Process vs. Content

Nothing has made more sense to me than Schein’s article on task process versus content – probably because I grew up with a dad who was a family systems counselor.  He constantly preached to my sister and I growing up about paying attention to “process thinking” instead of “content thinking,” which meant thinking about the emotional process in relationships rather than the actual subject matter. It’s more important to understand why a person is acting the way they are rather than the act itself. I was often told growing up that alcoholism is only a symptom of the actual problem. The actual problem isn’t the alcohol, but simply a way a person is choosing to deal with what’s really going on in their life.

I never thought to relate that concept to organizational development until I read Schein’s article, Facilitative Process Interventions: Task Processes in Groups.  I agree with Schein’s argument that it’s more important to think about how things are done rather than what is done (Schein, 2006, pg. 286). In an organization, the staff meeting agenda is the content matter; however, it’s more important to understand how groups formulate problems, generate proposals for action, seek out opinions and information, and forecast consequences. Paying attention to group dynamics and how the discussion involves commitment to action should be the focus of concern in organizational development. The role of an HRD or OD change agent is knowing when to ask the right questions in an organization that keeps the group focused on the process and not the content. Schein (2006) writes, “One of the toughest tasks for the consultant/helper is not to get seduced by the content, not to get so caught up in the actual problem the group is working on as to cease to pay attention to how it is working” (pg. 289). I think this can be one of the hardest yet most important aspects of human resource development work. If done right, it has the power to fundamentally change organizational culture.


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