Using OD

There are many ways to identify the need for an organizational change, and to implement the change itself. One of the most widely used is organizational development (OD). Organizational development is a special approach to organizational change in which the employees themselves formulate the change that’s required and implemented it, often with the assistance of a trained consultant. Particularly in large companies, the OD process including hiring of facilitators is almost always handled through HR. As an approach to changing organizations, OD has several distinguishing characteristics:

1. It usually involves action research, which means collecting data about a group, department or organization and then feeding the information back to the employees so they can analyze it and develop hypotheses about what the problem in the unit might be.
2. It applies behavioral science knowledge to improve the organization’s effectiveness.
3. It changes the attitudes, values and beliefs of employees so that the employees themselves can identify and implement the technical, procedural, cultural, structural, or other changes needed to improve the company’s functioning.
4. It changes the organization in a particular direction towards improved problem solving responsiveness, quality of work, and effectiveness.

The number and variety of OD applications (also called OD interventions or techniques) have increased substantially over the years. OD practitioners have become increasingly involved not just in changing behaviors their original area of expertise but also in directly altering the firm’s structure, practices, strategy and culture.

There are four basic categories of OD applications: human process, techno-structural, human resource management, and strategic applications. Action research – getting the employees themselves to collect the required data and to design and implement the solutions is the basis of all four.

Human process Applications: Human process OD techniques generally aim first at improving human relations skills. The goal is to give employees the insight and skills required to analyze their own others’ behavior more effectively, so they can solve interpersonal and inter-group problems. These problems might include, for instance, conflict among employees, or a lack of inter-departmental communications. Sensitivity training is perhaps the most widely used technique in this category. Team building and survey research are others.

Sensitivity, laboratory, or t-group training (the t is for “training”) was one of the earliest OD techniques. Its use has diminished, but one can still find it today. Sensitivity training’s basic aim is to increase the participant’s insight into his or her own behavior and the behavior of others by encouraging an open expression of feelings in the trainers guided t-group. Typically, 10 to 15 people meet, usually away from the job, with no specific agenda. Instead, the focus is on the feelings and emotions of the members in the group at the meeting. The facilitator encourages participants to portray themselves as they are in the group rather in terms of past behaviors or future problems. The t-group’s success depends on the feedback each person gets from the others, and on the participants’ willingness to be candid about how they perceive each others behavior. The process requires a climate of “psychological safety,” so participants feel safe enough to reveal themselves, to expose their feelings, to drop their defenses, and to try out ways of interacting.

It’s not surprising that t—group training is a controversial technique. The personal nature of such training suggests that participation should be voluntary. Some view it as unethical because you can’t really consider participation “suggested” by one’s superior as strictly voluntary. Others argue that it can actually be a dangerous exercise if led by an inadequately prepared trainer.

OD’s distinctive emphasis on action research is quite evident in team building, which refers to a specific process for improving team effectiveness. The typical team building meeting begins with the consultant interviewing each of the group members and the leader before the meeting. They are all asked what their problems are, how they think the group functions, and what obstacles are keeping the group from performing better. The consultant then categorizes the interview data into themes (such as “inadequate communications”) and presents the theme to the group at the start of the meetings. The group ranks the themes in terms of importance, and the most important ones become the agenda for the meeting. The group then explores and discusses the issues, examines the underlying causes of the problems, and begins devising solutions.

Survey research, another human process OD technique, requires that employees throughout the organization fill out attitude surveys. The facilitator then uses those data as a basis for problem analysis and action planning. In general, such surveys are a convenient way to unfreeze a company’s management and employees, by providing a comparative graphic illustration of the fact that the organization does have problem to solve.

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