It was a long journey home today. 8 hours, 6 trains, 2 taxis and two other car journeys. Incredible to think I was only travelling a distance of 100 miles. When the train came to an abrupt and unexpected stop out in the middle of nowhere, I had that half-surprised then sinking feeling. The driver’s announcement was even more bemusing. ‘We’ve come to a halt and we don’t know why’. I liked his honesty but it didn’t instil confidence in the passengers. People around me smiled ironically, exchanged sarcastic comments and reached for their phones.
It was curious timing for me. I had spent much of the journey writing a journal article on OD. Organisations are, too, places of unpredictability where unexpected things happen and, sometimes, we don’t know why. We set out on a journey, filled with confidence and anticipation, and sometimes weird stuff happens that we just can’t make sense of. Key people leave, team members fall out with each other, processes throw up problems that we hadn’t anticipated, critical systems break down when we least expected it.
It turned out the problem on the train line was faulty wiring ahead. The problem was fixed and we reached our destination, later than expected but nevertheless got there. Organisations as dynamically complex human systems are often more difficult to ‘fix’, the problems more tricky to identify, the solutions less obvious, the implications less predictable. We can feel powerless and frustrated, make premature decisions with unintended consequences, throw ourselves into at actions that aim to restore our sense of control.
We can also experience unexpected blessings, like the person who spoke to me when the train stopped, an unusual moment of connection and humanity, the friendly glances between people as the train started moving again, the fresh sense of gratitude and relief when we finally made it into the station. It reminded me to look for the good things, the signs of life and hope, the unexpected possibilities for insight and relationship that proverbial spanners in the works can create.
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.