Definition of Organisation Development (OD)

It has been 14 years since I started my practice of Organisation Development (OD). As a student of OD, what perplexed me the most was that there is no standard definition of OD – every text book has its own definition. It is not surprising, considering OD is such a multi- disciplinary topic – ranging from Behavioural Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology (in particular Organisation Psychology & Group Dynamics Theories), along with concepts of Systems Thinking, Learning Theories, Change Management and Coaching.

Incidentally, most of these definitions speak about OD as a Practice and not about the Practitioner. And to me, the “role” and the “being” of a practitioner is as essential in defining OD as much as is the process of it. After being in this practice for years, here is my attempt to put together a simplistic yet holistic definition of OD.

Organisation Development (OD) as a field teaches us to look beyond the obvious. It means to go beyond simple causality, look at multiple realities, use systems thinking approach, understanding the cultural nuances of the context and then approximate a diagnosis and co-create the solutions along with the client system. And NOT get seduced to become the know-all solution provider (which anyway most organisations are looking for).


Let me try and expand it to explain it better….

Organisation Development (OD) as a field teaches us to look beyond the obvious: meaning what you see is not what you get. There are hidden realities in organisations that need to be understood. There are unspeakable which need to be unearthed to figure out the complexities of a situation.

Go beyond simple causality, look at multiple realities:In organisations there is no “one reality”. Every individual holds a view of reality based on their subjective experience of the organisation and also based on how they are feeling (their fears and anxieties / their hopes and aspirations) – all this shapes the reality for every individual. And organisations are a system made-up of numerous individuals and multiple sub-systems, resulting in existence of multiple realities that every individual and every sub-system holds, as well as the multiple realities that get created based on interactions amongst these individuals and sub-systems (their inter-personal dynamics, the power dynamics that exist et. al). All these multiple realities need to be unearthed and explored to make sense of the current reality of the organisation, which would lead to a holistic diagnosis.

Use of systems thinking approach: One of the most critical skills to have in understanding and developing organisations is to have a systems thinking approach – to be able to look at the Macro while keeping a detailed eye on the Micro at the same time. What is the Big Picture? How do systemic forces play a role in shaping the current reality. The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts – hence no sub-system can live in isolation. Closed systems are just a figment of imagination, every sub-system is inter-connected with other systems and has impact on each other.

Understanding the cultural nuances of the context:One of the golden rules of OD is that there are no best practices that can be copied from one system to another. Every system is unique in itself, even if they are from the same domain, same industry, having similar challenges – each organisation has its own unique challenges based on its unique context, challenges, leadership styles and in a single word, its unique culture, which cannot be easily understood, let alone be reproduced. Hence as an OD Practitioner, one needs to be sensitive to the context and culture we are operating it and make sense of the organisation and its dynamics through that prism.

Approximate a diagnosis: After exploring the multiple realities through a holistic lens and considering the unique cultural dynamics of the organisation, still even if you are the best of the best OD Consultants, you can never be sure of the Diagnosis you make. At best you can approximate a hypothesis, which needs to be tested, calibrated and then owned by the client system. That is the first step towards initiating a change.

Co-create the solution with the client system: Purely from a change management perspective, the change process needs to be co-owned and co-created by the client system – because of two main reasons. 1) Client systems has the tacit knowledge and intelligence to know what will work for them (as a consultant you will never know the context and technical challenges of the client system enough to suggest a solution) and 2) To have a buy-in from the entire client system, they need to feel ownership of the change that they would be going through, else there would be resistance at multiple levels. And the solutions provided won’t be either appropriate and / or sustainable.

NOT get seduced to become the know-all solution provider: Being the person who knows it all is a trap – both at an individual level as well as the system level. At the individual level, our own anxieties to look good, to look competent might seduce us to act like a solution provider (and as a result, cater to our personal needs rather than that of the client system). And at the System Level – the unconscious dependency that both individuals and the systems hold can further accentuate the process of seduction. The goal of OD is to build competency in the client system for them to manage their own challenges rather than to create dependency on the consultants.

Hence as an OD Professional, knowing and understanding the concepts and theories of OD are not enough – a lot of work needs to be done at the self-level too (just like to become a Psychotherapist, one needs to go through intense therapy for oneself first). As an OD Consultant, one needs to build immense self-awareness (about one’s own beliefs, values, motive and needs) and to see to it that all the personal stuff of the OD Consultant does not come in between, while working in the service of the client system.

