What is Organizational Development?


Organizational development is a complicated notion, which encompasses a range of management assumptions and beliefs. Some scientists link organizational development to behaviouristic studies while others state that it relies upon the set of specific training programs as a whole and does not depend upon human behavior. Following the humanistic assumption, Glanz & Rimer (2008) define organizational development as “a field of research, theory, and practice dedicated to expanding the knowledge and effectiveness of people to accomplish more successful organizational change and performance” (p. 3). In contrast to the behaviouristic definition, the so-called systemic one has often been used: “organizational development is a body of practices that increases organizational efficiency through the enhancement of alignment of various systems within one general system” (Minahan, 2010, p. 1).

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Despite the existence of various approaches to the definition of organizational development, it is generally considered to be person-oriented. The issue might be proved by the existing behaviouristic theory, which appeared out of human relations studies in the 1930s. It was rooted in the assumption that organizational management, processes, and structures produce an impact upon the workers’ attitudes and behaviors. The key concepts, which constitute the theory underline the human share within any organizational process. This is, for instance, organizational climate, which is created by employee and employer satisfaction, overall stresses, role clarity, general attitudes towards the organization, collective behavior (Glanz & Rimer, 2008).

Organizational development as any continuing process tends to shift its key notions and values. In their book on theories and practices of organizational development, Austin and Bartunek (2003) mentioned the difference between the backbones of this development today and in earlier times. Though the absolute center of any organizational development process has always been a human, there happened a shift in emphasis over time. Today it is primarily oriented upon the larger environments while early approaches were directed upon individual and group development. A failure or success of the organizational process used to depend upon the performances of specific groups, which constituted larger organizations. Nowadays one can face a different reality: groups and individuals are viewed in the context of large systems that propel specific actions (Austin & Bartunek, 2003).

The shift that occurred within organizational development initiated the appearance of organizational changes. Therefore, change became a key genre of management analysis and an important part of organizational development. Such a change is rooted in failure since the shifts in organizational structures could never occur if workers had accomplished their tasks correctly. Still, it should be noted that changing is not necessarily a harmful process, it is rather a natural action, which can either shift the direction of development or even create a new one. There are two major theories of change within modern organizational development:

  1. Punctual equilibrium that was used, in general, to describe the dynamics of the organization.
  2. Communicative change theory that was directed upon a change as a crucial element of social interaction (Austin & Bartunek, 2003).

The changes occurring within organizational development can be episodic as well as continuous and inflict either short-term or long-term consequences. Whatever the nature of a change is, it is viewed as a guarantee of permanent development within any organizational system.

Every change is initiated through a specific type of intervention approach leading to it. It is of crucial importance to be well-acquainted with its types so that to understand the functioning of organizational development. The most characteristic interventions are appreciative inquiry, large-group interventions, and learning organizations. Appreciative inquiry acts through various social systems. According to its underlying principles, a social system has its positive elements and people have to focus upon its aspects so that to build up their realities through dialogs and common work. Thus, this is an intervention with the social constructionist focus. Large-group interventions are directed upon changes initiated by groups and encompass such subtypes as future search, real-time strategic change, open space technology, workshops, and so on. Finally, learning organizations propel organizational development changes while they focus on learning as an adaptive change. The disciplines that constitute learning organizations are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning. In other words, learning organizations’ interventions lead to changes that are propelled by new learning systems (Austin & Bartunek, 2003).


To sum it up, organizational development is a set of practices, researches, and actions, which aims at the accomplishment of the main tasks the specific company sets. No matter what its key concept is, organizational development is always human-oriented while any development process is accomplished either by an individual or a group. To understand the nature of organizational development, one must be aware of the changes, which propel it as well as the interventions, which cause these changes.


Austin, J., & Bartunek, J. (2003). Theories and Practices of Organizational Development. Handbook of Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Glanz, K., & Rimer, B. (2008). Health Behavior and Health Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Minahan, M. (2010). Mat Minahan’s Blog. OD Network Annual Conference in New Orleans. Web.

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