Organisational Development Paper Sascha Michel


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Organisational Development Paper Sascha Michel

  1. 1. The impact of early organisational development theories and perspectives on business today -Sascha Michel- 1
  2. 2. Organisational development and learning (ODL) is an approach to change, whichacknowledges and cares for people at all levels of an organisation. ODL sees the individualand the group, as the main catalyst and drivers for change. The assumption is that people arethe most important asset. They are most productive in an environment promoting a highquality of working life, thus determining effective organisational design (Senior et al., 2006).There is a great deal of ambiguity associated with the OD approach to development, in theareas relating to strategic management and situational change agenda. Whilst individuals could be seen as the most important asset, we cannot ignore thechallenges that lie in determining the correct behavioral interventions; and if this alone candirect change in hard and soft areas of culture, structure, strategy and leadership (Holbeche,2009; French and Bell, 1999). We will review early organisational development theories andperspectives and how they might impact on organisational development and changeinitiates. Firstly, we need to look at what makes an organisation, and then assess if earlyapproaches to ODL are realistic and appropriate, in these complex social ’organisms’ we callorganisations. Organisations are social systems that consist of processes, systems, structures, people,culture and leadership. People group together to coordinate activities, are allocatedresponsibilities, usually within a system of boundaries and control, by management design.The term ‘organised’ suggests that throughout this system, a sense of order and predictabilitycan be attained. However, with the unpredictability of group dynamics, culture, power andpolitics, the idea of an ‘organised’ system could simply be a facade. Quinn (1988) argues thattraditional definitions of organisations as predictable stable contexts do not apply; becauseorganisations are dynamic, suiting leadership styles capable of directing intuition, ambiguity,in a constantly evolving and adapting environment. To clarify the debate we need to first define ODL, then asses the relativity of behavioralinterventions in unpredictable states, and see how we might solve this conundrum.Organisational development and learning (ODL) as a process is the creation of ongoinglearning and progression by intervening in the complexities of behavior, culture, strategyand systems. An environment where the people are the key drivers for delivering change,forming part of a detailed interoperable organisational system. Beckard (1969) definesorganisational development as a planned change effort, involving the total “system”,managed from the top, with the goal of increasing organisational effectiveness. French andBell (1999) describe ODL as a process of behavioral interventions, including gestalt, processwork, feedback mechanisms, and an array of tools and techniques appropriate to the 2
  3. 3. individual, group and organisational level. ODL is useful if you are looking to embark on achange in culture, managerial strategy, motivation, by creating open communications, andleadership, which can adapt to new environments. ODL is based on humanistic principles, borne out of the human relations movement ofthe 1930’s. The key drivers for this new approach was primarily associated with theindustrial revolution, where organisations ran tightly controlled, militant, rationalmanagement or bureaucracies. People were seen as only being motivated by money. Theyworked in machine-like organisations, where roles were formalised by task, with no channelfor individual creativity and individual thinking. This was a formidable approach, which hasgathered much support. The Classical approach gave rise to working factories, helping tobuild Europe after the war, and contributing to the success of the assembly lines inautomobile manufacturing. ODL was founded in the late 1940’s through the pioneering work of Kurt Lewin and hisNational Training laboratories. Lewin was interested in resolving social conflict throughbehavior change, in particular minority and disadvantages groups. His contribution over thelast 40 years has helped to develop a deeper understanding of the dynamics of changeinvolving people and organisations (Greiner and Cummings, 2004; Burnes, 2004). ODL wasseen as a step up from the classical and bureaucratic approach from before. It supported theview of human beings having emotional, as well as economic needs, with respect to humandignity, integrity, responsibility and justice (Burnes, 2009). Lewin developed a 3 phase process for change, which he called unfreezing, moving, andrefreezing, along with force field analysis, group dynamics and action research (Senior et al.,2006). Unfreezing is classified as the shaking up of modes of thinking and behavior toheighten the awareness for change. It involves consultation with heads of departments, anddecision making to create unity of purpose and reasons for change. The second stage ofLevin’s process was the ‘doing’ or the process of making the change. This could include newstrategies and organisational structures to ensure movement to the new desired state. Thefinal stage is the stabilising process, which institutes these changes. The problem with thiswhole approach is that the 3 stage process assumes an organisation can in fact stabilise. Itignores the turbulent environment in which organisations operate and are having tocontinually change (Burnes, 2009). In recent years Levin’s theories have come under much criticism, as it has bygone aperiod of fad and fashion (Griener and Cummings, 2004). It could be seen as a process, 3
