Organizational consultation utilizing the Prosocial approach initially begins with a facilitator leading a group through two iterations of the Matrix, a diagrammatic form of Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT). After conducting the Matrix focused on the involved individuals (Figure 1) and then another one focused on the larger group, the Prosocial facilitator next introduces the Core Design Principles (CDP’s) of Successful Organizations for which Elinor Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics (Figure 2). In the service of developing specific plans for addressing the issues of concern that are prompting the request for consultation, attention also is directed to improving how individuals are functioning within their organization and to enhancing how the organization is functioning within its broader environment. Such plans might include conducting a Matrix focused on a particular CDP that is proving to be challenging for the group as well as developing specific goals and objectives to address areas of needed organizational growth.
Figure 1. The Individual Matrix. The vertical axis invites us to engage in “noticing” differences between “Outer” Behavior (the outer world of observable behavior) and “Inner” Behavior (our inner experiences). The horizontal axis invites us to engage in “noticing” differences between moving “Towards” engaging in valued actions and seeking to move “Away” from our distress. Each quadrant, summarized in one word, contains one of four “Matrix questions.” A diagonal vector of psychological flexibility that can be imagined as extending from the lower left quadrant to the upper right quadrant reflects the way in which distress often accompanies “moving towards.” [Please see The Essential Guide to the ACT Matrix, Polk, Schoendorff, Webster, & Olaz (2016) for a more elaborate description].
Figure 2. The Prosocial approach including a Group Matrix (with questions revised to reflect this level of organization) and Ostrom’s Core Design Principles. Note should be taken that the CDP’s are principles of guidance, not rules of governance, necessitating that organizations determine for themselves how to successfully address these issues within their unique structure and operations. In addition, CDP 5 recently has been reformulated as “Graduated responding to helpful and unhelp behavior” to emphasize the importance of positively attending to helpful behaviors in addition to implementing graduated consequences for unhelpful behaviors [Please see Prosocial, Atkins, Wilson, and Hayes (2019) for their rationale in making this change; Please see Discussion section, below, for an example of how the CDP Matrix can be used to transform behavior from unhelpful to helpful].
As a Child Psychiatrist with administrative and consultative experience in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), this approach to Prosocial has enabled me to view the Matrix much like a camera with an attached telephoto lens, zooming in to focus on individuals and zooming out to focus on their larger group context(s). Proceeding in this fashion also has provided me with a practical way to apply the Multilevel Selection Theory of Evolution Science, that is, to promote variation, selection and retention of behavior towards increasing flexibility for individuals as well as for groups [Please see This View of Life, Wilson (2019) for an elaboration of this point].
When I began incorporating Prosocial into my work as an organizational consultant, however, I encountered a recurrent challenge in the form of being asked to explain just how the Matrix and the CDP’s could be fit together rather than being seen as two different models coexisting side by side. This article is intended to share the answer I have tentatively formulated to the question of how consultees can be helped to see the Matrix and the CDP’s function coherently as one unified process.
The Executive Director of an agency providing a range of mental health services to a population of children and youth sought consultation for assistance in improving how her administrative team was functioning. After being introduced to the Prosocial approach involving the Matrix being applied first individually and then collectively with the group, followed by an introduction to Ostrom’s CDP’s, however, she expressed confusion. She said that, while she understood both the Matrix and the CDP’s separately, it seemed to her that they were being asked to entertain two different models at the same time, leading her to question how this could possibly be helpful to her administrative team.
The Executive Director then was shown the “CDP Matrix” under development based on similar feedback from other organizational clients. In this version of the Matrix, the CDP’s are functionally incorporated into the four quadrants of the Matrix (Figure 3). It was explained to her that modifying the lower right quadrant question from an individual focus on “Who or what matters to you?” to the CDP 1 question of “What is your shared purpose?” set the stage for assessing how an organization is functioning by using the CDP’s to engage in a process of “Matrix’ing,” that is, using the CDP’s to conduct a quadrant-by-quadrant analysis, and then to use the resulting analysis as a basis for developing a strategic plan to address the identified organizational challenges.
