July 28th, 2012 Organizational Development
As defined by Richard Beckhard, "Organizational development" (OD) is a planned, top-down, organization-wide effort to increase the organization's effectiveness and health. OD is achieved through interventions in the organization's "processes," using behavioural science knowledge. According to Warren Bennis, OD is a complex strategy intended to change the beliefs, attitudes, values, and structure of organizations so that they can better adapt to new technologies, markets, and challenges. Warner Burke emphasizes that OD is not just "anything done to better an organization"; it is a particular kind of change process designed to bring about a particular kind of end result. OD involves organizational reflection, system improvement, planning, and self-analysis.
The term "Organization Development" is often used interchangeably with Organizational effectiveness, especially when used as the name of a department or a part of the Human Resources function within an organization. Organization Development is a growing field that is responsive to many new approaches including Positive Adult Development.
Definition of Organizational Development
At the core of OD is the concept of organization, defined as two or more people working together toward one or more shared goals. Development in this context is the notion that an organization may become more effective over time at achieving its goals.
OD is a long range effort to improve organization's problem solving and renewal processes, particularly through more effective and collaborative management of organizational culture, often with the assistance of a change agent or catalyst and the use of the theory and technology of applied behavioral science.
Organization development is a contractual relationship between a change agent and a sponsoring organization entered into for the purpose of using applied behavioral science in a systems context to improve organizational performance and the capacity of the organization to improve itself.
Contractual Relationship. Although neither the sponsoring organization nor the change agent can be sure at the outset of the exact nature of the problem or problems to be dealt with or how long the change agents' help will be needed, it is essential that some tentative agreement on these matters be reached. The sponsoring organization needs to know generally what the change agent's preliminary plan is, what its own commitments are in relation to personal commitments and responsibility for the program, and what the change agent's fee will be. The change agent must assure himself that the organization's, and particularly the top executives', commitment to change is strong enough to support the kind of self-analysis and personal involvement requisite to success of the program. Recognizing the uncertainties lying ahead on both sides, a termination agreement permitting either side to withdraw at any time is usually included.
A change agent in the sense used here is not a technical expert skilled in such functional areas as accounting, production, or finance. He is a behavioral scientist who knows how to get people in an organization involved in solving their own problems. His main strength is a comprehensive knowledge of human behavior, supported by a number of intervention techniques (to be discussed later). The change agent can be either external or internal to the organization. An internal change agent is usually a staff person who has expertise in the behavioral sciences and in the intervention technology of OD. Beckhard reports several cases in which line people have been trained in OD and have returned to their organizations to engage in successful change assignments. In the natural evolution of change mechanisms in organizations, this would seem to approach the ideal arrangement. Qualified change agents can be found on some university faculties, or they may be private consultants associated with such organizations as the National Training Laboratories Institute for Applied Behavioral Science (Washington, D.C.) or University Associates (San Diego, California), and similar organizations.
The change agent may be a staff or line member of the organization who is schooled in OD theory and technique. In such a case, the "contractual relationship" is an in-house agreement that should probably be explicit with respect to all of the conditions involved except the fee.
Sponsoring Organization. The initiative for OD programs comes from an organization that has a problem. This means that top management or someone authorized by top management is aware that a problem exists and has decided to seek help in solving it. There is a direct analogy here to the practice of psychotherapy: The client or patient must actively seek help in finding a solution to his problems. This indicates a willingness on the part of the client organization to accept help and assures the organization that management is actively concerned.
Applied Behavioral Science. One of the outstanding characteristics of OD that distinguishes it from most other improvement programs is that it is based on a "helping relationship." The change agent is not a physician to the organization's ills; he does not examine the "patient," make a diagnosis, and write a prescription. Nor does he try to teach organizational members a new inventory of knowledge which they then transfer to the job situation. Using theory and methods drawn from such behavioral sciences as psychology, sociology, communication, cultural anthropology, administrative theory, organizational behavior, economics, and political science, the change agent's main function is to help the organization define and solve its own problems. The basic method used is known as action research. This approach, which is described in detail later, consists of a preliminary diagnosis, collecting data, feedback of the data to the client, data exploration by the client group, action planning based on the data, and taking action.
Systems Context. OD deals with a total system the organization as a whole, including its relevant environment or with a subsystem or systems departments or work groups in the context of the total system. Parts of systems, for example, individuals, cliques, structures, norms, values, and products are not considered in isolation; the principle of interdependency, that is, that change in one part of a system affects the other parts, is fully recognized. Thus, OD interventions focus on the total culture and cultural processes of organizations. The focus is also on groups, since the relevant behavior of individuals in organizations and groups is generally a product of group influences rather than personality.
