Organizational Development Theory

Organizational Development (OD) is a field of research, theory, and practice dedicated to expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of people to accomplish more successful organizational change and performance.

OD is a process of continuous diagnosis, action planning, implementation and evaluation, with the goal of transferring knowledge and skills to organizations to improve their capacity for solving problems and managing future change.

History and Application of Organizational Development Theory

OD emerged out of human relations studies from the 1930s where psychologists realized that organizational structures and processes influence worker behavior and motivation.

Lewin's work in the 1940s and 1950s also helped show that feedback was a valuable tool in addressing social processes.

More recently, work on OD has expanded to focus on aligning organizations with their rapidly changing and complex environments through organizational learning, knowledge management and transformation of organizational norms and values.

Key Concepts of Organizational Development Theory

Organizational Climate

  • Defined as the mood or unique "personality" of an organization.
  • Attitudes and beliefs about organizational practices create organizational climate and influence members' collective behavior.
  • Climate features and characteristics may be associated with employee satisfaction, stress, service quality and outcomes and successful implementation of new programs. Climate features and characteristics include:
    • Leadership, openness of communication, participative management, role clarity, and conflict resolution, leader support and leader control.

Organizational Culture

Deeply seated norms, values and behaviors that members share.

The five basic elements of culture in organizations include:

  1. Assumptions
  2. Values
  3. Behavioral norms
  4. Behavioral patterns
  5. Artifacts

The subjective features (assumptions, values and norms) reflect members' unconscious thoughts and interpretations of their organizations.

The subjective features shape the behaviors and artifacts take on within organizations

Organizational Strategies

A common OD approach used to help organizations negotiate change, i.e. action research, consists of four steps.

  1. Diagnosis
    • Helps organization identify problems that may interfere with its effectiveness and assess the underlying causes
    • Usually done by OD enlisting the help of an outside specialist to help identify problems by examining its mission, goals, policies, structures and technologies; climate and culture; environmental factors; desired outcomes and readiness to take action.
    • Usually done through key informant interviews or formal surveys of all members.
  2. Action planning
    • Strategic interventions for addressing diagnosed problems are developed.
    • The organization is engaged in an action planning process to assess the feasibility of implementing different change strategies that lead to action.
  3. Intervention
    • Change steps are specified and sequenced, progress monitored, and stakeholder commitment is cultivated.
  4. Evaluation
    • Assess the planned change efforts by tracking the organization's progress in implementing the change and by documenting its impact on the organization.