Organisation Development

by Rosie Stevens

Some definitions

Given that most of what has been written about OD has been researched and written in an academic context, prevailing definitions tend to have an academic flavour and you may find some more helpful than others. Below is a range of definitions from different authors and sources.

  • Organisation Development is a long-term, holistic and multi-faceted approach to achieving systemic change by developing the potential, capacity and capability of an organisation, its culture, its systems and the people within it. This enables an organisation, most effectively and efficiently, to deliver the organisation’s purpose, vision and goals in a way that also meets and demonstrates the organisation’s stated and shared values. It is a means by which organisations can bring about complex, deep, meaningful, lasting and often transformational change and improved performance. It is normally linked with the development (or review/ revision) of the organisation’s purpose and vision and with strategic business planning. (Author, 2008)
  • A systemic and systematic change effort, using behavioural science knowledge and skill, to change or transform the organisation to a new state. (Beckhard, 1999)
  • Organisation Development is a response to change – a complex educational strategy intended to change beliefs, attitudes, values and structures of organisations so they can better adapt to new technologies, markets and challenges, and the dizzying rate of change itself. (Bennis, 1969)
  • Organisation Development is a system-wide and values-based collaborative process of applying behavioural science knowledge to the adaptive development, improvement and reinforcement of such organisational features as the strategies, structures, processes, people and cultures that lead to organisation effectiveness. (Bradford, Burke, Seashore,Worley and Tattenbaum, 2001)
  • Organisation Development is a top-management-supported long-range effort to improve an organisation’s problem-solving and renewal processes, particularly through a more effective and collaborative diagnosis and management of organisation culture – with special emphasis on formal work team, temporary team and intergroup culture – with the assistance of a consultant-facilitator and the use of theory and technology of applied behavioural science, including Action Research. (French and Bell, 1990)
  • OD is a systematic application of knowledge deriving from systems science, management science and behavioural science to improve organisational effectiveness. Improvement efforts occur in a context of clearly-stated values depicted by this hypothesis: To improve organisation effectiveness, increase opportunities for Participation, Shared Power and Truth. (C M Dick Deaner and Kathryn J Miller, Organisation Development Consultants)

These definitions imply a number of key characteristics of OD:

  • OD is long-term and long-range – it is not a quick fix which can be satisfied by immediate implementation of a new process or a knee-jerk training course
  • OD is and should be linked to strategic business planning
  • It needs to be supported by senior leaders and understood by all leaders and managers in the organisation
  • It effects change through education and learning, although not exclusively, and it is inextricably linked with organisational learning
  • Empowerment, inclusion, collaboration and extensive participation are crucial, as is the need to explore and understand a wide range of perspectives about the organisation, both from within and from other stakeholders and partners.