Frankfurt 2011 | Verstehen! To Understand!Blog

By Dr Stuart Wigham

I recall two conversations before the first EODF conference. One was with Alastair Mitchell-Baker and the other was with Paul. I knew Alastair through ODF in the USA, he was a fellow Board Member, his call was to float the idea of a European version of ODF and what were my thoughts. This was later followed with a call from Paul Tolchinsky, he was calling to make the connection – he is a terrific networker of people; in addition, his focus was to ensure that I’d come to the conference that was being planned. It sounded fun, I was relatively new to the field, only a few years in at this point and connecting with more people outside of my Local Government job was a welcome opportunity from what was beginning to feel like Groundhog Day. Behind the scenes, there were many others having similar conversations all with the aim of bringing people together around Organisation Design in Europe.
It seems like a lifetime ago now. I recall arriving at the hotel in Frankfurt. At this point, I still wasn’t really that sure what we were doing there under the banner of the European Organisation Design Forum. I say banner because the organisation didn’t actually exist in anything other than an idea at that point. The theme for the ‘Inaugural Caucus’ was “Building/Designing New Forms of Networked Organisations” and looking at the agenda, if it was a conference today, I’d sign up for it without a second thought, it looks great! These were the topics and speakers:

1. Organisation design and distributed leadership: Beyond ambidexterity and strategic dialogue – Professor George Romme
2. Defining high-level organisational architectures – Dr. Nicholay Worren
3. Beyond the Star Model: A tool kit for organisation design – Professor Andrew Campbell
4. Accountabilities, layering and job design – Christine Irwin
5. Horizontal processes – Alastair Mitchell Baker & Saskia Thalheim
6. Positive Deviance – Jane Lewis
7. Design processes – Dr. Paul Tolchinsky
8. Design work only ends when it is successfully implemented – Mark LaScola

In addition to the regular conference topics, there was also a series of community building events cleverly woven throughout the two days:
1. Getting acquainted – Julie Beedon
2. Community building: Alignment on purpose of a European organisation design community – Sophia Christie
3. Community Building 2: Develop design criteria for the community – Patricia Cichocki
4. Community building 3: Designing the community – Julie Beedon, Sophia Christie & Patricia Cichocki

Unbeknown to most of the 25 people in the room we were actually part of live design experiment to create the European Organisation Design Forum. In order to create something, we had to first come together to understand or in German, ‘verstehen’, why we were there. As you can see from the above, we made a personal connection, identified a purpose, created a design criteria and then brought those first three pieces together to form the basis of the next steps. Our first purpose was “Creating a connected community, exploring inspirational perspectives to release organisational potential” and it laid the groundwork for what came next.
Whatever the secret sauce is, the early EODF pioneers had insight and trust in what was to be and proved to be correct. I write these words the team is planning the 10th EODF conference! We have come a long way since that odd warehouse looking room off the side of a rather bland hotel near the airport, next, was Vevey in Switzerland!

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