Organisational acupuncture: A new approach to change in organisations

seprator
27October 2016
Katherine Woods

Katherine Woods

Partner
This post is authored by Katherine Woods, Partner. Full bio →
Katherine Woods

A quick lesson in acupuncture

A few weeks ago my dear friend and colleague, Kenda, told me about Urban Acupuncture. Apparently this is the practice of using small things to improve community spirit e.g. a phone box library or a small community garden. This conversation got me thinking about how small interventions can create great change, and what this might mean in an organisational context.

So, I then went on to speak to my Father. My Father was an Anaesthetist who specialised in pain relief. He came from Colombo, in Sri Lanka to train in Western medicine at UCL in London, and went on to integrate acupuncture into his treatment of Chronic Pain. After a brief conversation about acupuncture, here is what he summarised in a letter to me…

The practice of stimulating pressure points in the body, in order to induce relief from bodily ailments stems from Biblical times and beyond. It embodies a holistic approach towards the treatment of Human Disorders. Some of its characteristic features are, that it is relatively non-invasive to the body, it is almost free of any side-effects, and last but not least, it is inexpensive.

About 33% of patients attending the Chronic Pain Management Clinic would feel almost cured after treatment with Acupuncture and another 33% would experience worthwhile relief from their symptoms. Patient selection for treatment is important, as with all forms of Clinical Therapy.

Love, Pops

As I read his notes I became more and more excited about the parallels between my Father’s work and my own. Maybe his work in relieving people of pain wasn’t so different from my approach to change in organisations!

This was my train of thought…

Metaphors for organisations and the underlying assumptions about change

The need for perpetual, sustainable change in organisations is becoming more apparent than ever. If we consider the old paradigm of change in organisations, it stems from the underlying metaphor of an organisation as a machine. The puts focus on the intellectual challenge of fixing what is ‘broken’

  • A machine needs external intervention to tweak or change – it cannot change itself
  • For an entire machine to change, the external intervention needed to be ‘all over’ the machine
  • As change occurs parts are discarded to the scrap heap.

I think of organisations as big groups of people – living human systems. When we focus on organisations as living systems it shifts the focus onto stimulating and nurturing change from within. Living systems change in different ways

  • They are capable of self-change – often triggered by subtle external shifts
  • Change can be organic or metamorphic – either way the DNA of the organism remains the same
  • When living systems change there is little or no waste as energy transfers from one form to another

The application of acupuncture to human systems

If we then apply my Father’s thoughts on acupuncture to organisations, then we need to take a holistic approach to the whole human system and identify the pressure points to induce change. If external interventions are needed then the needles need to be sharp and skilfully applied to effect the ripples of change that flow from the pressure point.

Most importantly, I take note of my Father’s last point. ‘Patient selection for treatment is important.’ Unlike in high intervention medicine, where the patient is anaesthetised, in acupuncture the patient is awake and alert. Organisational acupuncture only works when the leaders of the organisation want to change and are willing to commit to some discomfort in themselves as they become the change they want to see in others.

Leave a Comment