Figure 3. “CDP Matrix,” in which Ostrom’s Core Design Principles have been incorporated into the Matrix. When an organization is functioning well, there is a clear understanding of shared purpose as reflected in CDP 1 (Lower Right Quadrant), and attention is being directed effectively towards CDP’s 2, 3, 7, and 8 (Upper Right Quadrant). However, as so often is the case in organizations, when issues of concern arise (Lower Left Quadrant), individuals and groups tend to engage in fight/flight behaviors of the Human Stress Response (Upper Left Quadrant). Thus, it is important for successful organizational functioning to have in place a system of monitoring (CDP 4), as well as means for getting back on track when necessary (CDP 5) and for addressing conflict when it (inevitably) arises (CDP 6). Again, please note that this Figure contains the earlier version of CDP 5, not the revised version as described in Figure 2.
In this particular instance, the Executive Director found the “CDP Matrix” sufficiently helpful that she decided to conduct further team building on her own, with Prosocial consultation provided to her in the background. However, the case to be reported, below, will describe an application in which the Prosocial approach was used to train a newly formed team of internal consultants that had been developed by a multinational corporation seeking to improve coordination of its national and global accounts.
Consultation was sought by a Fortune 500 multinational corporation (“MNC”) that had identified a series of problems involving actual and potential costly errors in how the mismanagement of certain national accounts was jeopardizing client relationships at the global level. For example, dissatisfaction with the timeliness of service delivery to a client with a relatively small account in a given country was passed up that client’s chain of command, leading the CEO to begin questioning the possibility of terminating their substantial global account for services with the MNC. The financial repercussions, while minor for the MNC’s “in-country” client relationship managers, were quite significant from the broader perspective of the MNC’s C-Suite, especially after it was discovered that this kind of insufficient coordination of accounts was having adverse impact in each region of the corporation’s global operations.
The MNC’s Senior Partner for Global Growth and Operations, responding to a C-Suite directive to rectify this problem, began developing a new global oversight team of internal consultants to work specifically with MNC’s client relationship managers involved with the firm’s largest eighty global clients in various countries around the world. Although he had created a protocol he wanted the internal team to use for identifying and addressing specific in-county, client-based issues, he was concerned that the consultants might come across to client relationship managers as too critical and heavy-handed, and thus not succeed in effectively engaging their full cooperation in improving client services. Based on his longitudinal relationship with a colleague of mine having expertise in consulting to multinational corporations, the Senior Partner contacted us to explore how Prosocial might be relevant to the MNC’s issues of concern.
After introducing the Senior Partner to Prosocial, arrangements were made to conduct training with his leadership team for Global Growth and Operations. In addition to the typical sequence involving the individual Matrix, the group Matrix, and the CDP’s, an initial assessment also was conducted using the “CDP Matrix” to map out the issues of concern.
As consideration was given to how the organization was functioning with respect to the challenge of coordinating their national and global accounts, it became clear that questions needed to be addressed in all four quadrants of the “CDP Matrix,” such as:
Given that the Senior Partner for Global Growth and Operations already had delegated responsibility to one of his associates for developing a global oversight team of consultants, plans were created to conduct Prosocial training with this newly formed group of ten consultants. An agenda was developed to initially provide a two-day training workshop with a primary focus on teaching the consultants to use the Matrix.
On the first day, after the Matrix was introduced, skill training was conducted to promote individual psychological flexibility (Please “see” the “imaginary vector” from Figure 1). The Matrix then was revisited in a team building exercise during which the lower right quadrant question was reformulated as a group task, that is, instead of asking individuals to reflect on who or what matters to them, the team was asked to consider their shared purpose with respect to the MNC as a whole. Each of the other three Matrix questions then were explored sequentially by the group from the perspective of the common ground they had identified. Issues identified from the “CDP Matrix” previously conducted with the Senior Partner and his leadership team were incorporated into the ensuing discussion.