Improved Organizational Performance. The objective of OD is to improve the organization's capacity to handle its internal and external functioning and relationships. This would include such things as improved interpersonal and group processes, more effective communication, enhanced ability to cope with organizational problems of all kinds, more effective decision processes, more appropriate leadership style, improved skill in dealing with destructive conflict, and higher levels of trust and cooperation among organizational members. These objectives stem from a value system based on an optimistic view of the nature of man that man in a supportive environment is capable of achieving higher levels of development and accomplishment. Also essential to organization development and effectiveness is the scientific method inquiry, a rigorous search for causes, experimental testing of hypotheses, and review of results. Finally, the democratic process is viewed as having a legitimate, and perhaps dominant, role in the highly effective organization.
Organizational Self-Renewal. The ultimate aim of the outside OD practitioner is to "work himself out of a job" by leaving the client organization with a set of tools, behaviors, attitudes, and an action plan with which to monitor its own state of health and to take corrective steps toward its own renewal and development. This is consistent with the systems concept of feedback as a regulatory and corrective mechanism.
Early Development of Organizational Development
Kurt Lewin played a key role in the evolution of organization development as it is known today. As early as World War II, Lewin experimented with a collaborative change process (involving himself as consultant and a client group) based on a three-step process of planning, taking action, and measuring results. This was the forerunner of action research, an important element of OD, which will be discussed later. Lewin then participated in the beginnings of laboratory training, or T-groups, and, after his death in 1947, his close associates helped to develop survey-research methods at the University of Michigan. These procedures became important parts of OD as developments in this field continued at the National Training Laboratories and in growing numbers of universities and private consulting firms across the country.
The failure of off-site laboratory training to live up to its early promise was one of the important forces stimulating the development of OD. Laboratory training is learning from a person's "here and now" experience as a member of an ongoing training group. Such groups usually meet without a specific agenda. Their purpose is for the members to learn about themselves from their spontaneous "here and now" responses to an ambiguous hypothetical situation. Problems of leadership, structure, status, communication, and self-serving behavior typically arise in such a group. The members have an opportunity to learn something about themselves and to practice such skills as listening, observing others, and functioning as effective group members.
As formerly practiced (and occasionally still practiced for special purposes), laboratory training was conducted in "stranger groups," or groups composed of individuals from different organizations, situations, and backgrounds.A major difficulty developed, however, in transferring knowledge gained from these "stranger labs" to the actual situation "back home". This required a transfer between two different cultures, the relatively safe and protected environment of the T-group (or training group) and the give-and-take of the organizational environment with its traditional values. This led the early pioneers in this type of learning to begin to apply it to "family groups" that is, groups located within an organization. From this shift in the locale of the training site and the realization that culture was an important factor in influencing group members (along with some other developments in the behavioral sciences) emerged the concept of organization development.
Case History of Organizational Development
The Cambridge Clinic found itself having difficulty with its internal working relationships. The medical director, concerned with the effect these problems could have on patient care, contacted an organizational consultant at a local university and asked him for help. A preliminary discussion among the director, the clinic administrator, and the consultant seemed to point to problems in leadership, conflict resolution, and decision processes. The consultant suggested that data be gathered so that a working diagnosis could be made. The clinic officials agreed, and tentative working arrangements were concluded.
The consultant held a series of interviews involving all members of the clinic staff, the medical director, and the administrator. Then the consultant "thematized", or summarized, the interview data to identify specific problem areas. At the beginning of a workshop about a week later, the consultant fed back to the clinic staff the data he had collected.
The staff arranged the problems in the following priorities:
1. Role conflicts between certain members of the medical staff were creating tensions that interfered with the necessity for cooperation in handling patients.
2. The leadership style of the medical director resulted in his putting off decisions on important operating matters. This led to confusion and sometimes to inaction on the part of the medical and administrative staffs.
3. Communication between the administrative, medical, and outreach (social worker) staffs on mutual problems tended to be avoided. Open conflicts over policies and procedures were thus held in check, but suppressed feelings clearly had a negative influence on interpersonal and intergroup behavior.
