Something New, Something Old
Ted Holzmann is a California native whose first cross-cultural experience was a move from San Jose to Syracuse, NY during Christmas break in 2nd Grade! He received an Army ROTC scholarship and later a commission through Wheaton College (IL), and hoped to become an Army medical doctor. His military career began after graduate school, taking him through Defense Language Institute and an ADA assignment with NATO Nike Hercules units in Germany. During OAC, back at Ft. Bliss, El Paso, TX he learned about the OE program, attended OECS and served in an OE Staff Officer capacity in El Paso for three years. The opportunities for using his OE training–“doctoring” organizations, rather than people, led him to leave active duty in 1985. For the next 23 years he invested those skills for the benefit of various church-affiliated organizations, primarily in Austria and Germany. Along the way he was separated from the Army as an LTC. Ted and his wife, Diane, of 43 years, are now semi-retired living in Columbia, SC, the proud parents of 3 married children and grandparents to 17.
One way or another many of the OE Alumni that we’ve interviewed for the book we’re writing have expressed an interest in the ‘spiritual’ connections they’ve experienced in their OE practice. When we heard Ted’s story we immediately thought that it would be of interest to many, so we asked him to do a guest blog post. Here’s Ted’s story…
Something New, Something Old
Following is a transparently personal story concerning my journey with Organizational Effectiveness (OE), from training and service within the Army to connecting the proverbial dots with a larger spiritual dimension and application of OE some 20 years later. For those on a similar journey, may this encourage you on your path. For those exploring the field of OE, may you find nuggets of inspiration about how big OE is.
I fell in love with OE during Officer Advanced Course (OAC) in the Spring of 1982 at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, TX. I had just returned from three and a half years in Germany, where I had finished as Commander, HQ Company, 5th USA Artillery Group (the ADA arm of 59th Ord Bde). In that capacity I had experienced a lot of organizational “dynamics”; not necessarily effective!. Attending the Group Commander’s weekly staff meetings I had seen inter-office politicking among the staff officers. As I worked out the training calendar I was regularly confronted with the fine balancing act of meeting Army requirements for soldiers “versus” the mission requirements of the HQ. Trying to achieve acceptable win-win solutions was a regular challenge.
So, when the OE block of instruction came along, I was all ears. During the few hours dedicated to OE, the instructor introduced the Situational Leadership model and game by Ken Blanchard. I loved it! I also was fascinated when the idea of organizations as systems was introduced. I asked the instructor what it took to become an Organizational Effectiveness Officer (OEO), and immediately applied for OE School (OES).
The teaching environment is crucial to effective learning, and OES provided a great one! Three months at Ft. Ord with a small cohort of fellow learners, away from family and other assignments, focused on one all-encompassing subject. I had had a similar experience learning German at the Defense Language Institute prior to Germany. I had decided then that focused topical study in a small group environment is a great way to develop proficiency, and therefore had high expectations of OES.
As military personnel, we knew how to apply knowledge and skills to accomplish a mission. OES challenged us as human beings to become self- and other-aware in ways quite new for many, in order to develop skills as facilitators of group dynamics. Having facilitated small group Bible studies in Chapels and homes for many years, I connected comfortably with these more heart attitude aspects of our training.
There were, however, blind spots for which my eyes needed opening. One day, outside of class, I caught up with an OES faculty member and began eagerly sharing some personal learning point I had written in my journal. He interrupted me: “Why are you telling me this? Do you know why you are talking right now?!”
Yes, I thought, why was it so important for me to tell him this story? Honestly, I hoped for a bit of praise, some attention. Wow! It was a manipulative abuse of a student-teacher relationship, and was out of line. Instantly I became far more self-aware, and also received the gift of a “radar” for abusive talkers. That was 35+ years ago, but could be yesterday.
Educationally OES was a rich experience for me, yet I also sensed a particular attitude–contemporary cultural fad?–which introduced a seed of doubt. While we were being trained to promote healthy communication, facilitate healthy group dynamics, manage meetings effectively, guide executives to informed, insightful leadership, etc., I had the impression that in the personal lives of many faculty these things didn’t work. It seemed that a surprising number were either divorced or in the process of getting divorced. Somehow becoming “actualized” and “fulfilled” was so important, it meant leaving wives and families. Was it possible that all the tools in the kit bags of the experts were of no use for their most primary organizations, marriage and family?
While I did come away from OES with a bit of sadness for the personal pain I believed was present among so much of the faculty, I was profoundly changed within my own worldview. I don’t know how many other classes shared similar inside jokes. While the IT folks spoke of “GIGO” (garbage in, garbage out), we OE types knew better, “It’s all data!”, nothing is garbage. Then there was the Star Wars inspired line, “Trust the process!”
Those things came together for me such that I came away from OES a totally sold out “process” person. EVERYTHING is about process. Most fundamentally I came to see God as process focused. The triune God of the Bible is in relationship, created mankind for relationship, and has done everything to bring us into relationship with Himself and with each other. At the center of the universe is a loving process, not some mathematical formula. At some profound level, I believe this is what OE is really about; helping people move their relational (organizational) process forward, reflecting the true created nature of the universe.
