OD IS AN ONGOING INTERACTIVE PROCESS
The essential point in calling OD a process is to characterize it as a dynamic, moving, changing thing. People learn new skills and forget old ones; the structure of the organization changes, and then another change is put on top of that; problems are solved and new ones develop; a sick subsystem gets well and a heretofore healthy one develops bad symptoms. There are good days and bad days for the OD program as well as successes and failures. Thus it is imperative that organization development be viewed as a dynamic process for changing dynamic systems. Neither human systems (organizations) nor planned change processes (OD) are static phenomena; they are in constant flux and flow.
Another facet of OD as a process is that the process of improving organizations may be a process of ”becoming” — of approaching some end state without ever reaching it in the usual sense of “arriving.” Although most people would generally agree about whether one organization is “better” or “worse” than another in terms of organizational effectiveness, there is less agreement on when an organization has “arrived” and lack of agreement on the indicators used to signal that arrival.
The ongoing process nature of OD implies that it is not to be regarded as a one-shot solution to organizational problems, but more as a growing toward greater effectiveness through a series of intervention activities over a period of time. Managing and directing the change of an organization’s culture and processes does not happen over night; a more realistic time estimate is several years. Changing the culture of a work team or a department or an entire organization is a long-term, involved process. The culture is the bedrock or source of the system’s strengths and weaknesses. It is the culture that must be altered if permanent improvement is to take place. And culture change requires persistence, a considerable investment of energy, and time.
OD VIEWS ORGANIZATIONS FROM A SYSTEMS APPROACH
A systems approach views and emphasizes organizational phenomena and dynamics in their interrelatedness, their connectedness, their interdependence, and their interaction. This is the perspective that is useful for understanding organizational life.
Several consequences of viewing organizations from this perspective have value and functionality for applying behavioral science to organization development. First, issues, events, forces, and incidents are not viewed as isolated phenomena; they occur in relation to other events, issues, phenomena. Understanding only the single phenomenon and not understanding it in relation to other phenomena is to have only a half understanding.
Second, a systems approach encourages analysis of events in terms of multiple causation rather than single causation. The real world is complex; events in it are complex. It is probably a more accurate description of reality to posit multiple causes to events; this is facilitated by the systems approach.
Third, one cannot change one part of a system without influencing other parts in some ways. A related point to this one is that the systems viewpoint inclines the practitioner to anticipate multiple effects rather than single effects. These effects show up in other parts of the system and also in “surprises” in the part of the system with which he or she is working. Anticipating multiple causes and multiple effects, a viewpoint practiced by OD practitioners, takes many of the surprises out of organizational dynamics.
OD IS EXPERIENCE BASED
The experience-based nature of the OD process derives from an underlying belief of most OD practitioners that people learn how to do things by doing them. And they learn about organizational dynamics by experiencing them and reflecting on the experience. People learn about the need to manage conflict when they experience the deleterious effects of conflict; people learn to make decisions by making some and then evaluating them. When people are engaged in real experiences, they are engaged with their minds, emotions, strivings — their whole beings. There are no artificial separations engendered, say, by memorizing something so that at some future time one may act in a certain way.
Instead of treating hypothetical problems and abstract organizational issues, OD interventions tend to focus on the real behavior of individuals and groups, tend to try to solve real problems, and tend to derive generalizations about organizational dynamics inductively from experience. Experience-based learning calls not just for exposure to an experience but also for reflection about the experience. Organizational members experience something through an activity, then reflect on that experience to derive learnings and generalizations about the phenomenon.
Many OD interventions call for scheduling reflection time after an activity, during which the participants examine such issues as the following: What were the causal relationships we found in this activity? What were the things we appeared to do right in this task? What things hindered our reaching our goals? What can we learn from this experience that may apply to future experiences and tasks? This constant questioning and reflecting is itself related to the goal of increasing people’s ability to learn how to learn. Essentially the concept of learning how to learn refers to having an experimental/inquiry attitude “set” that the individuals take into all their experiences; they continually examine their own experiences in order that they may learn and change and grow.