Through the use of role analysis and other techniques suggested by the consultant, the clinic staff and the medical director were able to explore the role conflict and leadership problems and to devise effective ways of coping with them. Exercises designed to improve communication skills and a workshop session on dealing with conflict led to progress in developing more openness and trust throughout the clinic. An important result of this first workshop was the creation of an action plan that set forth specific steps to be applied to clinic problems by clinic personnel during the ensuing period. The consultant agreed to monitor these efforts and to assist in any way he could. Additional discussions and team development sessions were held with the director and the medical and administrative staffs.
A second workshop attended by the entire clinic staff took place about two months after the first. At the second workshop, the clinic staff continued to work together on the problems of dealing with conflict and interpersonal communication. During the last half-day of the meeting, the staff developed a revised action plan covering improvement activities to be undertaken in the following weeks and months to improve the working relationships of the clinic.
A notable additional benefit of this OD program was that the clinic staff learned new ways of monitoring the clinic's performance as an organization and of coping with some of its other problems. Six months later, when the consultant did a follow-up check on the organization, the staff confirmed that interpersonal problems were now under better control and that some of the techniques learned at the two workshops associated with the OD programs were still being used.
Modern Development of Organizational Development
In recent years, serious questioning has emerged about the relevance of OD to managing change in modern organizations. The need for "reinventing" the field has become a topic that even some of its "founding fathers" are discussing critically.
Wendell L. French and Cecil Bell define organization development (OD) at one point as "organization improvement through action research". If one idea can be said to summarize OD's underlying philosophy, it would be action research as it was conceptualized by Kurt Lewin and later elaborated and expanded on by other behavioral scientists. Concerned with social change and, more particularly, with effective, permanent social change, Lewin believed that the motivation to change was strongly related to action: If people are active in decisions affecting them, they are more likely to adopt new ways. "Rational social management", he said, "proceeds in a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of action".
Kurt Lewin's description of the process of change involves three steps:
Unfreezing: Faced with a dilemma or disconfirmation, the individual or group becomes aware of a need to change.
Changing: The situation is diagnosed and new models of behavior are explored and tested.
Refreezing: Application of new behavior is evaluated, and if reinforcing, adopted.
The figure summarizes the steps and processes involved in planned change through action research. Action research is depicted as a cyclical process of change. The cycle begins with a series of planning actions initiated by the client and the change agent working together. The principal elements of this stage include a preliminary diagnosis, data gathering, feedback of results, and joint action planning. In the language of systems theory, this is the input phase, in which the client system becomes aware of problems as yet unidentified, realizes it may need outside help to effect changes, and shares with the consultant the process of problem diagnosis.
The second stage of action research is the action, or transformation, phase. This stage includes actions relating to learning processes (perhaps in the form of role analysis) and to planning and executing behavioral changes in the client organization. As shown in Figure 1, feedback at this stage would move via Feedback Loop A and would have the effect of altering previous planning to bring the learning activities of the client system into better alignment with change objectives. Included in this stage is action-planning activity carried out jointly by the consultant and members of the client system. Following the workshop or learning sessions, these action steps are carried out on the job as part of the transformation stage.
The third stage of action research is the output, or results, phase. This stage includes actual changes in behavior (if any) resulting from corrective action steps taken following the second stage. Data are again gathered from the client system so that progress can be determined and necessary adjustments in learning activities can be made. Minor adjustments of this nature can be made in learning activities via Feedback Loop B.
Major adjustments and reevaluations would return the OD project to the first, or planning, stage for basic changes in the program. The action-research model shown in Figure 1 closely follows Lewin's repetitive cycle of planning, action, and measuring results. It also illustrates other aspects of Lewin's general model of change. As indicated in the diagram, the planning stage is a period of unfreezing, or problem awareness. The action stage is a period of changing, that is, trying out new forms of behavior in an effort to understand and cope with the system's problems. (There is inevitable overlap between the stages, since the boundaries are not clear-cut and cannot be in a continuous process). The results stage is a period of refreezing, in which new behaviors are tried out on the job and, if successful and reinforcing, become a part of the system's repertoire of problem-solving behavior.
Action research is problem centered, client centered, and action oriented. It involves the client system in a diagnostic, active-learning, problem-finding, and problem-solving process. Data are not simply returned in the form of a written report but instead are fed back in open joint sessions, and the client and the change agent collaborate in identifying and ranking specific problems, in devising methods for finding their real causes, and in developing plans for coping with them realistically and practically. Scientific method in the form of data gathering, forming hypotheses, testing hypotheses, and measuring results, although not pursued as rigorously as in the laboratory, is nevertheless an integral part of the process. Action research also sets in motion a long-range, cyclical, self-correcting mechanism for maintaining and enhancing the effectiveness of the client's system by leaving the system with practical and useful tools for self-analysis and self-renewal.
