What is Organization Development?

We organize

We create organizations – systems designed to help us get things done.

We organize our closets, desks, offices, workshops, and kitchen cabinets. We organize the hockey team, fund-raiser, and ski trip. Within the organization we create structures – a cubby at just the right height for each child’s mittens; rules – put your mittens in your cubby; roles – each person is responsible for their own mittens; rewards – “nice job;” values – be responsible for yourself.

Organizations at Work

We create organizations at work – systems designed to help groups of people work together to get things done.

Visible Elements

Each organization has it’s own culture, values, mission, goals, processes, structures and dynamics. Some of these elements are formal and intentional, such as organizational charts, job descriptions, policies and procedures, the division of work into various business units and departments, and performance review systems. Others are less visible and seen only when they wreak havoc resulting in mysterious and unexpected consequences. These havoc wreakers typically involve politics – the unwritten rules around power and influence; the way people communicate, the nature of relationships between members of the team, and even the hot buttons and clashes that emerge when situations get tense. When the underlying problems are not dealt with effectively signs of distress are painful and obvious: conflicts escalate, productive problem solving and decision making decreases, organizational and individual learning grinds to a halt, performance suffers, and the ability to embrace innovation and change is impaired. Without a comprehensive understanding of what is going on under the surface, many organizations blame and deliver consequences solely to individuals, when in reality, the problem lies in the system, and will repeat itself over and over again.

Invisible Elements

Because the invisible elements of the organization are not immediately clear or available to leaders and their groups for problem solving, much of the OD professional’s work involves increasing awareness and developing actions to address what was previously unseen. At the same time, OD consultants apply psychology, management science and systems thinking to the problems and opportunities companies face, such as the need for an organization to survive and thrive transformational change(mergers, acquisitions, redefining or re-engineering the business), developing leaders, low morale, difficulty attracting new talent, lack of collaboration across silos, resolving issues that have been swept under the rug and get in the way of achieving goals, and intense disabling conflict among key team members. Organization development professionals create a collaborative working environment with and among leaders and employees, bringing together the diverse perspectives needed to see problems clearly and improve effectiveness.

Typical OD Opportunities and Problems

Managing Change

A company is about to experience major change (e.g. merging with another company, downsizing, new product or market identity). They need to understand and manage the various human aspects of the implementation including achieving buy-in, lowering resistance, fostering collaboration, developing and selecting key leaders, and rewarding desired behaviors.

Developing Leaders

Development of key leaders is a critical success factor in achieving the next stage of the company’s growth. Projects in this category include programs to attract and retain new leaders, development of senior leaders, implementation of a high potential program, and relevant individual and organization assessments.

Coaching High Potentials

An individual is selected as a high potential leader. A coach is hired to help assess the competencies needed for his/her future roles then create and implement action plans to develop them.

Improving Team Performance

An organization finds that more effective and high level functioning of a key team (or teams) is required for the company’s success. The team development process begins with an assessment of how the team is functioning and where improvements are needed. Interventions may be geared to increase awareness of team members’ differences and strengths, team decision making processes, team dynamics, the leader-team relationship, and/or unwritten rules by which the group operates. Additional work such as strategic planning, leadership development, or organization design may also result.

Designing or Re-designing Systems

  • A new organization is coming into existence or an existing one needs to respond to new challenges such as the emergence of a global marketplace.  O.D. consultants are to systems as architects are to buildings. We work in collaboration with clients to identify the environment in which this organization must thrive, and what it is supposed to do – it’s output, and design the organization accordingly. For example, if rapid innovation is core to the company’s mission we create or choose structures, communication processes, reward systems, physical space, etc to ensure innovation flourishes.  Finally we make sure all these sub-systems work together.

Note: Leadership coaching, the development of individuals, and OD/ organizational development, the development of organization, are seen by some as distinct disciplines. Our experience indicates that they are closely intertwined with each affecting the other. The best solutions, therefore, require consideration of and expertise to address both the development of the individual and the system.