By – Ameet Mattoo
12th March 2023
ODCP APC Member ODCP 2023-25
OD Consultant & Coach
Founder Think Change Consulting
Professional Member ISABS

OD Domain & Practitioner are target & means of change : Construction, Deconstruction & Reconstruction.

In today’s VUCA organizational context , we require collaborative effort between In-house change consultant and the external OD facilitator . This helps to synthesize external facilitator’s objective lens and the insider subjective lens , as organizational reality is complex & dynamic.

Just as organizations are going through such testing times, so also the field of OD, has been through tough time and introspection. There was moment in the history of OD , practitioners & scholars had apprehensions of the future of OD . Mood reflected in some articles published in special issue of Journal of applied behavioural science viz., “Introduction: Is OD in Crisis?” (Bradford & Burke, 2004), “Wanted: OD More Alive Than Dead!” (Greiner & Cummings, 2004), and “Ideas in Currency and OD Practice: Has the Well Gone Dry?” (Bunker, Alban & Lewicki, 2004). Such kind of deliberations and raising expectations gave turn to , new wave of Constructivism ( Gergen 2020) , (in Mark Patrik L, Phd thesis 2021), contrast to positivist lens ( object data driven & predictable reality) . In ISABS, over the last few years , we have been updating and re-imagining ODCP programme to keep pace with such changing developments of the discipline, as well as the organizational and client challenges.

Along with the latest developments and research, the practice of change facilitation is also evolving, in response to the organizational challenges and the Leadership expectations. For instance , positivist paradigm, about change and supposed underlying order , awaiting to be discovered , has given way to post-positivist paradigm – organizational reality is not singular
, static and awaiting for the facilitator, and his deductive application ( matching theory to phenomenon). This is not to say concepts & theories are not important, they are scaffolding for the OD practitioner . Secondly , deductive approach ( from theory to practice ) must be complimented by Inductive approach ( from reality/practice to conceptualizing ), leading to OD practice , essentially a synthesis ( referred as abductive – synthesising deductive & inductive ), by implication we practice the science & art of Constructivism, that is facilitating conversations- conversations as crucibles of meaning making. Therefore, OD is one of the few practices which need scholastic orientation and action research. In ODCP we make deliberate effort to bring this complimentary appreciation, in the way learner is enabled.

Though organizational challenges and contexts are dynamic , leaders and members of organization , unintentionally , get trapped in ‘defensive routines’(Chris Argyris,1992) , getting stuck with more or less same frames and repetitive conversations . Many times these process go unnoticed and also not in awareness too. In this new paradigm, social reality is constructed
, reconstructed or even deconstructed through micro-genetic process , viz., how conversations evolve and start shaping the way further conversations happen. In conventional process approach attention is given to patterns , but in constructivism focus is also given to deviations & new emergences. ODCP has evolved with the strong 39 years of tradition of Group process work at ISABS , which in fact is fundamental social technology ( Human process Inquiry) , required for enabling Conversations and co-creating conditions for new Conversations or even deconstructing existing Conversations. Thus, the learner is made to immerse in intense group process and understanding the nuances of micro-level process leading to group climate & dynamics. This way ODCP attempts to equip learner to learn art & science of enabling catalytic conditions for generative conversation, thus becoming conversational facilitator.

Another , significant aspect of OD competence is , subjective being of the consultant, his or her Self, how well one is equipped with awareness of being aware , almost like self-witness . At ODCP, learner is engaged in different contemplative practices , for example , becoming a ‘Reflective practitioner’ ( Donald Schon, 1983 ). This competence of reflective practice , gives depth in appreciating the intra & Inter subjective dimensions in conversations, as they happen. In short, the blend of pedagogies, methods and processes of ODCP are designed to create conditions for Transformative Learning ( Jack Mezirow,1991), and not just instrumental learning , to suit job market.

Various ways of learning is potentiated in ODCP, for instance , an each learner get individualized attention of approximately 40 hrs of Learning facilitation along with 20 hrs of coaching. Similarly each cohort is exposed to approximately 24 hrs of concurrent online sessions, plus approximately 31 days of in-person learning sessions. In addition each learner invests 15-20 days of individually supervised live projects .The entire 18 months Programme is actively facilitated by 25 faculty cum facilitators. In this way ODCP Programme holds crucible of rich reflective space garnering conducive conditions for transformative learning.

By – Kantharao VN PhD
Feb 2023
ODCP APC Member ODCP 2023-25
OD Consultant & Coach
Professional Member ISABS