Organizational development (OD) is the process of changing an organization, or part of an organization, in a deliberate and methodical way with the goal of increasing the organization’s efficiency and effectiveness.
OK, that’s great, but what does that mean?
An organization is a complex organism with a mind of its own. The dictionary defines it as a group of people formed for a specific purpose. How can a group of people share one purpose, when each and every person has different knowledge, skills, values, etc.? This is the internal challenge organizations face.
In order to address this challenge, OD practitioners employ scientific and empirically backed methodologies to properly diagnose the organization’s conditions and implement interventions to overcome obstacles and build upon strengths.
What do we mean by scientific methodology?
OD practitioners gather data by qualitative and quantitative means. Qualitative data collection refers to conducting client interviews, focus groups, and on-site observations to gain a perspective of the operations within the organization.
Quantitative data collection refers to the distribution and analysis of surveys or to the review of archival data (such as attendance records). These to uncover patterns (such as differences by gender, rank, or department) within the organization.
So now that you have data, now what?
From the data, the OD practitioners work to determine the root cause for the mindset that has created the situation in question. These conclusions may be, for example, the employees in the R&D department are receiving conflicting orders resulting in confusion about their priorities.
These root causes lend themselves to recommendations. For example to, in order to resolve conflicting orders causing confusion, the OD practitioner may recommend implementing an organizational mechanism to prioritize the orders in the R&D department.
The recommended interventions operate according to psychological principles. The above example resolved confusion. In order to deal with interdepartmental conflict, OD practitioners may facilitate workshops off-site in order to promote helpful communication and increase mutual understanding.
Does it work?
While all humans are unique, we all behave according to deeply set patterns. Finding these underlying patterns is the rationale for much of the research into human psychology. Organizational Development attempts to implement findings from scientifically valid research into real world situations.
A famous study that examined 270 interventions performed on public sector organizations and 304 interventions performed on private sector organizations, found that 49% of private sector organizations reported “definite balance of positive and intended effects” and an additional 40% of the organizations reported “highly positive and intended effects” from the interventions.
Who benefits from OD?
Simply put: EVERYONE.
All organizations can benefit from undergoing organizational development, it just depends on the focus. OD practitioners recognize that their clients are the experts in the business, and the OD consultants use their tools to facilitate and leverage their clients’ expertise. To just name a few topics, OD can provide management with a better idea of what is going on in the organization, OD can facilitate the flow of information within the organization, OD can improve the quality of decisions made, and the list goes on.
OD is most effective for businesses that seek it BEFORE they enter tough times since they have more resources, such as time, manpower, and capital. But it can be very effective for organizations that are working to manage a crisis or are looking to reverse a declining trend.