Episode 45: Deborah Helsing on Deliberately Developmental Organizations [The Amiel Show]

Let’s talk about how a DDO is different from CYA.

Most of us in the West know the term CYA. It means cover your, ahem, behind. As in: don’t give others any openings to attack you. Doing this is important to individual success in most organizations. So we watch what we say, hide our mistakes, and do whatever it takes to look good to the boss.

A DDO is different. DDO stands for deliberately developmental organization. It’s a place where you are expected to reveal your weaknesses and vulnerability rather than hide them. Really? Are you kidding me? Where giving and receiving feedback is part of everyday work and a path to personal growth and organizational success, rather than a dangerous landmine. Seriously? In a DDO, growing people is central rather than peripheral to the company’s strategy. Baloney. Your accountants must be high on something.

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DDOs are different!

If you’re skeptical that it’s possible to work in a DDO, join the club.

If you’re curious what life is like in such a place, set aside an hour this week to listen to my conversation with Deborah Helsing.

Deborah is coauthor with Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Matthew Miller, and Andy Fleming of the brand-new book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. She also heads up Coach Learning Programs at Minds at Work, teaches at Harvard, and is a researcher at Way to Grow.

I’d never met Deb before this interview, yet we hit it off right away. Our conversation covered unusually powerful–and unusual–collective practices in three very different DDOs–and how these places contain relatively little CYA behavior.  (By the way, the term “CYA organization” doesn’t appear in the book, and I’m not sure it even exists).

Enjoy this provocative conversation!

Deb Helsing


  • 9:30The second job nobody pays you for
  • 24:00 Getting feedback on your “backhand” at Boot Camp
  • 31:00 Talking Partners “meet, vent, and work” first thing every morning
  • 41:30 Using the Issues Log to express dissatisfaction—and respond
  • 45:15 The Dot Collector, a way to give real-time feedback to the person running a meeting
  • 51:00 DDOs feel really strange at first
  • 1:01:00 When employees aren’t a fit in a DDO
  • 1:03:30 A job for high school students unlike any other
  • 1:06:30 The pure business value of running a DDO

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In a typical organization, my second job is expending a lot of energy to look good.

–Deborah Helsing  Tweet this quote


Giving & receiving feedback is woven into the life of deliberately developmental organizations

–Deborah Helsing Tweet this quote

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