On the second day, following further component skill training for individual psychological flexibility, the participants again completed the Matrix, first from the perspective of the MNC’s in-country client relationship managers, and then from the perspective of their clients. This served to foster a sense of empathic understanding for the participants of the points of view of the in-country parties with whom they would be consulting. They speculated, for example, that the in-country client relationship managers might be less concerned than their global counterparts about the quality of service delivery to the clients in question because these accounts were relatively minor priorities in their overall national portfolio of clients. Plans subsequently were made for each of the internal consultants to begin using the Matrix in formulating their approach each time they were asked to provide in-county consultation.
Although consideration was given to the possibility of proceeding with further training for the MNC’s consultants and in-country client relationship managers, the initial training proved sufficient for empowering the global oversight team in their consultative endeavors. While the consultants used the Matrix to devise their own solutions to the in-country situations they encountered, background consultation continued at the leadership level as questions emerged related to using the Matrix within the team itself. As summarized in feedback subsequently provided by the MNC’s Senior Partner for Global Growth and Operations three months after the new protocol was launched in Latin America:
Regarding Prosocial, we rolled out the training to our consulting team. I will say the session we had prior to the actual training was valuable from my perspective to frame up and diagnose the issues and challenges we were facing when creating our new global oversight group.
The good news is that we’re now 90 days into the rollout and the model is working well. We’ve helped to resolve a lot of local issues and are generating useful insights to inform our strategies going forward. We also are expanding operations for our global oversight group to include Asia in 4Q so the project leader and I are off to Hong Kong and Singapore to implement “wave 2” in a couple of weeks. Thanks for all your help.
In terms of a broader application, I found Prosocial most helpful as a change diagnostic framework. I can see this as part of a broader change management intervention or consulting project. Essentially, that’s what added the greatest value for us. When coupled with the facilitated meeting model, it was especially powerful to help a team find common ground and level set.
In combining the ACT Matrix and Ostrom’s Core Design Principles, Prosocial derives theoretical and practical benefits from each component. The Matrix brings forth a means of conducting functional analysis, that is, a procedure for assessing the purpose of behavior and its associated type of reinforcement. On the right side of the Matrix, Upper Right Quadrant positive reinforcement is obtained for accomplishments based in Lower Right Quadrant values. On the left side of the Matrix, Upper Left Quadrant negative reinforcement pertains as we seek to avoid or escape from our Lower Left Quadrant distress. However, because the CDP’s invite us to focus on group behavior, the “CDP Matrix” provides us with opportunities to extend functional analyses beyond individuals to the level of entire groups. That is, we can assess, indeed, “diagnose” how a given group or organization is functioning with respect to the eight CDP’s and then, as in this case report, we can devise a strategic plan for addressing the identified challenges.
We derive additional benefit from conducting functional analyses with the “CDP Matrix” when Monitoring (CDP 4) reveals “unhelpful” Upper Left Quadrant behaviors. There might be times in organizations when these sorts of behaviors need to be dealt with by means of gradually escalating sanctions intended to limit their occurrence. For example, one possibility in a situation such as the one being encountered by the MNC would be to verbally or even financially reprimand the in-country client relationship managers for failing to deliver service in a timely fashion. It was concern about the untoward consequences of proceeding in just this fashion, however, that initially led the Senior Partner to seek what turned out to be “Prosocial” consultation and training. Even before the revised version of CDP 5 (Graduated responding to helpful and unhelpful behavior) became available, plans were developed to “course correct” by focusing on “right-sided” skill building for the consultants rather than “left-sided” sanctions for the in-country client relationship managers.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of positively reinforcing helpful behaviors, the “CDP Matrix” (further strengthened by the revised version of CDP 5) also can be seen as connoting the benefit to be derived from creating helpful (right-sides) responses to unhelpful (left-sided) behaviors. Seeing “unhelpful” behaviors functioning as Upper Left Quadrant “away moves” enables us to begin wondering about the Lower Left Quadrant distress from which the moving away is occurring. As we humans don’t tend to become distressed about people and events we don’t care about, we then can begin wondering further about the Lower Right Quadrant caring or shared purpose about which we are feeling distressed. Once we understand what’s going on in the Lower Right Quadrant, we can begin asking what we might do differently in the Upper Right Quadrant to more constructively address the left-sided distress and “unhelpful behavior.”
