What Is Organization Development?
Think for a moment about the organizations to which you belong. You probably have many to name, such as the company where you work, a school, perhaps a volunteer organization, or a reading group. You are undoubtedly influenced by many other organizations in your life, such as a health care organization like a doctor’s office or hospital, a church group, a child’s school, a bank, or the local city council or state government. Using an expansive definition of organization, you could name your own family or a group of friends as an organization that you belong to as well. With just a few moments’ reflection, you are likely to be able to name dozens of organizations that you belong to or that influence you. Now consider an organization that you currently do not belong to, but one that you were dissatisfied with at some point in the past. What was it about that organization that made the experience dissatisfying? Perhaps you left a job because you did not have the opportunity to contribute that you would have liked. Maybe it was a dissatisfying team atmosphere, or you were not appreciated or recognized for the time and energy that you dedicated to the job. It could have been a change to your responsibilities, the team, or the organization’s processes. Some people report that they did not feel a larger sense of purpose at work, they did not have control or autonomy over their work, or they did not find an acceptable path to growth and career development. Perhaps you’ve witnessed or been part of an organization that has failed for some reason. Perhaps it went out of business or it disbanded because it could no longer reach its goals. You’ve likely had some excellent experiences in organizations, too. You may have had a job that was especially fulfilling or where you learned a great deal and coworkers became good friends. Maybe your local volunteer organization helped a number of people through organized fundraisers or other social services activities. 1
Perhaps you joined or started a local community group to successfully campaign against the decision of your local city council or school board. All of this is to demonstrate what you already know intuitively, that we spend a great deal of our lives working in, connected to, and affected by organizations. Some of these organizations function quite well, whereas others struggle. Some are quite rewarding environments in which to work or participate, but in others, organizational members are frustrated, neglected, and disengaged. The purpose of this book is to introduce you to the field of organization development, an area of academic study and professional practice focused on making organizations better—that is, more effective and productive and at the same time more rewarding, satisfying, and engaging places in which to work and participate. By learning about the field of organization development and the process by which it is conducted, you will be a more effective change agent inside the organizations to which you belong.
Organization Development Defined
Organization development (OD) is an interdisciplinary field with contributions from business, industrial/organizational psychology, human resources management, communication, sociology, and many other disciplines. Not surprisingly, for a field with such diverse intellectual roots, there are many definitions of organization development. Definitions can be illuminating as they point us in a direction and provide a shared context for mutual discussion, but they can also be constraining as certain concepts are inevitably left out with boundaries drawn to exclude some activities. What counts as OD thus depends on the practitioner and the definition, and these definitions have changed over time. In a study of 27 definitions of organization development published since 1969, Egan (2002) found that there were as many as 60 different variables listed...
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