Mobius Clients


Group Development using the Mobius Model Instrument™: A Case Study

John G. Drozdal, Ed.D.

The executive director of a non-profit organization invited me to work with their nineteen-member board of directors.  He explained, “There seems to be a lack of trust and Board members feel disconnected with each other. Many structural changes took place in 2003 and there were many differing opinions and ideas on how to move forward”. The traditional multi-step organization development (OD) approach (e.g., Burke, 1982) is time-consuming and expensive. I found the Mobius Model Instrument™ (MMI)  a useful alternative in helping groups build agreements on how to move forward in development in a very efficient manner.

As OD consultants we conduct interviews, administer surveys, review documents, prepare a report of our findings, and then present those findings back to our client group.  More often then not, the content of the presentation contains “tough messages”.  More often than we like, the client says something like, “that’s YOUR perception of what’s going on here, but that’s not what’s really happening!”

This article will present a case study of the application of the MMI in a nonprofit organization to show the efficacy of the instrument in overcoming the limitations of traditional OD interventions.

This is how I saw the challenge. The organization is a nonprofit with limited resources. The traditional OD approach will seem time-consuming and too expensive even if everyone agrees it would be a good thing. In addition, the Director’s perception of “trust” as the key issue may not be shared by other members and not deserving of the required investment of Board attention and resources. However, reports of “hidden agendas”, rampant rumors, and questioning of the organization’s leadership seemed to support the director’s perceptions. Besides, trust is one of those important but non-urgent issues that can be difficult to get any group to address, especially a 19 member Board. I needed to find a time efficient and cost effective way to surface the key issues in a way that all would see as valid and important to address.

 I was familiar with the Mobius Model Instrument™ (MMI) as a tool for group self-assessment. The MMI is based on the Mobius Model™ originally conceived by Will Stockton about twenty-five years ago.  Having used it a few times before, I knew that through the use of the MMI and the follow-up facilitated dialogue about the results a group can assess where it is in development, envision where it could be, agree to priorities for action, and make a commitment to invest in the group’s development.  The MMI data is a reflection of the group’s view of itself; not a report of what outside “experts” think of the team. I hoped that it would serve in this situation as a way to surface the important issues and identify priorities for development in a timely and effective way. 

The MMI helps a group of virtually any size self-assess how it is doing on each of the six Mobius Model™ characteristics or qualities that are critical for effective and satisfying group relationships; mutual understanding, possibility (vision), commitment (goals and values), capability, responsibility, and acknowledgement.  Respondents rate each item on two dimensions: how frequently a given Mobius Model™ characteristic is present in the group, and how important that characteristic is to the success of the group.

Each member of the group who completes the questionnaire receives a personalized report with the groups’ composite and aggregate data and their own (confidential) data. The data are intended to simulate the follow-up dialogue.  The report includes specific items of agreement and disagreement about both what the group does and how important the quality is for the group’s success. Then it presents the following composite graph:

Through the facilitated dialogue, this board of directors established mutual understanding around the first part of the report - areas of greatest agreement and disagreement. Then the conversation shifted to a review of the above graphic that shows the average ratings of importance (blue bars) and frequency (red bars) side by side for each of the six qualities of the Mobius Model™. This composite profile revealed two main insights about this group.

  • The group tended to place a great deal of importance on all six of the qualities for effective and satisfying group work. However, the group rated “commitment” (i.e., agreement about priorities, goals, and values) and “responsibility” (i.e., agreement around who will do what to meet agreed commitments) as more important than the other qualities. The group realized that it placed more importance on getting things done rather than building mutual understanding.
  • The gap between what the group wants and what it does was quite large for each of the six qualities.  However, it was most pronounced for mutual understanding, possibility (vision), and commitment. Given that the basic premise of the model is that mutual understanding of differing viewpoints is the foundation upon which committed action stands, and that together these first three qualities are essential for strategic leadership, it was eye opening for this group to learn that they really were not listening to each other for understanding.

As a result of this snapshot in time and the facilitated dialogue about the data, this board of directors committed to the following priorities:

  • It agreed to be a governing board that sets policy and the strategic direction for the organization rather than a working board that participates in the day-to-day activities of the nonprofit.
  • They also agreed to align the strategy of the organization around the mission and to allow the executive director to execute the plan and to manage the participation of the board members in completing the objectives in the plan.
  • Finally, the Board agreed to craft a set of group norms that would ensure mutual understanding of diverse perspectives as a prerequisite for building common ground and committed action.

Key Learnings

As I reflect on this experience, there were three key learnings for me:

  • The MMI was indeed a cost-effective way to help this group define its next stage of development. Designing and conducting interviews with twenty-two participants, analyzing the data, and then preparing a report would realistically have taken me forty to fifty hours. In this case, the facilitation took just over nine hours – about one fifth the amount of time.  So, this approach is much more cost effective than a traditional OD intervention – as long as the conditions necessary for the effective use of the MMI are present in the group.
  1. I think the fact that all five of the key conditions for the applicability of the MMI for group settings were present for this board of directors contributed to a good result.  There was willingness on the part of the staff, the executive committee of the board and most board members to examine how the board was working; board membership was relatively stable; the board of directors was willing to allocate sufficient time for the dialogue as well as an additional follow-up session if necessary; the board consisted of individuals with the requisite communication skills; and finally, the executive director and the board chairperson agreed to support this effort.
  1. Had I presented interview data to the board that suggested “trust” was a major issue, the reaction of the group could have been very mixed and the follow-up conversation might have been very messy.  By having the group work with its own data from this self-assessment, the group identified what needed to be present for its next stage of development and was willing to take on the difficult conversations to move forward.


Burke, W. (1982). Organization development: Principles and practices. Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

Demarest, L., Herdes, M., Stockton, J., & Stockton, W. (2004). The Mobius Model: A guide for developing effective relationships in groups, teams, and organizations. Minneapolis, MN: Farrar & Associates.

Herdes, M., Demarest, L., & Stockton, W. (2002).  The Mobius Model Instrument: Facilitator Handbook.

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