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  • Dean Williamson

What is organisational development?

An organisation is a collection of people, rules and systems. It exists to achieve some things - depending on the organisation this may be to make money, to change the world, to provide for certain people etc.

A definition of organisational development

One 2015 journal article defines organisational development (OD) as "to plan and implement change in order to promote organizational effectiveness." At Human Systems Co., we say that OD is the practice of improving an organisation. We don't just like talking about "effectiveness" (as in, capacity to achieve goals) and we say "improving" because organisational development itself implies direction - it isn't "organisational regression", nor is it just "change" or "business transformation".

Organisational Development is the practice of improving an organisation

We practice OD because it's about evolution towards a BETTER organisation - one that is line with current research about performance, and meets our current needs of organisations - more rounded and sustainable (including profitable), more considered and ethical, and better to work in and for.

Organisational Development is holistic

Beyond this, things get very complicated. Organisational change has been occurring for centuries, but OD as a practice field is still relatively new - it is a practice that comes out of Human Resources and change management, but it takes a holistic view of how practices and systems interact to serve wider organisational goals.

Models of Organisational Development

A range of models of OD have been proposed to support the field, including Integral Theory, Reinventing Organisations, Spiral Dynamics, the Action Inquiry model, Lewin’s three-stage model, the Action Research model, the Appreciative Inquiry model and the general model of planned change. Each has their own focus and strength, and we have found that some will apply to certain organisations more than others.

Your organisation as your vehicle

OD often also interlocks with a range of other organisational processes or functions. For example, Strategic Planning is about establishing organisational direction and goals in response to opportunities and risk. This will produce a very task-oriented Plan - "add product line x to take advantage of y". Some of these goals or strategies may consider some aspects of organisational function, but this process will often exclude more detailed consideration of organisational capacity and/or culture. For us, thinking about the organisation is like thinking about your car. You might want to drive to the top of the mountain, but do you have a car which will be able to get you there?

Building your organisation with organisational development
Do you think about how you build your organisation?

Similarly, OD considers and interlocks with practices all across the organisation - HR (such as succession planning, hiring and firing), budgeting and financial approaches, culture, structure, leadership and management, employee voice, pay rates, marketing strategy - actually, we haven't found an area of an organisation that OD hasn't taken us into! Organisational development is about systems and complexity Fundamentally, we believe that OD is a practice in complexity, in order to move an organisation towards a "better" state. If you consider that change in an organisation can (and will need to) occur at the macro-, meso- and micro- levels (organisational systems, team and group dynamics, and individual development, respectively), OD must acknowledge systems and complexity for development and progress to be successful. And once you get in there, every organisation, team and individual is different. That's why we believe in a flexible, co-created OD pathways for each organisation.

Welcome to the great (and challenging) world of Organisational Development, and why we start with intensive learning about our clients!

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