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 feeding the information back to the employees so they can analyze it and develop hypotheses about what the problems in the unit might be.
2) It applies behavioral science knowledge to improve the organization’s effectiveness.
3) It changes the organization in a particular direction – towards improved problem solving responsiveness, quality of work, and effectiveness.
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 and others behavior more effectively, so they can then solve interpersonal and inter-group problems. These problems might include, for instance conflict among employees, or a lack of interdepartmental 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’s (the t is for training) basic aim is to increase the participant’s insight into his or her own behavior by encouraging an open expression of feelings in the trainer-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 than in terms of past behaviors. The t-group’s success depends on the feedback each person gets from the others and on the participants willingness to be candid. The process requires a climate of psychological safety so participants feel safe enough to expose their feelings.
T-group training is controversial. Its personal nature suggests that participation should be voluntary. Some view it as unethical because you can consider participation suggested by one’s superior as really voluntary. Others argue that it can actually be a dangerous exercise led by an inadequately prepared trainer.
OD’s distinctive emphasis on action research is quite evident in team building. According to experts French and Bell, the typical building meeting begins with the consultant interviewing each of the group members and the leader before the meeting. They are asked what her 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 themes to the group at the start of the meeting. 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 complete 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. They provide a comparative graphic illustration of the fact that the organization does have problems to solve.
Techno-structural Interventions: OD practitioners are involved in changing firms’ structures, methods, and job designs, using an assortment of techno-structural interventions. For example, in a formal structural change program, the employees collect data on the company’s existing organizational structure; they then jointly redesign and implement a new one.
HRM Applications: OD practitioners use action research to enable employees to analyze and change their firm’s human resources practices. Targets of change here might include the performance appraisal and reward systems, as well as installing diversity programs.