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Why OD? Sophie believes that organisations need to be more human and joyful.

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In episode 4 of our podcast mini series "Why OD?", you can listen in to an interview with Sophie Tidman about her journey towards OD
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In episode 4 of our podcast mini series "Why OD?", you can listen in to an interview with Sophie Tidman, Principal Consultant about the twists and turns in her journey towards Organisation Development.

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Transcript of the Interview with Sophie Tidman

Claire Newell
As organisation development is not something most people have heard of. I certainly hadn't before I joined Mayvin around two years ago, I'm really interested in hearing how people found themselves working in this world we call OD. In asking our six Mayvin consultants this very question, I found their responses really interesting and really varied.

In fact, I found it brought out a little bit of what makes each of them so unique and special to the fore. So these short 10 to 15 minute podcasts are a quick way to get to know the varied paths and personalities of our wonderful consultants. Okay, so I'm here with Sophie Tidman. Sophie, do you want to introduce yourself a little bit and a little bit about your role?

Sophie Tidman 1:47
Yes, great. I'm a Principal Consultant at Mayvin. The newest member of the team, but still been here two years in May. So shall I say a little bit about my background?

Claire Newell 2:00
So yeah, the reason I'm doing this little podcast mini series is because I think OD is an area that not a lot of people have heard of. So I'm quite interested how people found their routes into it, their paths into it, how they ended up doing this thing that we that we call Organisation Development. Yeah. How did how did you find yourself here at Mayvin?

Sophie Tidman 2:18
Yes. And also to say that I never used the term OD, before I joined Mayvin. My background is in the civil service and in in third sector. And in the civil service, I was in a department where it never got mentioned. And in the third sector in international development, a lot of charities are quite small, and just don't talk about it in the terms.

They will talk about culture and values and leadership, but they don't seem to use the term OD. So it was slightly strange to me and I suppose I sympathise with the people who find it a bit jargony. I started my career as an economist. So I worked in a consultancy. And I worked in the centre of government as an economist in the UK.

Very much focused on public policy, the mindset, but there will be a kind of an optimal trade off. So it's very much about coming up with the right answer. Very logical, very rational for the common good, for the maximum number of people. And navigating politics was just about kind of getting to that right answer quickly.

It was a necessary evil. And that also probably applies to any kind of human relations in organisations, that was really tough but maximising. So I think I started work with that very, with that model, kind of just implicit in how I saw the world. Sounds a bit sad now. And then I did a bit of work in international development, I lived in Asia, and then for about five years in Africa.

And that was hugely impactful. International Development is one of those sectors that's renowned for having a lot of reports that nobody ever reads about what the right answer is. And so it was clear that that's not, that wasn't going to work. I was actually in a Ministry of Finance in Africa. And they were really big questions about what should the money be spent on?

Quite a lot of complex reforms that needed to happen, innovative ways of managing public finance, quite technical sometimes. But I was just struck when I was there by things like I'm working in this team. They haven't gone and asked the team just over the way from them in the same department. It's very simple piece of information. So they don't know this information. But they're in the same department.

Sometimes they're in the same team and they're just not talking to each other. Why are they not talking to each other. It was just mystifying to me. And I started in a team that was generally seemed to be very poor performing as well.

And along the way, I think it was somewhat accidental. I would help them to in getting a bit clearer on their purpose, but probably not very hopeful about anything really changing hugely, but it was incredible, how people responded to a little bit of care and a little bit of kind of sense of community and that we were doing this together.

We're all in this together, and they suddenly started performing really well. It was just fascinating to me that I was kind of very stuck in kind of what's the process for this? What happens when, what are the rules, and that stuff is important, actually. But more important was the stuff that happened while I was doing that. Was the kind of process of alignment kind of people coming together, people getting more profile being seen as more important, that they mattered.

Claire Newell 5:31
So you were almost doing that alongside your day job.

Sophie Tidman 5:33
It was kind of part of the day job. It was expected, it was capacity building, right. So it was, it was a lovely job, and very unusual in that we were there to support our kind of senior colleagues in government to do what they needed to do, to focus on their priorities. There wasn't any complicating funding in there. We weren't, didn't have to deliver something, we just have to support our colleagues deliver what they need to deliver.

So in that way, it's very pure and enjoyable in that. Yeah. And it's also a lovely place to see leadership up close, again, to see how presidents work, how statesmen interact, when it says women interact. How the politics plays into all. Working well, with your minister working well across ministries, and a lot of personal relationships in that. Yeah, I remember seeing that firsthand. For the first time like, oh, okay, this policy didn't get through, because just this minister didn't get on with this minister.

Claire Newell 6:28
Right.

Sophie Tidman 6:30
Or, yeah, because fundamentally, there wasn't trust in place, or there was a bit of a blame culture. That's what's most important here. However, nice, my, you know, analysis. However good looking my analysis might be, it's quite frustrating. Like a really good Excel chart. Really lovely spreadsheets.

Claire Newell 6:51
Have you seen my pivot tables?

Sophie Tidman 6:53
Yeah, exactly. So there's a kind of looking at, you know, the counterpart I was, I was supporting a couple of counterparts are supporting and learning a lot about coaching through that. And supporting and enabling empowering, and really enjoying that relationship.

Then there was kind of developing a team. And then that was, which I've mentioned, but then there was also the kind of what is going on with the how this government works? With how this system works? Kind of, you know, whether it's risk averse, or whether, you know, there's usually systemic reasons why people don't communicate around, sort of unspoken rules around trust.

