It's Not About You

Good ideas come from the margins.
I think I first encountered the concept of marginality in Organization Development a long time ago (early 70's) in discussions about collusion.

In 1988, in a strong critique of the state of OD, Margulies and Raia commented that OD consultants are "in bed with" their clients. They wrote:

"It is our belief that OD practitioners have become an integral part of this collusion. Many practitioners have succumbed to management pressure for the quick fix, the emphasis on the bottom line, and the cure-all mentality; they have failed to maintain "marginality" in their roles as consultants and helpers to management- they are for all intents and purposes "in bed" with their client-systems; and more important perhaps, they seem to have lost sight of the core values of the field..."

From what I have learned, marginality is a choice that we make. A relational stance toward our clients. A way to provide clients with outsider perspective, professional distance, neutrality, and honesty.

The marginality of a change agent gives the best vantage point for assessing the system and determining the changes that will bring about the needed improvement. Such marginality is an intentional space that the consultant chooses to operate from. He or she can be deep inside of the organization yet maintain marginality.

Marginality helps to keep the relationship professional.

And, if blogger Paul Graham is right about the powers in the marginal...

for example, Graham points out that new ideas often come from the margins and that outsider status brings different opportunities than those available to insiders

...there could be a whole new vista on marginality for OD practitioners.

Is it time for OD to reclaim the powers of marginality?
I think so.
A starting point is how we view ourselves. For example...
"It's not about You."
Rather, it is about the Client.

You, the consultant (or facilitator or coach), are not center stage. You are the neutral servant. Your job is to be of some help. The spotlight belongs to the Client.
The Client owns the goal. The Client is accountable for the outcome.

Your job is to work yourself out of a job...but to leave the Client and her System better off than they were at the start of the engagement.
Where are you on the topic of marginality?
Terrence Seamon has been cultivating marginality for decades. Follow him on twitter @tseamon, and on facebook Facilitation Solutions.

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