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OD for Life: Early Observations of a Movement

This was our rallying cry to the field of Organizational Development (OD) and related professions. Our intention was to launch a conversation and, ultimately, a movement. Now, just a few months in, we are already deeply moved by our shared experience and by the things we have noticed and learned. It feels right to share some of that here in the spirit of stewarding what seems to be emerging.

We started last year as four consultants and facilitators (Andres, Din, Joeri and Michelle), from four different countries. Two of us are experienced nature guides. One has a PhD in the role of wonder in work. One describes herself as a “maven of thrivability.” After three of us hosted open Inquiry Circles for two years within the Bio-Leadership Project and then the four of us met intensively over Zoom for several months, we gave a name to the calling we were all feeling: “OD for Life,” meaning Organizational Development in alignment with life, on behalf of all life, in service of life’s ability to thrive. We then crafted an impassioned invitation for others to join us in exploring the questions that had brought us together:

  • What is our responsibility as OD practitioners in confronting the crises we face as a planet?

  • Which unique gifts do we have to offer to the biggest questions of our time?

  • How do we take a stand as individuals, as organizations and as a field to act for the good of the whole?

Our invitation was to explore these questions together for two days in early December 2021 within a nature-immersed retreat in the Dutch countryside. The outcome we envisioned was a sense of community and shared commitment, as well as the first outlines of a manifesto. To our delight, the response to our invitation was enthusiastic; we seemed to be putting words to something many were feeling.

And then, in the final days of November, Covid rapidly circled in, and it became clear that we could not meet in person. We postponed the retreat to May 2022, hoping that the virus would abate by then. But we also felt an urge to honor the energy and urgency that had built up in anticipation of the retreat. So we decided to offer a one-day online gathering, quickly co-designing an experience that brought together 27 warm souls and that felt spacious and nourishing, even over Zoom.

And there is so much more to the story. Already, there have been layers of insight, connection and depth that seem to offer glimpses of the future that is calling to us. We’re gathering a few of those glimpses in a series of short reflections, which we’ll share over the next days and weeks. For example, we saw that:

  1. Principles are more powerful than policies and practices.

  2. Relationships are the soil from which everything good grows.

  3. Nature and our own bodies are vital partners in this work.

  4. Poetry sneaks in if you let it and then quietly makes more possible.

  5. In these ways and more, our organizations can be practice grounds for a more thrivable world.

In all, we felt affirmation of the intention we are holding for this movement:

  • to explore and challenge what we are ‘developing’ with our organizational and leadership development;

  • to discern a story of progress that cultivates resilience, connection, regeneration and care;

  • and to identify the leadership and OD practices that are most aligned with such a story.

Looking ahead, we are excited to have explored two layers to this work.

  • One that might be considered internal to the movement, a call to continuously 'nourish the soil' of mutual support, shared learning, and challenging each other in helpful ways within our practice and as a community.

  • The other is more external, envisioning a range of actions that may help us take this work further out into the world — things like client projects, nature-led initiatives (for example, a call for nature to be on organizational boards), campaigns or even joining voices in protests. We think the root to this would be the creation of a 'manifesto' — a set of principles that would help guide real impact.

To these ends, we will offer a series of virtual gatherings, starting with Inquiry Circles on February 16 and March 30th, 2022.

And we hope you will join us at our in-person gathering in early May in the Netherlands.

Let’s come together to define a shared pledge, with which we can challenge and support each other as we cultivate a more life-aligned field of practice.

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