made are likely

to be perceived as subversive. These types of culturally relativistic dilemmas are part of the routine

experience of working in a global organization. Yet the OD practitioner who encounters cultural collisions

in high tech may not be able to help very much because of the fast pace and the unsuitability

of OD action planning in its usual form.. OD concepts such as win-win decision making and

participatory tools such as brainstorming are usually insufficient because they aren’t effective at

bringing people holding conflicting cultural values to mutually satisfying outcomes, particularly when

time is of the essence.


People dispersed around thre globe regularly face stubborn conflicts that create acute trust problems.

Jim values his career, T.S. values his standing with customers, and the Israeli R&D contingent

values innovation and time to market. Strategic choices must be made because all these interests

will not be equally satisfied. Yet OD practitioners tend to unduly influence their clients to work

through fruitless consensus decision making in these sorts of cases. Oftentimes the parties view

these efforts with skepticism or worse, as a joke. What is needed is for the consultant to help the

clients make tough choices. When tough choices are made, some interests

inevitably win out over others


Another important sub-plot at Saramir involves Marge Ayoun who heads another of the

company’s R&D operations located in Ireland. The fact that she did not reinforce the policy of freezing

code writing up to three weeks from a product’s expected release date was bitterly resented

by her software team leaders. Marge’s ability to accommodate changes in design specifications up

until the very last possible date had made her operation a real favorite of the CEO, which in turn

paid back dividends to Marge whenever George allocated project resources.

For the programmers, however, Marge’s behavior caused them to live constantly in chaos,

and many of them burned out after one or two design rounds.. While working to deliver a design,

they were likely to work twenty-two hour days, especially as the deadline got closer. Though they

always delivered the goods, Marge’s challenge after the fact was to try to re-motivate those staff people

who slipped into lethargy and frequently complained even though they stayed around. Unfortunately

one or two of the most talented engineers left after these release crunches. These ex-Saramir

programmers usually flourished, and some have quickly become millionaires in greener pastures.

The problems in Dublin came to light throughout the company when an annual morale

survey showed Marge’s team coming in last place in job satisfaction. Eventually Marge attempted to

deal with these burn-out and attrition problems, but the effort fell short. She asked a consultant to

do some work with her team leaders. Marge and her consultant chose motivational

training as their intervention strategy although this group had consistently produced outstanding

products under oppressive deadlines. But Marge had been pleased with the results of the motivational

training approach at her last company where the content of the design was based on Maslow’s

hierarchy of needs. Parenthetically, it should be noted that Maslow and other classic behavioral science

theorists have contributed greatly to the repertoire of OD practitioners. Maslow’s theories

have shed light for managers in such settings as when tools are needed to understand the needs of

steel or auto workers. However, for these bright young software engineers at Saramir, Maslow

proved to be about as relevant as an abacus would be today for calculating modern corporate revenue

and finances! Marge can do nothing to prevent engineers who want to become instant millionaires from

moving on. And software folks often identify with the technology more than with the final product,

thus techniques such as trying to help people “see the whole picture” have little motivational value.

Furthermore, a chance to satisfy customers and receive their positive feedback for meeting delivery

dates is less motivating for many talented software people than the opportunity to be in the

forefront of technology with new tools (even if they still have a few bugs).

Another training short-fall involved the San Francisco based head of the corporation. Poor

George found himself in the unfortunate position of not being able to focus on growing the business

because he was always (in his words) “baby-sitting,” or mediating squabbles. He used to rely on

Constance for managerial help. However, Yossi started complaining bitterly about Constance by

saying that he has no time for “U.S. legal paranoia,” and the two of them eventually became embroiled

in an on-going feud. Caught between the two , George was torn. Certainly his inclination was to

give strong consideration to legal advice. But he did not understand that cultural relativism occurs,

even in legal matters. Constance’s advice was based on the U.S. legal perspective. In other parts

of the globe, such as in Israel where Yossi was raised, lawyers tend to avoid standing in the way

of deals getting done because of the souring effect of such actions on relationships.

George, in his attempt to intervene in these various energy sapping conflicts across his organization,

finally called in an OD consultant. After two training workshops on conflict resolution and

strategic vision, where dialogue exercises were used heavily, participants from the Japanese office

said that the sessions were far too confrontive. Personnel from the Israeli office complained that the

issues never really got out in the open. Jim and some of his people from San Jose said that the

workshops really opened their eyes. But Constance sarcastically responded that, while people

from the West Coast really go for that kind of that dialogue stuff, it wasn’t clear if anything would

move ahead as a result of the sessions.


As an OD person, one must question what useful tools are available for helping in these

organizations. I have found at least five predominately Western values or principles that may not be

relevant in this milieu:

· Dialogue

· Organization

· Truthfulness

· Performance evaluation, and

· The diagnosis-follow up sequence.

