Queen's University IRC

A Blueprint for Optimal OD

An Organization Development Model for Good Form and Function
Brenda Barker Scott
Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre Facilitator

January 1, 2003

It is a simple truth that people have an organic connection to the space in which they live and work. No matter how hard a host may try to steer his or her guests to the formal living room, everyone eventually ends up in the kitchen, and as they do, the real party begins. The kitchen is where the action is, and whether we are at a house party or our workplace, we all need to be within our own centre of action. Because people live and work in what is created, we at the Queen’s Industrial Relations Centre have adopted the concept of organizational architecture to define the art and practice of “organization development.” Architecture encourages us to think about how form follows function, and how function follows form.

Organization development is the art and practice of designing organizations that give people the edge in creating and implementing winning strategies; through relationships, structures and process, leadership, and learning.

With continuous change in our external environment driving continuous change within, organizations built on the principles of scientific management—with steep hierarchies, centralized authority, transactional leadership, and narrowly defined jobs—are hopelessly outdated. Their rigid structures and boundaries act as barriers that limit the types of interaction and learning that need to occur to create and implement great strategy. People cannot find the kitchen, so to speak; the master chef is disconnected from his or her guests, and they from each other.

Does your organization’s architecture enhance the way people work together, or does it create barriers that block people from communicating, partnering, learning, leading, or following? The role of the OD professional is to help clients ask and answer these important questions. Just like the architect begins with a clear understanding of the client’s functional requirements, the OD practitioner begins with the organization’s North Star, its strategy. Next, architects provide a high-level blueprint to define how each room will interact with the whole. Similarly, the OD practitioner works with the client group to identify the key strategic capabilities required and then to design useful structures, systems, roles, and relationships. Each element impacts the whole. When the elements are aligned, great spaces are born.

What are the tools of the OD trade? The OD practitioner’s work is guided by a set of powerful questions designed to discover the needs of the users. The toolkit includes a theory map or diagnostic lens that guides the practitioner’s questions, an action research consulting process for partnering with the client group, and a battery of powerful techniques to create suitable interventions. Depending on the type of intervention planned, outcomes could include increased productivity, improved communications, redefined internal partnerships, realigned systems to support strategy, or enhanced leadership effectiveness.

This work is accomplished with the following principles:

Collaboration: OD practitioners partner with the client to generate data, analyze the data, and develop workable solutions.

Group as the main unit of change: Activities focus on group development and function rather than on individual development.

Systems thinking: Much attention is paid to how stakeholders of the planned change are involved and consulted. Both horizontal and vertical collaboration for exploring possibilities and creating preferred futures are emphasized.

Multiple paths: OD uses a variety of methodologies designed to help the organization develop. The emphasis is on variety; there is no one best way to intervene.

Action research methodology: Practitioners partner with clients to collect and analyze data and create interventions to accomplish the client’s goals. Data are collected through interviews, focus groups, surveys, observations, review of historical material, and other methods. The data are then analyzed and presented to the client group so that a shared diagnosis can be generated. Interventions are developed in cooperation with the client.

Intervention expertise: The practitioner as facilitator designs activities in collaboration with the client to improve organizational functioning, such as team building, partnering, conflict handling, and coaching.

Diagnostic framework: The practitioner is aided by a theory map of how effective organizations work. This map provides a starting place for diagnosis and helps the practitioner be mindful of the entire system.

What does this mean for HR professionals? To continue to add real value, HR practitioners must sharpen their pencils and become architects. We do this by understanding the concepts and learning the skills involved in designing organizations to leverage inherent strengths, not stifle them. Focus on the organization’s people and processes. View it as a series of interrelated systems (or rooms). Develop consulting guidelines using the action learning process. And employ change processes that involve all stakeholders to build real commitment.

Build an inviting home away from home, and see innovation flourish.

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