  4. 4. which firstly suits an idealistic portrayal of how organisations could function, as well as un-defining of the practitioner’s ability to place interventions, relative to the context in whichchange happens. Although there seems to be major gaps in the thinking, it is undeniable thatLewin, seen as the father of ODL, has influenced much of OD literature and models. Hiswork is evident in much of the contemporary OD and change agenda. Much of what Lewin has laid out in the early stages of ODL is closely related to thecontext of planned change. This places a great deal of emphasis on the ability to makerational and planned decisions, with predetermined goals, in a linear and predictableenvironment. However this is a naive approach to looking at the type of change situationsthat organisations find themselves. The emergent approach sees organisational change as acontinuous, open and evolving process. The school of open systems and complexity seeorganisations as flexible systems or organisms, that are innovating and operating at the ‘edgeof chaos’. ODL and the planned approach might only be appropriate in certainenvironmental situations i.e slow incremental change, and less relevant in situations thatrequire rapid change or unstable environments. Within these stable environments we mightalso expect an established culture or norms of behavior “the way we do thing around here”.ODL does not take into account different cultures; especially those that may not sharevalues, in situations where power and politics, within a complex system wide change, may beprevalent (Senior et al., 2006; Burnes, 2004). Where ODL tends to neglect an involvement in large scale rapid change, globalisation,mergers and acquisitions and virtual organisations (Griener and Cummings, 2004), a newproposed definition could be to focus specifically in the areas of behavioral teaching,research and practise. ODL has an important part to play in organisational change. Where itslimitations lie in strategic planning and systems thinking, it might be better suited to a moreholistic approach, acting in counterpoint to the more hard elements of system, structure andstrategy. While organisational development is associated with behavioral interventions, learningon the other hand is a process, by which an entire workforce can identify with the need forchange, and then develop it. The assumption is that organisations need to learn at least asfast as the environment dictates. Organisations need to move away from traditional forms oflearning and intervention, toward a distributed process of learning and leadership (Thorpe etal., 2011). Senge (2006) calls this the “learning organisation”. His seminal work takes intoaccount the behavioral elements of OD combined with leadership, strategy, learning anddevelopment. This integrated approach covers 5 main disciplines, namely systems thinking, 4
  5. 5. personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning. The role of OD andbehavior has influenced much of his work. This contemporary perspective harnesses thebehavioral forms of early OD and recent systemic thinking from a prescriptive perspective.This in turn creates an integrative process of how individuals and organisations might learnand develop together. In summary, I looked at the role of organisational development and learning inorganisational change, and how this was influenced by the work of Kurt Lewin. It is evidentthat ODL has a major part to play in the development and learning in organisations.However, organisational development does present a dichotomy of opposing forces. Firstly itsupposes the need for a fixed state organisation with the need to develop learningcontinuously as a process of becoming a “learning organisation”. The environmental,structural and cultural context can provide awareness for prescribed change initiatives, butnotwithstanding its restrictions. Therefore, success is largely dependent on understandingthe context in which organisations find themselves. To cement the ODL approach as a viablecomponent in the change process, we need a willingness to intervene with a range ofapproaches, which tackle not only behavioral aspects, but also changes in the dynamics ofstructure, systems, strategy and culture.ReferencesHOLBECH, L. (2009) Organisational Development-what’s in a name?. Impact quarterly update on CIPD Policy and Research, 26, 6-9.BURNES, B. (2004) Kurt Lewin and the Planned Approach to Change: A Re-appraisal. Journal of Management Studies, 41(6), 977-1002.BURNES, B. (2009) Managing change : a strategic approach to organisational dynamics, Harlow, Financial Times Prentice Hall.FRENCH, W. L. & BELL, C. H. (1999) Organization development : behavioral science interventions for organization improvement, Upper Saddle River, N.J., Prentice Hall ; London : Prentice-Hall International.GREINER, L. E. & CUMMINGS, T. G. (2004) Wanted. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40(4), 374-391.SENGE, P. M. (2006) The fifth discipline : the art and practice of the learning organization, London, Random House Business.SENIOR, B., FLEMING, J. & MYILIBRARY. (2006) Organizational change, Harlow, Pearson Education.THORPE, R., GOLD, J. & LAWLER, J. (2011) Locating Distributed Leadership. International Journal of Management Reviews, 13(3), 239-250. 5