The notion of using open dialogue to bridge differences is imbedded in traditional OD values.

Behind this idea of dialogue, are doctrinaire assumptions such as: Dialogue is good for everyone,

and all differences can be bridged if you get people together in the right context.

I found that mediation or arbitration, in some parts of Saramir, were better suited to finding solutions

than the traditional open dialogue between conflicting parties. In other instances people freely

yelled and screamed at one another and, although our organization development training teaches us

to set ground rules against such distasteful behavior,

These incidents sometimes led to the building of greater trust. In other places, you just have to go

out and socialize with a colleague, and demonstrate that you can drink as well as your buddy,

before he is willing to hear you out. The second core concept that may need

adjusting is our concept of what it means to “organize” or be “an organization.” At Saramir I

found the word “organization” to mean very different things to people from different cultural

backgrounds. For the Israelis, it was and is seen as an extension of their families in which raw emotions

tend to be communicated freely. For the Americans, there tended to be more compartmentalization

in the sense that work is one thing, emotions are held back when on the job, and the

rest of one’s life is separate and private. Third, the Saramir experience calls into question

the culturally relativistic value of truthfulness. For Israelis and Americans, trust tended to be

closely tied to the perception of parties telling the truth to one another. For many Asians, that same

so called truthfulness tends to destroy trust in instances where it caused anyone to lose face.

There seems to be no universal cross-cultural standard of appropriateness when it comes to the

value of so called truth. Fourth, OD principles place importance on

the “timely and fair” evaluation of employee performance. However at Saramir the performance

evaluation system didn’t work because of the intense competition for talent in the critical skill

areas that made up their workforce. Tedious rating procedures and paper work were distractions that

added no value as far as the performance of sales people, systems engineers, and the like. These was

also arbitrarily structured according to the traditional annual performance cycle, rather than

around more output based time periods such as the time it takes to produce an actual project

design, or a product’s life cycle. And fifth, at Saramir the standard organization

development diagnosis and follow up sequence required in action research was too slow to be useful.

This problem was due to the fact that a systematic diagnosis of issues takes time, and there is

always a delay between this step and any opportunities for follow up. Usually, by the time all this

occurs, real time realities that were seen during diagnosis have changed, and follow up recommendations

are obsolete. Rather than diagnosis and follow up, these organizations might benefit

from adopting a preventive or “pit-stop” maintenance paradigm. For instance, it is safe to assume

that every virtual team will suffer a breakdown in trust every three months because of a missed

delivery date or other problem. A preventive maintenance paradigm would lead to periodic

focusing on trust issues e.g., every three months, thereby reducing the occurrence of problems

requiring diagnosis and follow up intervention.


want to turn attention to the kinds of interventions that may be more appropriate in the

milieu of the technology driven global organization.

Reality of Employee FIT

Constance, may simply be a bad fit in this type of cross-cultural environment. Her values

seemed ill suited, especially to her work with Israeli R&D people, and her virtual communication

skills were woefully lacking. Constance’s trips abroad inevitably were stressful for her as well as

for the people she came into contact with. Her fixation on the protection of intellectual property,

though understandable given her U.S. specific legal training, was self defeating. The cost of her continuing

was the possible loss of Yossi. Or, Yossi, might have become hardened to the point where he told

his engineers to simply ignore the “U.S. legal crap.”

Coaching Executives

George was coached to reframe his view of the problems at the company. He tended to be

impatient with squabbles that he saw as petty and distracting. He also tended to be singly focused on

the goal of growing the business, without realizing that internal communications and cooperation

issues were directly relevant to this goal. George had recruited top people for the various

business activities in the company, and very much wanted them to work together as a team.

He was quite ignorant, however, about the differences in values across cultures that might prevent

these top people from being able to work together collaboratively. In order to forge more collaborative

relationships, George had to realize that helping people work together in virtual space as well as

face-to-face, and engaging in trust building activities were leadership requirements that were totally

irrelevant to his goal of growing the business.Babysitting, if done properly, was growing the


Affirmative Recruitment

Cross-cultural communications were so problematic for Saramir, and the stakes were so great

that they eventually felt the need for bridge builders to serve a connecting function across cultural

lines. This, a third intervention at Saramir led to the company bringing Japanese and Israeli managers

into key US facilities for the specific purpose of improving the interface with their overseas

counterparts. Where possible, R&D engineers from the same ethnic groups of the customer were

recruited. The need for global awareness of crosscultural obstacles logically and inevitably led to this

type of action at Saramir

Accepting and Embracing

Fuzziness and Chaos

CEO George viewed the clarification of roles and responsibilities at Saramir as essential in his

quest for smoother working relations across the company. He attributed much of the tension to

people’s lack of clarity about who should be doing what. George was coached to reframe his conception

of the problem. Instead of chaos and confusion as something that could and should be overcome

by role clarification, George was coached to moderate his and his people’s expectations. After

all, Saramir had experienced four reorganizations in a single year and as far as clarity of roles was

concerned, there had always been functional redundancy across the company. The reality was

that the company’s employees, dispersed around the world, needed to be able to do almost every

corporate function in order to interact in real time with their customers and suppliers.