For the MNC’s global oversight team, the strategic plan came to involve teaching them to consult with greater empathic understanding (Upper Right Quadrant) based in the corporate commitment to delivering quality services to their clients (Lower Right Quadrant). Training resulted in a decision for team members to utilize the Matrix for case formulation as they moved into addressing in-country situations. This example thus serves to illustrate the broader framework of the “CDP Matrix” as transformative in creating a “helpful” response from “unhelpful” behaviors, that is, instead of devising some form of punitive sanctions for addressing mismanagement of national accounts, training instead led to the provision of consultative support for in-country client relationship managers.
Beyond the additional coherence that also accrues from theoretically incorporating the CDP’s into the Matrix, it is interesting to note as well the feedback provided by the MNC’s Senior Partner for Global Growth and Operations regarding Prosocial as especially valuable in the service of change management. The “facilitated meeting model” he referenced in his comment encompassed all the CDP’s, so he and his leadership team were able to benefit from seeing how training their internal consultants in using the Matrix would also invite favorable attention to the other CDP’s that sorted into the Upper Right Quadrant (Please review Figure 3, above).
As it turned out, the metrics of interest for the MNC in this instance were those related to assessing the progress they were making in addressing issues of concern with service delivery to their largest global clients. Prosocial survey instruments that subsequently have been developed certainly would have been used had they been available at the time of this project (for additional information, please see https://www.prosocial.world/). While research will be necessary to establish the efficacy of Prosocial within other organizational contexts, a relatively limited amount of consultation and training appears to have had significant impact in the case of this particular multinational corporation.
In conclusion, it certainly appears feasible to incorporate the CDP’s into the Matrix, and then to use the resulting “CDP Matrix” as the basis for conducting Prosocial organizational consultation and training in the context of a multinational corporation. However, my administrative and consultative experience leads me to conclude that a series of caveats are worthy of consideration.
First and foremost, emphasis should be placed on the words “appears feasible.” Further investigation is warranted regarding both the veracity and the workability of the “CDP Matrix” in the business enterprise as well as in other contexts. Consideration should be given in future projects to utilizing the newly developed Prosocial surveys as well as other available measures of organizational flexibility. In addition, readers interested in using Prosocial likely would be well served by considering Prosocial facilitator training (Information about this also is available through the Prosocial.world website.). Finally, while it can be hypothesized that Prosocial is relevant across a wide range of different organizational contexts, Prosocial facilitators might consider becoming knowledgeable about the unique behavioral features of specific organizational types for which they anticipate providing consultation or training, whether in the business arena as in this case report, or in other contexts, such as universities, government agencies, hospitals, law firms, schools, or other settings. Attending to these caveats should serve to subject the “CDP Matrix” to contingencies of variation, selection and retention as Prosocial continues to evolve.
Atkins, P.W.B. (2018). Prosocial: Using CBS to build flexible, healthy relationships. In D.S. Wilson & S.C. Hayes (Eds). Evolution and contextual behavioral science. Oakland: New Harbinger.
Atkins, P.W.B, Wilson, D.S, & Hayes, S.C (2019). Prosocial: Using evolutionary science to build productive, equitable, and collaborative groups. Oakland: New Harbinger.
Polk, K. L., & Schoendorff, B., Webster, M. , & Olaz, F.O. (2016). The essential guide to the ACT matrix. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Wilson, D.S. (2019). This view of life. New York: Pantheon Books.
I would like to express deep appreciation to all those contributors from the worlds of Applied Behavior Analysis, Contextual Behavioral Science, Economics, and Evolution Science from whose work this article has been derived. Particular thanks are extended to Dr. Steven Hayes, Dr. David Sloan Wilson, Dr. Paul Atkins, Dr. Tony Biglan, and Dr. Kevin Polk.
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