Over the next two and a half years I served as an OE Staff Officer on the Commanding General’s staff at Ft. Bliss in El Paso. We were an office of three, including a Major, myself, a Captain, and an E-6. We provided leadership transitions, various workshops–time and meeting management, and occasionally called on to do organizational assessments. It was the beginning of the digital revolution and rather awesome to create tailored surveys by manipulating a computer card deck then working with Computer Services to get the Organizational Assessment Survey program to work!
A particular privilege came when we were tasked by the CG to set up and facilitate a multi-day long-range planning retreat. In preparing we worked with him to be a good listener during the brainstorming session. I’ll not forget having to assertively facilitate his behavior so he wouldn’t violate the ground rules for brainstorming.
Another memorable tasking involved new technology. Why weren’t the Government Service (GS) civilian staff using it? The CG had authorized major funding for new computers, and expected improved flow of communication and higher productivity for a particular area of base operations. We were prepared for a lengthy assessment to get behind the systems-based explanation. It only took a few interviews at the lowest level to discover the real issue. Computers have keyboards; one must type to use them. The close-to-retirement GS workers had always had secretaries to do their typing. They were stridently opposed to being expected to learn to type for the sake of using the CG’s computers!
Meanwhile, I found practical applications of OE off duty. The young pastor at our church invited me to sit in on monthly leadership meetings. He was concerned with a sense of disunity between himself and his leaders. I introduced the use of a clear agenda, and helped them listen better to each other. A few months later, one of the leaders announced at a Sunday service: “Our meetings are open to members, and I’d really encourage you to come and visit. Since Ted has been helping, we are always finished within two hours–it used to go on for four and more–and there is a lot of laughter!” The pastor shared his success and I was soon invited to be available for other pastors in West Texas to coach them regarding organizational issues.
When it came time to look around for the next career assignment (1985), it was clear that the OE program was being shut down. While a terrific field position was offered to me, I chose to pursue an opportunity with OE related. I left active duty and moved to Vienna, Austria. There I had the privilege of being the administrator for an international church while also engaging with leaders from various organizations regarding their challenges. My wife and I continued in missions service until 2013. Though the notebooks and other resources from OES were long left behind, the skills continued to be applied in each new setting.
A new chapter of OE development opened for me in the summer of 2005. While on a break in the USA from our mission work in Germany, I heard about and attended a week-long intensive workshop named “Strengthening Your Interpersonal Skills” (SYIS) from International Training Partners (http://itpartners.org). This is a 17 module workshop for up to 24 participants, beginning on Sunday evening over supper and ending Friday at noon. It had been 20+ years since OES, but the narrow focus, small cohort, facilitated participative learning environment–including the use of lots of flipcharts!–was extremely familiar.
The skills taught included much of the foundational material underlying OES. The table of contents in the Participant’s Workbook includes Loving Listening, Drawing People Out, Helping Others Solve Problems, Confronting Well, Receiving Confrontation, Helping Others Manage Conflict, Managing Stress, etc. So much of the content, and the process-oriented facilitated methodology were familiar. What was truly different from OES and refreshingly satisfying was the way in which each topic and practical application–knowledge and skills–had been effectively integrated to a very ancient source of healthy underlying attitudes and values; the Bible!
Consider the skill of Listening for example. Why is it so powerful? Not because of some random molecular evolution of our brains that makes listening functional. The developers of SYIS connected the “dots” with the ancient source. I was refreshed to be shown and reminded of texts that describe God’s listening style. Listening is powerful because it has divine roots!
- “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him.” (Psalm 34:6)
- “In my distress I called to the Lord; I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.” (2 Samuel 22:7)
- “Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
What does a practical exercise for developing communication skills look like? Table groups are invited to take a close look at a famous story in the Gospel of John, chapter 4. Jesus, a Jew, conducts a conversation with a Samaritan woman. He models heart and head levels of speaking and listening. The effect of matching or mismatching may be explored. One may see how by listening, he opened a door to draw her out. The importance of timing regarding a shift in a conversation from the head to the heart level is also there to see.
And so it goes through the entire week. At each step one is challenged to see how the skills being taught and the attitudes/values underlying them, are rooted in the very nature of God, flowing from His invitation to be reflectors of His personhood. Therefore, to become mindful of these realities is to become connected more deeply, to be more integrated with, the ultimate Source. Out of the ancient source it seemed as if I had discovered “OE on steroids” if you will.
Not surprisingly I asked the facilitators of that workshop how I might become a trained facilitator. It seemed as if I had “come home” after being 20 years away. Before the year was over I had attended the facilitator training. Believe it or not, it was all about… (drum roll!) … the process!
During the very first session I had a good inkling about the Facilitator Training Workshop through the response of the leaders to a number of worried trainees. Would they really be able to “pass” at the end or not? “You can’t ‘fail’, because there are no tests! You each attended a workshop and are now here because your facilitators recognized in you a sensitivity to group dynamics. We will help you develop, so you will understand the process.” I loved that. No formula, just engage in the process for the duration of this training relationship!
The Missing Key
As a conclusion, I’d like to offer a final observation to address the doubt I introduced earlier. I know I am not alone to say that OE is, ultimately, about hearts. People working and living together for common purposes require relationships. We get that. We also know, both intellectually and by experience, that hearts are not motivated nor empowered for transformation by clever mechanics, fine-tuned skills. Where is the ultimate source of transformational heart to be found? I believe it is a spiritual answer, one tied to a spiritual process. We cannot love–live from the heart–without the humility required to receive love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love… In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us… We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:1-2,9,19, English Standard Version)