Setting Aside Role Definition and

Clarity of Responsibilities

Clear role delineation (a staple of the traditional OD approach) is rarely possible in this type

of technology driven global environment. As a matter of fact, my view is that roles are fuzzy

everywhere! In start-up companies and organizations experiencing turbulent transitions, roles and

responsibilities cannot and need not be crystal clear. In too many cases, the effort spent in role

clarification exercises (often at the recommendation of OD practitioners) can actually hinder

efforts to respond to emerging needs with sufficient speed.

Certainly in technology driven global organizations, people have to react and meet incredibly

short turn-arounds, and these factors mean that roles are open to more ambiguity than in traditional

organizations. The metaphor of the orchestra, with its carefully rehearsed and synchronized

sections must give way in these global organizations to that of the improvisational jazz ensemble.


Based on my experiences at Saramir and other similar companies, I believe that OD consultants

need to be able to break away from traditional OD values when working with the kinds of

companies focused on in this article. I would further suggest that, in order to be helpful in this type

of newly emerging organization, OD consultants should:

· Be able to diagnose functional coping modes in a dispersed, chaotic, virtual organization, as

opposed to attempting to correct them based on traditional values of what is functional and what

is dysfunctional,

· Model embracing chaos, instead of colludingwith the notion that chaos is necessarily problematic,

· Identify culturally based barriers to trust that might be removed through dialogue oriented

interventions, as well as offer practical alternatives when intractable barriers cannot be overcome,

· Demonstrate flexibility when causes of problems or clear priorities cannot be determined through

traditional diagnostic methods. One of the keys to this diagnostic flexibility is for OD consultants

to think in terms of updating their diagnoses on a weekly basis.

· Honor the urgency that runs wild. Borrow ideas from the modern medical trauma unit that is

unable to set a priority and work on one thing at a time. For these units, and for some of our

clients, everything is simultaneously urgent

· Extend the reach of our consultations to include such stakeholders as vendors, clients, and subcontractors working with our clients in order to improve the relevance of our diagnoses and

interventions. With technology driven global organizations, they are usually caught up in huge

mega systems that require mega system interventions.


I believe that, in this new virtual infotech age, there are at least three critical success factors that

will need to be met in order for organization development practitioners to more effectively

meet the needs of their clients. We must:

· Develop a model whereby several organizations are a system contract and receive mega system

OD work. Companies that have merged or acquired are one example. To illustrate this idea,

take the case of Vocalmessage in Oregon: It has just acquired Transtech in Detroit and

will integrate all of the acquiree’s tools into their business suite. This strategy brings Versanthram

Software into the picture because Transtech worked with this New Delhi based firm on a

deliverable that is due in six months. Versanthram, however, had to parcel out a particularly

difficult piece of the work to Spacebug, an Israeli trouble shooting software house

Predictably the complexities of this four pronged mega system have led to problems

including some breakdowns in trust and communication. When we OD practitioners find models

that guide interventions in multi-organizational mega systems like this one, we will be on our way

to becoming a reinvented profession.

· Legitimize, embrace, and build tools to support the lack of stability as a way of life in organizations.

The character of change is inevitably the result of the clash between plans and reality. So

a new OD core competency is, not so much one’s skills around planning change, but skills

with facilitating human interaction in this ever more frequent clash.

· Internationalize most of our traditional organization development values and skills. OD practitioners

need to develop global capabilities and forms of organizing that accommodate culturally

relativistic differences in organizations. The values and assumptions of the U.S. and Europe,

where OD was born, constitute baggage that may make us irrelevant in other parts of the

world. I have tried to use my experiences with consulting

to the company for which Saramir is a pseudonym, as a case study in order to illustrate

the use of non- traditional interventions and approaches. In some instances, I have explained

how more traditional OD values and methodologies are poorly suited to the goal of assisting this

type of global organization. It is my hope that some benefit will be derived for practitioners and

their international client organizations from considering the ideas I expressed for changing our way

of practicing our profession.


Micklewait and Wooldridge, The Witch Doctors,

Time Books, 1998.

Fons Trompenaar, Riding the Waves of Culture,

Economist Books, 1993.

Peters, Thriving on Chaos, Knopf, 1987.