Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Power of Human Relationships

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

The Power of Human Relationships

Article excerpt


Explicit recognition of the power of human relationships is one of the defining characteristics of organization development. Borrowing from Margaret Wheatley's New Science metaphor, the organizational power unleashed through human relationships can be compared to the power generated through nuclear fusion. The influence outside the OD community of thought leaders like Wheatley, David Cooperriderand Edgar Schein, each of whom recognizes the power of human relationships, has contributed to more effective organizations and to improving our world. Tapping into the energy of human relationships is critical not only to enhanced organizational performance, but also to a healthy and fulfilling personal life.

Organization Development: Unleashing the Power of Human Relationships

"Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter."

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Columbia world, 1996)

The Perfect Storm (Petersen, 2000) tells the true story of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, which sank in the north Atlantic in a colossal storm in the fall of 1991. Loss of radio contact with the port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, marked the beginning of the end for the captain and crew, none of whom survived the boat's sinking. Rescue became impossible when the search teams didn't know where to look for the missing boat.

The Perfect Storm may be the perfect metaphor for human relationships. just as the Andrea Gail's crew couldn't survive without radio contact, we humans cannot have fulfilling lives without healthy relationships with others. Perhaps organization development's greatest contribution to our world has been making explicit how important it is for people to come together in new and positive ways. Recognition of the power of human relationships is one of OD's defining characteristics.

In this paper, I show that one of OD's critical contributions to our world is its recognition of the power of human relationships. First, I briefly define the term "relationship" and touch on its centrality in OD theory and practice. Then, I discuss how the power of human relationships is at the foundation of the thinking of OD thought leaders Margaret Wheatley, David Cooperrider and Edgar Schein, and how the principles they espouse - including their theories relating to human relationships - have been applied well beyond the confines of organization development. Next, I acknowledge individuals of historical prominence outside OD who have recognized the significance of human relationships. Before concluding, I borrow Wheatley's New Science (1999) metaphor and compare the power of human relationships to the energy generated by nuclearfusion. I conclude with some reflections on the centrality of human relationships in OD theory and practice, and in the lives of members of the OD community.

I begin by defining and briefly discussing the term "relationship."


Defined and Discussed

Webster's (1975, p. 975) defines a "relationship" as follows:

1: the state or character of being related or interrelated: CONNECTION 2: KINSHIP also: a specific instance or type of kinship 3: a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings

In this paper, by "relationship" I am generally referring to an interpersonal relationship, that is, a connection between two individuals.

Since an organization is a group of individuals sharing a collective purpose, the individuals making up the organization have a "connection" or "relationship" resulting from their association with the group. By definition, then, the "relationship" is a concept central to OD theory and practice. The centrality of human relationships in organization development thought is evident in commonly used words and phrases from OD, such as "team," "collaboration," "strategic alliance," and "partnership," each of which identifies a different combination of relationships. …

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