Intervening in Organisations

What is an intervention?

An intervention is any activity designed to make improvements in the process of an organisation. E g It is not a new ‘Strategy’, it is a new way of creating a strategy.

Principles for effective intervention

Interventions are most effective when

  • The people involved have freely decided to take part in them
  • The action is decided by the participants
  • The intervention enables participants to fully explore and share their true thoughts and feelings about the subject of the intervention

Skills/Knowledge in interveners

They require listening, empathy, support, openness and risk taking, imagination, profound belief in the possibility of win/win solutions, and self knowledge. Understanding the consulting process, dealing with resistance and knowledge of intervention methods are also necessary.

Some intervention methods



  • Giving performance feedback

Best when sought and there is more “Positive” than “How to improve?” feedback. It works well where people want to develop.

  • Helping people help themselves using counselling skills

The intervener listens supportively without judging and helps the person work out their own solution. The method is very powerful.

  • Helping people help each other using counselling skills or “Cocounselling”.

As above, each person has equal time as counsellor and client. Even more powerful than one way counselling. It leads to a rapid increase of trust and openness.

  • Structural, job change or dismissal

Sometimes necessary, does not necessarily lead to personal growth.

Team or Group


  • Team building using outdoors

This appeals to younger, physically active people. People should process the experience to extract the business and personal learning from it. It increases excitement, mutual confidence and energy when successful.

  • Team building focused on work

Team building helps a team build a clear and desirable vision and identify and tackle the key steps to achieve it. The output is confidence, better communication and actionable plans. It is excellent for motivating junior staff and establishing ongoing improvement

  • Process consultation

An outsider helps a group pay attention to its own processes while the group is tackling a real task. This requires excellent understanding between the group leader and outsider and openness to learning in both.

  • Support group

In a small group, three to five best, participants take equal time to talk through any issue that concerns them. In most powerful form one other person acts as counsellor and the rest of the group observes. There is a confidentiality agreement. The process is excellent for developing personal confidence and mutual understanding. It will work with any group with a common interest.

Between groups


  • Informal meetings

Shared lunches, the convener encourages participants to listen to each other and explore the concerns they have in common and what can be done. All participants need to know the purpose of the meeting. This process is gentle, often acceptable, but can be slow.

  • Co-ordinating committees

Usually at the top to start with. They identify issues where co-operation would be of mutual benefit. The process involves the rest of the organisation in implementing solutions. The outsider needs to have high trust in both groups to suggest this solution.

  • Inter-group workshops (Image Exchange)

Separate into subgroups, each list ‘How we see ourselves? ‘ How we see the other group? How we think the other group sees us? Share data, listen, identify common issues, set up temporary task groups to solve. Fun, very effective, quite scary.

The organisation


  • Attitude survey

Invite all staff to fill in a questionnaire about aspects of the management and performance of the organisation. Analyse results, feedback to managers and staff, help them decide what to do. This work but needs much thought and skill in formulating questions. Too open questions can be too difficult to process, closed questions give bland data.

  • Survey feedback

As above but gather more open data (What is good? What could be better?) by individual and group interview from a cross section of staff. Use the interview to challenge people to think how they can make their situation better. You can use an attitude survey to confirm and extend the conclusions. Then summarise conclusions, feedback to participants and involve them in planning action.

  • Task forces or workshops

Set up a temporary task force. Use people from the organisation who have valid data and expertise to contribute to the solution of an organisation wide issue often coming from the above. Help them with their process.

Another version is a problem solving workshop that focuses the right people on the issues for say a day and then spawns short task forces to devise solutions.

  • Planning the culture you require

You can use the workshop approach to think about the culture you have and how to create the one you need. One key can be the reward system. Organisations often reward behaviour that is not in their own best interests.

  • TQM, Continuous Improvement, Quality Circles.

These are labels for an organisation development activity that may use all the above interventions.

  • Appreciative Enquiry involves people across the organisation in identifying the best of what is, building form this a shared picture of what might be and then working together to achieve it. This very powerful approach can produce new energy for radical change.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick