What Makes Od, Od?

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Dr. David W. Jamieson

Organization development (OD) is more than 50 years old. In response to prevailing organizational values-in-operation that were partially a function of the times, OD offered a more holistic view of people and organizations, with an emphasis on humanistic and democratic values, and the belief that this different perspective was not only better for people, but also for organization performance. Prior to World War II, organizations typically operated on principles of mechanistic and bureaucratic systems, including authority-obedience, division of labor, hierarchical supervision, formalized procedures and rules, and impersonality (and many still do!). But following the war, increasing interest in social change, attitudes about democracy, and self-actualization, brought forward distinctly different values that were a counter-force to extant organizational perspectives. French and Bell’s (1999) history of OD stated, “We think most organization development practitioners held these humanistic and democratic values with their implications for different and ‘better’ ways to run organizations and deal with people.” [italics added]

As a social and organization change movement, OD was closely associated with practice, from its beginnings. For example, the action research methodology (as created by Lewin (1948) was associated with real-world problems and the application of group process knowledge to address contemporary issues. The earliest values, philosophy, and methods of practice were influenced by findings from the behavioral sciences and leading management researchers. For example, OD change methodologies were clearly influenced by

• early leadership work that brought legitimacy to participative and democratic methods (Follett 1941, Lewin and Lippitt, 1938; Likert, 1961, Tannenbaum and Schmidt, 1973)

• early human relations work that highlighted the primacy of social factors attitudes, and feelings in organization behavior, influencing productivity and morale (Maya, 1945, Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939; Homans, 1950)

• early work on group dynamics and laboratory training bringing attention to group behavior, interpersonal relations, and self-awareness (Bradford, Gibb, and Benne, 1964; Cartwright and Zander, 1954; Bennis and Shepard, 1956, Schein and Bennis; 1965)

• changing views of the person, motivation, and interpersonal communication (Rogers, 1961; Maslow, 1954; Argyris, 1965; McGregor, 1960)

• early work on environments, structures, and systems helping to bring design and process into the picture (Trist and Bamforth, 1951; Burns and Stalker, 1961, Lawrence and Lorsch, 1967; Katz and Kahn, 1966)

Over the years, OD has had many different definitions and conceptualizations (Jamieson and Worley, 2006), yet most share the same commonalities and only seem to differ on the scope of change targets and the ultimate intention of change.

For example most highlight:
• a planned process intended to bring about change
• through the use of various interventions
• using behavioral science knowledge (theory, research, technology) • having an organization or system-wide focus
• typically involving a third-party change agent

And most assume a certain value base, often without specifying the values. Ironically, most lists of OD values captured over the past 50 years have a high degree of commonality (Jamieson and Gellermann, 2005).

The only differences occur in: a) the language used around the breadth of targets (behavioral and social processes, group and intergroup, organization processes, alignment among strategy, structure, culture, systems and people, etc) and b) the change intention (improved organization performance, effectiveness, capacity, learning/development or all of these).

The commonalities reflect the shared worldview of founders and early pioneers. The differences reflect the evolution of the...
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