Building Insights into Human Systems Internationally

What is Organizational Development Consulting, anyway?

OD consulting is the application of robust theory and practice related to helping human organizations develop their capacity to be effective and productive; to identify, accomplish and sustain the goals and objectives that are important to them.

What do you mean by ‘human systems’?

Human beings are social animals, living and working in groups of all kinds, formal and informal, large and small. A ‘Human system’ is any kind of human group that has a discernable boundary (it is possible to distinguish between belonging and not belonging) and which has some kind of form and function—characteristic ways of being and acting.

What do you mean by ‘complex adaptive system’?

A complex adaptive system (CAS) is any system in which there are a variety of agents responding to internal and external conditions, and in which agent responses influence the conditions which in turn influence responses. Though the network of individual interactions is necessarily unpredictable, over time patterns emerge. The whole of a CAS is always more than the sum of its respective parts.

Are human systems ‘complex adaptive’ systems?

Yes. In every human group the individual members are exercising their agency, making choices and responding to an infinite number of possible conditions. As each individual member makes individual choices, the conditions of the system are shifted which in turn has an impact on the choices of other individuals. Moreover, each human system exists within a web of other systems—both human and environmental (think weather), all of which have an influence. As human beings, we are extraordinarily good at adapting to these emerging conditions (the ‘adaptive’ in CAS). While it is impossible to control a human CAS so as to guarantee outcomes, we are adept at sensing patterns and adjusting responses to dampen some patterns and amplify others.
We are very familiar with human CAS’s. For example, every soccer game is an instance of sensing patterns and making choices with a view to dampening some patterns and amplifying others, even while we understand that we cannot control outcomes and that every game is, in a fundamental way, wholly unpredictable. This is true of every human CAS.

I thought you said you help groups achieve the outcomes that are important to them?

Indeed I did. But Onfoot Consulting takes complexity seriously and works within the constraints and limitations of CAS, helping clients to discern important patterns within their own context, clarifying what needs to be amplified or dampened and identifying strategies to influence patterns to useful ends. Clients gain clarity about what actions and behaviours will be useful and how to monitor their progress. Historically, the ability to be constructively and productively adaptive to emerging contexts was known as ‘wisdom’. Onfoot Consulting is deeply committed to helping clients increase in this wisdom.

Is there more to Onfoot Consulting than Barrett Horne?

Yes. Onfoot Consulting is connected to an extraordinary network of experienced colleagues, each of whom brings their own portfolio of expertise. While not ‘partners’ in a technical sense, we often partner on projects in which our respective experience and skill set working together is able to add significant value for a client. Some of these colleagues are noted with gratitude here.

How adept is Onfoot Consulting at working virtually?

Very. Long before Onfoot Consulting was formed, I was working with clients and organizations spread across the globe, needing to find creative solutions for collaborating and accomplishing productive work. Since the COVID pandemic, Onfoot Consulting has honed sophisticated tools and processes to work with teams and organizations at a distance. This has made possible collaborative workshops and generative group conversations in real time across multiple time-zones, achieving positive outcomes. Much of this collaborative work would not have been practically possible except via virtual means. The costs in time and money would have been hugely prohibitive, given the geographical distances and other constraints.