And just being fascinated with how those patterns played out, and why things happened as they did, and wanting to really get into that, and not. And seeing some people do it, but not, and that is OD right. Working with those patterns working with the larger system. But it was mystifying to me how you started working with that and get permission to start working with that. And I saw a few people do it, who had permission and how beautifully they did it and how artistically, they did it. So that started to point me more into the OD world.

Claire Newell 8:01
Do those people that had permission, were they OD or they call it something else?

Sophie Tidman 8:07
I think there were OD, but they didn't call it that

Claire Newell 8:09
Facilitators.

Sophie Tidman 8:11
Also, just how quickly people can build trust. That was quite impactful on the very few people did it in those systems because I think there's not the resources. It was very small, small glimmers that I saw. Okay. And then moving back to the UK. Even then, wasn't that obvious in the field I work in, I worked in. It was only really meeting a few people. And then meeting Mayvin. Actually, yeah, I was probably quite green.

Claire Newell 8:43
So how did you? Yeah, how did you meet Mayvin?

Sophie Tidman 8:47
So I moved back to the UK and started doing lots of, I became a yoga teacher. I got very much into embodiment and coaching and where the two met. I started doing that and I was very interested in kind of groups. How groups worked because it's very frustrating always coaching individuals and you can see things going on the bigger level, but you can only coach at the individual level.

So I started doing things like constellations work, like social presence, which is part of theory you, really as a kind of add on to my day job. I still working with African governments on public policy. And then I got put in touch with somebody who used to work with Carolyn in the civil service.

And then met Carolyn, and she got me talking about these, she got me going to these Artfuls, which I just really loved. So yeah, just kind of like kept finding it a very interesting organisation but didn't think it was for me. And then suddenly, they advertised and I applied and was very surprised to get a job. Yeah, it's funny actually, because I think we're a very good fit.

But it can seem like a very formal academic place, OD and it can get quite jargony for me. But a lot of things overlapped, a lot of skills overlapped. And I think where me and Mayvin were very aligned was firstly about, big change happens through relationships. Absolutely the relational at its heart, and also that organisations need to be more human and more joyful as well. And that's not a nice to have.

That's because, this is partly because we spend most of our lives, a lot of our lives in organisations, right. And so there's just a fundamental kind of human wellbeing aspect then. It's also because when people are ease when people are really in flow with their work and taking pleasure from it, not necessarily all the time, right. But that is when they are at their most creative as well.

And that's, it's amazing, that that's so difficult to find. There's a lot of suffering in work. Yeah, and I think that the first thing that ever struck me when I started work, was I, you know, people get grumpy about it and whinge about it a bit. And I did that a bit. And I noticed that everyone did that and some people were really unhappy at work. That was actually very common. And that had never been explained to me before I started in the world of work. And it's quite strange phenomenon really.

Claire Newell 11:21
You spend more time with people you work with, and you do anyone out anyone else in your life. Yeah, I think OD, if you're trying to explain this to a friend in the pub, or something you try explain what we do. OD can come across I think a bit hippy, a bit fluffy of like, oh, let's talk about our feelings. And you know, how's that time for that we need to get the job done.

But I think it's also in it's in service of making the organisation more efficient and ultimately successful and probably profitable. Because if, if the system works, and people are talking to each other, like you say, and they're creative, and they and they feel happy and comfortable, and all these things, then the system is going to work better. And then you know, whatever the outcome of that system is is going to be better.

Sophie Tidman 12:04
Yeah. And I think OD is and the way Mayvin approaches OD is humanist right. And it's fundamentally quite hopeful and is the word hopeful? It's got a strong belief in the power of human creativity and connection and love. What human beings are capable of together.

Claire Newell 12:27
But it's crazy how that word, the word love being used in an organisational context. It's amazing how this is why Helen focuses on, it can be so jarring or seem conflicting. Like it doesn't feel like that word has any place in this conversation. And that's so weird, isn't it? Yes. It but somehow, yeah. Being an organisation, you have to kind of dehumanise yourself, often.

Sophie Tidman 12:52
Yeah, it's a really good point that actually oftentimes will. In fact, if we're doing our job, we should be saying things sometimes that make our clients quite uncomfortable. And using and that might just be using certain words, like love, or even connection? Or "how do you feel about that?" can be threatening to some clients, and I tend to be someone who is at my best. I am fairly provocative, in quite a playful and gentle but provocative. So I think it really works for me. Having that as a career where that's, that's important.

Claire Newell 13:30
You know, you're challenging, challenging assumptions or challenging habits. And, you know, that's a part of what we do, isn't it?

Sophie Tidman 13:38
Yeah. Is that managing the tension that holding the client holding all the challenges that they're facing with compassion. And yet also challenging, evoking the system and managing that tension, hopefully, correctly just about.

Claire Newell 13:59
Yeah let's just give them a little poke?

Sophie Tidman 14:05
Yep

Claire Newell 14:10
Nice, is there anything else you want to add?

Sophie Tidman 14:12
Probably enough, isn't it? Is that enough?

Claire Newell 14:14
Yeah, definitely. Okay. Well, thank you very much.

Sophie Tidman 14:17
Thanks so much, Claire.

Claire Newell 14:19
Take care, bye.

Sophie Tidman 14:20
Bye.

Claire Newell 14:22
Thank you so much for listening to us today. And we hope to see you next time. Take care. Bye bye.

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