The Oxford English Dictionary defines diagnosis as the "identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms." In the world of organizational change it may not be an illness as such, but rather a suboptimal state of some kind or even a current state that is quite functional in some ways but not yet at the level that its leaders desire. In either case, a diagnosis identifies the nature of the state in which the system finds itself and it does this by:
These are three interconnected processes, not separate tasks and there is much overlap among them. At is simplest, the process of gathering information leads one to interpret and in the process, synthesize and evaluate. This produces a diagnosis. In all instances, some type of information gathering will be involved. It may be very little or highly focused, but it needs to occur as a starting point.
To be effective, a good diagnosis process should account for the current state of affairs, predict what is likely to happen if nothing changes, be helpful in generating or critiquing a set of outcomes, and point us in the direction of actions that might deliver the desired outcomes.
The level and depth of a diagnosis process is related to the complexity of the issues/system in question. This can go from a very straightforward situation that requires little information gathering and interpretation, to a very complex situation that requires extensive information gathering, interpretation through dialogue that looks at the whole of the system and a final understanding of the underlying patterns of the system. One simple way to conceptualize this is to evaluate an issue against the following continua:
The more an issue fits along the left side of these continua the more likely it is straightforward. If the issue fits close to the right side of these continua then it is far more likely that the practitioner (leader, leadership team, consultant) needs to undertake a complext inquiry, which often involves looking at the whole system. We have produced a wonderful video explanation of these continua using a story of one of Tim Dalmau's clients.
In our framework the diagnosis is a statement about the underlying causes that drive all the external structures, processes and practices in a team, organization or system. If you want to learn much, much more about the framework along with practical processes and tools for organizational diagnosis, check out our new e-Book below.
2015 New Release e-Book by Steve Zuieback and Tim Dalmau. This is a wonderful and practical book that covers the theory and specific practices for diagnosing dynamics that commonly occur inside organizations and teams. The book is loaded with resources and links.
From Cat Herding to Leadership
March 2016: Diagnosis- From Theory to Practice
How to Move Teams to Higher Levels of Performance
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Note: Zuieback, Zuiebock, Zuiebeck, Zweiback, Zweiback, etc. are potential misspellings of Steve's name.