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What is OD?


    OD is the acronym for organisation development. This term is confusingly used to describe both the field of organisation development as well as the Organisation Development professionals who specialise in the practice of organisation development.

    Society and people are all affected by organisations – small and large, private, public and not-for profit. People interact with organisations and they work for organisations. Some organisations function well and achieve great things, whilst others struggle and fail to deliver. These organisations are frustrating and disempowering to work in.

    As a society, we also expect organisations to act consciously, responsibly and ethically.

    And so, organisation development work focuses on making organisations function better – healthy organisations that are able to sustain themselves, that people like to interact with and that people enjoy working for.

    Change is a constant factor, which pressurises society and organisations to continually adapt to new directions. Customers demand more, investors demand results and technologies are rapidly changing. The people who work in these organisations are expected to be flexible and learn new skills. Whilst change can be enlightening, too much of it can be overwhelming and stressful.

    And so, change is the overriding context for organisation development work in the modern world. Organisation development work is concerned about the long-term capacity of organisations to make conscious strategic change decisions and the ability of its people to implement these changes and transform. Organisation development may also be introduced to facilitate change events, such as acquisitions, mergers, downsizing or large-scale technology implementation.

    The field of organisation development is very broad and has been in existence since the 1940’s. It views the organisation as a complex system within a wider system or context, and intervenes in the human and the technical aspects of the organisation. It is also the only management field that works across all functions and levels in the organisation. Organisation development integrates behavioural, social and management sciences. It applies micro concepts such as leadership, group dynamics, and work processes, and macro concepts such as strategy, organisation design and global relationships.


    Leaders and managers are sponsors and agents of change, and should apply organisation development practice to achieve the goals of organisational effectiveness and health. In much the same way that they practice financial management, people management, risk management, etc. OD work is not the sole domain of OD practitioners.

    Organisation Development practitioners are professionals who specialise in the field of Organisation Development. They draw on a considerable body of knowledge and expertise, and their levels of competence graduate from new entrants to masters. More junior OD practitioners are skilled in some aspects of organisation development, such as facilitation of group processes, process re-design or they may be skilled in the use of a specific set of tool. Masterful OD practitioners build up their expertise through many years of working in different roles in a variety of organisations, which enables them to have a flexible approach to finding relevant solutions.

    OD practitioners assist leaders, at all levels, to shape organisational improvements and changes. They act as a catalyst for new thinking and doing, a teacher and coach for new attitudes, behaviours and skills, and are leaders who act with authenticity and have the courage to challenge.

    Some of the larger organisations have an internal OD function, whilst others may contract external OD practitioners on a retainer basis or to undertake specific assignments.