Taking a Look At Organizational Development

So let’s look at organizational development (OD) an area that I have worked in for the last 20 years. We have all heard the term but what is OD about?

Try asking a number of people and don’t be surprised if they come up with a wide range of answers or struggle to clarify or define what organisational development actually is. Before I give you my personal interpretation let’s look at a few definitions:

"OD is a planned intervention aimed at improving individual and organizational health and effectiveness." Jac Fitz-Enz

“Organizational development is the application of behavioral scientific principles and methods to increase an organization's effectiveness. “ US Government Office of Personnel Management

“Our purpose as professionals is to facilitate processes by which human beings and human systems live and work together for their mutual benefit and mutual well-being.” The OD Network.


"Organizational development is an effort, planned, organization-wide, and managed from the top, to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization's processes, using behavioral-science knowledge" Richard F. Beckert Organization Development: Strategies and Models

Warren Bennis has referred to OD as a response to change, a complex educational strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of an organization so that it can better adapt to new technologies, markets, challenges, and the dizzying rate of change itself.

As you can see there is no single agreed definition of "Organizational Development." Breaking it into parts: "Organization" has come to mean the coming together of people and resources to form a unit or common purpose. "Development" in its simplest form suggests change and growth. So OD could be defined as "the practice of changing people and organizations to achieve greater effectiveness including increased productivity and quality of work life."

I have always felt that OD is a combination of science and craft it is a field of social action and an area of scientific and academic study.If you think about it these definitions suggest that OD is made up of a number of components:

  • OD applies to the entire system such as company, unit or single plant
  • OD is based on behavioural science knowledge and practise
  • OD is not a rigid change plan but an adaptive change strategy
  • OD involves both the creation and reinforcement of change

    To be an effective Organizational development practitioner one has strong understanding of the systems, structures and processes in an organization -- and how those systems, structures and processes are managed.
    So OD is concerned with:
    Vision and strategy formulation and engagement: getting clear and socialising on purpose and meaning
    Business planning and operational management: systemising strategy into day to day operations
    Change Adaptability: fostering organisational capability and learning flexibility

    More information on organizational development here

    So why is Organizational Development important?
    Well I think the simple answer is to help organisations remain viable and continue to survive and thrive in a world of constant change.

    OD can be considered to adopt a base of principles

    Systems Focused
    A key cornerstone of OD is a systems or “holistic” perspective. Organisations are seen as systems composed of interrelated parts and organisational development is described as an evolving or changing the system.
    It approaches communities and organizations as open systems; that is, acts with the knowledge that change in one area of a system always results in changes in other areas; and change in one area cannot be sustained without supporting changes in other areas of the system.

    Process Focused
    Intervenes in organizational or community processes to help bring about positive change and help the client work toward desired outcomes

    Supported by Theory
    Draws from multiple disciplines that inform an understanding of human systems, including applied behavioral and physical sciences

    Action Research
    Continuously re-examines, reflects and integrates discoveries throughout the process of change in order to achieve desired outcomes. In this way, the client members are involved both in doing their work, and in dialogue about their reflection and learning in order to apply them to achieve shared results.Informed by Data
    Involves proactive inquiry and assessment of the internal environment in order to discover and create a compelling need for change and the achievement of a desired future state of the organization or community. Some methods include survey feedback, assessment tools, interviewing, focus groups, storytelling, process consultation and observation.

    Client Centered
    Focuses on the needs of the client in order to continually promote client ownership of all phases of the work and support the client’s ability to sustain change after the consultant engagement ends.

    Focused on Effectiveness and Health
    An effective organisation has both a high quality of work life and high productivity. It is able to attract and retain and motivate effective employees who are high performers.


    In practice, Organizational Development can take on many forms, and typical OD activities can include some of the following:

  • Organizational assessments
  • Team-building
  • Coaching
  • Training
  • Leadership development
  • Talent management
  • Change management
  • Culture development
  • Employee engagement
  • Organisational structure
  • Pay and Rewards
  • Innovation
  • e-Learning
  • Career development

    So in conclusion organisations are facing with rapidly accelerating change and OD as an emerging discipline can help the organisation cope with the consequences of change.



    It is not HR or learning and development on steroids although organizational development does share some of the people methodologies and theories it is an enterprise improvement and adaptation to change strategy and integrated approach.


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