Important figures related to Organizational Development
- W. Edwards Deming
- Chris Argyris
- Richard Beckhard
- Kenneth Benne
- Robert R. Blake
- Leland Bradford
- W. Warner Burke
- Tom Cummings
- Fred Emery
- Charles Handy
- Elliott Jaques
- Kurt Lewin (1898 – 1947) is widely recognized as the founding father of Organizational Development (OD), although he died before the concept became current in the mid-1950s. From Lewin came the ideas of group dynamics, and action research which underpin the basic OD process as well as providing its collaborative consultant/client ethos. Institutionally, Lewin founded the Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT, which moved to Michigan after his death. RCGD colleagues were among those who founded the National Training Laboratories (NTL), from which the T-group and group-based OD emerged. In the UK, working as close as was possible with Lewin and his colleagues, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was important in developing systems theories. Important too was the joint TIHR journal Human Relations, although nowadays the Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences is seen as the leading OD journal.
- Rensis Likert
- Gordon Lippitt
- Ronald Lippitt
- Jane Mouton
- William J. Rothwell
- Edgar Schein
- Donald Schon
- Peter Senge
- Charlie Seashore
- Edie Seashore
- Eric Trist
- Saul Eisen
Organizational Development Interventions
This section describes some of the principal learning processes or interventions in the "action" stage (see Figure 1) of organization development. Interventions are structured activities used individually or in combination by the members of a client system to improve their social or task performance. They may be introduced by a change agent as part of an improvement program, or they may be used by the client following a program to check on the state of the organization's health, or to effect necessary changes in its own behavior. "Structured activities" mean such diverse procedures as experiential exercises, questionnaires, attitude surveys, interviews, relevant group discussions, and even lunchtime meetings between the change agent and a member of the client organization. Every action that influences an organization's improvement program in a change agent-client system relationship can be said to be an intervention.
There are many possible intervention strategies from which to choose. Several assumptions about the nature and functioning of organizations are made in the choice of a particular strategy. Beckhard lists six such assumptions:
1. The basic building blocks of an organization are groups (teams). Therefore, the basic units of change are groups, not individuals.
2. An always relevant change goal is the reduction of inappropriate competition between parts of the organization and the development of a more collaborative condition.
3. Decision making in a healthy organization is located where the information sources are, rather than in a particular role or level of hierarchy.
4. Organizations, subunits of organizations, and individuals continuously manage their affairs against goals. Controls are interim measurements, not the basis of managerial strategy.
5. One goal of a healthy organization is to develop generally open communication, mutual trust, and confidence between and across levels.
6. People support what they help create. People affected by a change must be allowed active participation and a sense of ownership in the planning and conduct of the change.
Interventions range from those designed to improve the effectiveness of individuals through those designed to deal with teams and groups, intergroup relations, and the total organization. There are interventions that focus on task issues (what people do), and those that focus on process issues (how people go about doing it). Finally, interventions may be roughly classified according to which change mechanism they tend to emphasize: for example, feedback, awareness of changing cultural norms, interaction and communication, conflict, and education through either new knowledge or skill practice.
One of the most difficult tasks confronting the change agent is to help create in the client system a safe climate for learning and change. In a favorable climate, human learning builds on itself and continues indefinitely during man's lifetime. Out of new behavior, new dilemmas and problems emerge as the spiral continues upward to new levels. In an unfavorable climate, in contrast, learning is far less certain, and in an atmosphere of psychological threat, it often stops altogether. Unfreezing old ways can be inhibited in organizations because the climate makes employees feel that it is inappropriate to reveal true feelings, even though such revelations could be constructive. In an inhibited atmosphere, therefore, necessary feedback is not available. Also, trying out new ways may be viewed as risky because it violates established norms. Such an organization may also be constrained because of the law of systems: If one part changes, other parts will become involved. Hence, it is easier to maintain the status quo. Hierarchical authority, specialization, span of control, and other characteristics of formal systems also discourage experimentation.
The change agent must address himself to all of these hazards and obstacles. Some of the things which will help him are:
1. A real need in the client system to change
2. Genuine support from management
3. Setting a personal example: listening, supporting behavior
4. A sound background in the behavioral sciences
5. A working knowledge of systems theory
6. A belief in man as a rational, self-educating being fully capable of learning better ways to do things.