March Event Review: Humble Appreciation – A Tribute to Edgar Schein

Our March event was hosted by Rod Barnett, a long time ODA member and OD consultant for Salient Consulting. Rod guided us through a Humble Appreciation of the life of Ed Schein, who passed away earlier this year. Our community gathered to pay tribute to Ed’s prolific work, his character, and his legacy and reflect on the impact he has had on us and the way we practice OD.  

Some major themes emerged as Rod guided us with his own reflections and offered us a space to reflect in small groups: 

Humility – Ed Schein’s work taught us the art of inquiry. He gave us permission to move away from the expert model of knowing or telling so that we could show up with more curiosity and authenticity. As one of our community members stated, “Ed was an expert at not being an expert.” And as another member shared, “his respectful curiosity is one of the best tools we have in the field”. 

Organisational Culture – Ed’s work laid the foundation for our understanding of and role in shaping org culture. His point of view that “the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture” influenced many senior leaders who started to invest more in building healthy cultures. His theories and frameworks supported leaders to navigate the intangible world of culture and shift the management world’s understanding that “culture isstrategy”.   

Bridging the humanistic and systemic lens – Ed’s work reminded us that “the client is a system” and that as OD practitioners, we must “work at the level where the problem can be solved.” Ed also deeply cared for and loved his work and his clients. This combination helped Ed to be an attuned and effective practitioner that provoked the OD community to ask ourselves “what is the nature of the work to be done”?  

A steward of the OD field – Ed as a person embodied the ideals he espoused. His commitment and generosity to his clients, teaching students, and furthering the field served as powerful role modelling for what our field stands for. As Rod closed out the session, he shared some of Ed’s final words to his learning group the night of his passing. Unbeknownst to anyone, Ed would go to sleep that night and depart us, but not before leaving us with this wisdom:  

It may be that what is needed are groups like this very group to survive and figure out what it needs to be in the future. We can’t expect that someone magically will find a way. We may all need to contribute, how to perpetuate and make this useful for the future. That should be our job. – Ed Schein, 2023 

Thank you, Rod, and our community, for gathering to pay tribute to Ed Schein. Ed, you will be missed by all, and may your legacy live on for generations to come. You have touched my practice and my life in such influential ways, and for that, I deeply thank you. Rest in peace and power, Ed.  

~ Allison Tsao, Leadership Group 


Note: Members can log in and watch the video of the session here. 

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