The OD Mindset

Organisational Development – Putting Theory into Practice – originally written and published on the Do OD website in 2012. Updated May 2015.
I came to OD, by “doing OD”. It’s work that I love, and believe in. I’m optimistic that amongst the sometimes murky, treacly waters of organisational life, clarity and movement can emerge. When people ask me what I do and I say Organisation Development – I can be met by blank looks!

I wonder if people struggle with understanding and defining OD because it is so often hijacked by more traditional change management methodology and consultancies with their own “right solution”. The dominance of financial modelling too in organisations creates resistance to the natural flow that is OD – perhaps OD’s simplicity is also too sophisticated. Because OD isn’t about answers, or predicting and controlling.

I’ve often heard OD described as “a planned programme to improve an organisation’s effectiveness” (oh for the love of a Gantt chart). We experience the pursuit of competencies to measure and control people’s behaviour, sheep dipping workshops, the promulgation of values.

Organisational Development work can and does utilise these tools and techniques, but doing these things does not mean you are doing organisational development.

So here’s my take on “doing OD”.


The OD Mindset

  • When you’re doing OD – your mindset is shaped by humanistic values and beliefs and the recognition that organisations are complex social systems.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re working with and connecting the system – asking what is happening, what can we try, how will we know what is happening, how will we know when something has been impacted? You’re probably doing Action Research – whether or not you call it that.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re drawing on a set of skills, theoretical knowledge and resources to facilitate problem solving, trust building – whatever your intervention, you are grounded.
  • When you’re doing OD, you’re part of what is happening in the system too; you’re an agent of change, an influencer, and a role model. You are connected with the real work.
  • Engaging people in a conversation that cuts across usual organisational boundaries is a core part of doing OD. This often meets resistance. The hurry up, the quick fixers, the taylorists, the accountants, they want concrete, tangible results now. They want a plan!
  • Doing OD includes demonstrating respect for these differing perspectives of varying stakeholders and an ability to hold strong, inviting people to place trust in the process – creating space for the conversations that need to happen. The behaviour mirrors the prevailing culture.
  • Everything is data. The OD mindset is rooted in understanding the connections between behaviour and results and effectiveness. People doing OD bring together multiple perspectives and deepen others’ understanding of the system within which they operate.


OD – how do you do it?

You learn with everyone else.
You are prepared to say the unsayable.
You collect data and share the analysis with the “system”.
You discover together what is revealed, and create time and space for people to make meaning.
You help people hear each other.
You role model transparency, candour, respect, curiosity and courage.
You stay with the difficult stuff.
You don’t jump into solutions; it’s about sense making, seeing at a systemic level what is happening.
You don’t collude with the system so there are times you may feel you are working counter-intuitively or experience discomfort.
You create the conditions for vulnerability and openness to emerge, and the conditions for the only consequences to be progress.
Conversation as a core process

I’m invited to facilitate a strategic planning meeting. To prepare, I start talking with the participants – I find that they don’t recognise and connect to a shared purpose, although in one respect it seems quite clear.

Perhaps this is the work – helping them develop clarity? When I start to enquire a little more, dig a little deeper, what is revealed is that there is a lack of trust amongst the team. It takes time for someone to name it. Perhaps we spend time trust building? When more of the organisational context becomes clear, the potential for more large scale disruption indicates that people are waiting to see what next. This is inhibiting their ability to enter into the planning process in any meaningful way.

The talking and exploring is the intervention. Creating space for people to identify root causes and start working beneath the surface clears the way for whatever the discussion they need to have to happen. It may be counter-interintuitive; as a facilitator it’s easy to get sucked into their task and to know that at the end of a day they have a “plan”. You potentially collude in their problem, avoiding going beneath the surface.
Over recent years, here has been a shift towards recognising how vital it is to pay attention to creating cultures that encourage integrity and facilitate adaptability. More OD functions are being established in organisations in a changing often unstable environment; for HR and L&D professionals, transitioning into OD is challenging and enriching. I am finding more of my time is spent mentoring, coaching and consulting with internal and external change agents, guiding them as they develop their thinking towards the OD mindset.

I am currently designing a new programme to develop internal OD capability – would you like to work with me and some amazing OD practitioners to build your organisations ability to grow the OD Mindset?  We’d love to come and chat to you – you can find met @OD_optimist or via the website