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Diagnosis Is An Intervention In Itself

The process of diagnosis, by itself, acts as an intervention. It does so, in two ways;

(a) presence of the practitioner within the client system and

(b) the diagnostic activities.

The presence effect: As soon as the practitioner begins interacting with the organization members, processes are triggered in the client system subtly. The organization members experience getting affected, even by mere presence of the practitioner, before the actual diagnostic process begins. The presence of the practitioner evokes various processes within the members of the organization. The anticipations, expectations, fears, anxieties, and responses of myriad kinds may be experienced, both overtly and covertly. The members of the organization may perceive the practitioner, especially the external consultant, as an authority figure; someone who brings in expertise, experience, as well as, answers and solutions to their problems. Depending on how the individual members relate to authority in their individual lives, they respond accordingly; some of the responses may be that of dependence, counter-dependence, co-dependence, threat, admiration and expectation of being rescued from the problem situation etc.
Some of these feelings and responses may begin to manifest as resistances and non-cooperation, while some others manifested in form of enthusiasm and volunteerism. Either way, it not only creates subtle ripples in the status quo of the organization, it generates awareness amongst organization members that certain change may happen. This awareness of potential change process brings forth, feelings related to uncertainty and ambiguity among the organization members.

The practitioner’s presence, hence, intervene the status quo of the organization. This unintended intervention, however, helps in surfacing the covert feelings and processes of the individuals and the organization system. This, in turn, aids in diagnosing the covert processes present in the organization system. The practitioners must, however, remain aware of the effects of their presence on the individuals and the system as a whole. The competencies of (a) being sensitive to self and others, and (b) acting as a container of the feelings and emotions of the organization members, are extremely helpful to the practitioner in managing this unintended intervention.

The activity effect: The other way, that the diagnosis acts as an intervention in itself, is through the activities of diagnosis design (especially when it is participative), forming of the diagnosis team, data collection, data analysis and feedback. The practitioners’ activities of designing the diagnosis plan and selection of diagnosis team members are received, by the organizational members, as a message of the ‘seriousness’ that organization’s leadership has about the change process. Selection and training of the specialized diagnostic teams, for instance, enhances the member’s skills, abilities and competencies; the changes in those members create a collateral effect on the other members they interact with, personally and organizationally.

Data collection also impacts in moving the current status quo. The diagnostic inquiry process forces the respondents to think deeper into the issues studied. It moves certain aspects to the conscious awareness of the organization members. As the organization members get more involved in the diagnostic process, gradually gaining more awareness about several aspects of the issue and the organization. They also gain more insights about: – how they relate to their role, task & organization; how they contribute or hinder the organization’s improvement; how the organization impacts them; the intra-personal issues, the inter-personal issues and the larger group dynamics that affects them etc.

The feedback of diagnostic data forces the organization members to confront the surfaced information and its meanings, and take ownership of the status quo. The members, depending on the emotional/response stage they are at, may respond in denial or acceptance of the information and its meaning. The presentation of diagnosis creates intense impact within and amongst the organization members. They may, further, jointly examine the information and the related theories presented by the practitioners. Many resistances also get emerged and handled during this activity. This participatory process mobilizes the organizational energy and awareness; thereby intervening the organization system.

The effect of the enhanced awareness, at all these levels, leads to emergence of defense mechanisms and self-preservation behaviors. This creates a degree of turbulence in the status quo. The existing dynamics between people begin to alter, as covert needs, especially of survival, get aroused due to this turbulence. People’s affinities, power and political dynamics may get altered, based on the distinct coping mechanisms employed by individuals to deal with the awareness of new realities and emergence of new perceptions.

There is also positive impact of this awareness. As the organization members begin discovering more through the diagnosis activities, say the thought provoking questionnaires and the inquiries of the qualitative interviewing, they are compelled to confront the emerging facts and possibilities. As some members of the organization acknowledge and accept the discovered realities far easily than others and are optimistic about leveraging the discovered possibilities and potentials; they may begin working on the issues as they surface. Apart from the people and perception related issues, it is noted in several cases that, improvements and rectification of thus identified technical or technological issues gets initiated even before the data collection is completed.

The diagnosis, in this way, acts as an intervention. Invariably, the status quo would have already changed to a certain degree by time data is fed back to the client system.

- By Nihar
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