Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Contracting – How it Works

The beginning of the OD cycle is the contracting phase, which includes the agreement of terms relating to the OD programme and covers practicalities similar to an employment contract such as budget or fees, time frame, resource, objectives, reporting hierarchy and agreed responsibilities. In addition to the formal and structural aspects of the agreed OD programme, the contracting phase has two further, arguably more important aspects: establishing the psychological contract between the OD practitioner and the programme sponsor and a preliminary investigation of the organizational context.

Image result for contracting

The Psychological Contract

OD is a practice reliant on human relationship. Establishing a collaborative relationship between the OD practitioner and the programme sponsor, organizational leadership and key stakeholders in the client organization are an essential foundation to the successful execution of an OD intervention. If such relationships are ignored or fragile then the OD programme will falter and fail to establish the necessary human endeavour required for success.

The focus of the contracting phase therefore is on establishing the expectations that both the OD practitioner and the client have in regards to the working relationship, inputs, involvement and success factors. The psychological contract is based upon trust between practitioner and sponsor, and it is through dialogue that this contract is properly explored and unveiled. The exploration of expectation during this phase will set a firm foundation upon which OD can take place, developing a shared understanding, commitment and amenity between sponsor and practitioner.

Preliminary Investigation

Until the diagnostic phase is completed it is difficult to predict what interventions may be required or what development is needed to help the organization achieve effective performance. It is a journey into the unknown because until the process starts the end point is not yet clarified. From a contracting perspective this creates an issue with establishing boundaries in regards to resource and objectives. A preliminary investigation allows the OD practitioner to establish some of the key systemic issues, challenges and possible opportunities, which are presenting symptoms upon which the OD programme can be directed. Key questions to be addressed during this investigation are:

  • What are the presenting problems and are they real or perceived?
  • How are stakeholders with predetermined ideas about the diagnosis of the problem and predetermined solutions to be managed?
  • What power does the sponsor have to influence the organization to allow change to happen within the organization?
  • Who are the programme sponsors and how should the multiple stakeholders to be managed?
  • How ready for change is the organization, how can it be readied further to the point where change can be sustained?
  • What expertise does the organization have internally, what expertise does the OD practitioner offer?
  • What mechanisms need to be in place to manage confidentiality whilst surfacing issues that may have previously been off limits?
  • How can trust in both the practitioner and the OD process be developed and maintained?
  • What conflicts exist in regards to ethics, value and belief systems?
  • What does success look like and what measures will signal that success has been achieved?

Walking Away

The contracting phase provides an opportunity for the OD practitioner to understand what is expected and whether what is expected can be achieved considering the organization context, change readiness and political will. Where resistance or opposition by key stakeholders exists the likelihood of success is reduced, similar to trying to push a rock uphill, a lack of power from the sponsor to influence the organization to allow change to take place will have a negative effective upon any programme. Furthermore, exploring the psychological contract might reveal wildly opposed values, beliefs and ethical frameworks that would make a working relationship impossible. The contracting phase may very well resulting in exiting an OD programme before it starts. A passion to help organization’s change and achieve sustainable performance, and a belief in of OD as a powerful methodology for change cannot override a situation, which is futile and impossible

The OD Tool-Kit

The more skills or tools that the OD practitioner has at their disposal the better they are able to adapt and flex to situations, react to problems or lead opportunities. The OD tool-kit offers possible resources, behaviour or skills that the OD practitioner can explore further with an emphasis on the practical and competencies required. The techniques and methods required for the Contracting Phase of the OD cycle are:

  • Humanistic and democratic assumptions
  • Social Inquiry skills
  • Personal self-awareness and management of internal responses
  • Partnership with the programme sponsor and agreement of shared goals and intentions
  • Attend to building relationship and trust with key stakeholders
  • Engagement with Senior Management/Leadership team
  • Engagement with individuals, teams and departments to foster support and become part of the on going interaction.
  • Assessment of organizational readiness for OD
  • OD Design Team and/or Steering Committee
  • Agreement of deliverables – what does success look like?

Organization Development – A Tool-Kit for People Led Change

As a discipline Organization Development (OD) is over 60 years old, but the movement towards a more human economy means that the philosophy and approach offered by OD is in tune with what is happening in the wider social, political and economic systems. Knights (2016: 4) stated that, “to expect ‘the leader’ to always come to the best solution alone is unrealistic especially in our modern complex world.” The world of the charismatic leader that always had the answer has been exposed as problematic, and once feted leaders revealed as flawed. Organizations are facing unprecedented pressures on their operations and this environment is often referred to using the acronym VUCA;

  • Volatility: Unexpected challenge over an unknown time period
  • Uncertainty: Unknown causes and effects of change
  • Complexity: Overwhelming interconnection between variables
  • Ambiguity: Unknown, unknowns.

OD can offer organizations tools and techniques to combat these challenges by harnessing the human power and creativity within the organization to deliver sustainable organization performance. It offers a human approach to an industrial problem.

Organization Development: What it is, and why you need it.

Organization Development is variously described in academic terms based upon its behavioural and social science background.

OD is first and foremost a practice informed by theory, and in practical terms the practice of OD encompasses activities, which deliver organizational change through people. Or, simply put, OD is people led change. OD activities influence people to behave in line with their values and beliefs, embracing self and building an organization through using the combined knowledge of the organizational community. OD decision-making and judgement requires high levels of communal communication, which transcends the rational and logical processes preferred by business process engineering. It makes full use of the conscious and subconscious processes of innovation, creativity, intuition, instinct and corporate insight available within the organizational system.  Human endeavour requires a tripartite of thinking, feeling and being to be truly effective. Even the most rational of decisions are in some way informed by human behaviour and the underlying values of the person making the decision.

OD has become more widely acknowledged by contemporary organizations because of the prevalence of change and the need for change methods that work following a failure of change programmes to deliver their promised outcomes. There is a growing recognition that organizations that ignore the people bit of change in favour of the more tangible process reengineering and organizational restructures in isolation do so at the risk of resistance to change, cultural malignancy and a risk to return on investment.

Embedding OD as a way of working within an organization requires that organizational leaders create a safe environment where everyone’s ideas are treated respectfully and trust is placed in their employees’ capability to develop ideas which will help overcome challenges and pursue opportunities. The result is an end to a trickle down of strategic plans and documents, and instead a creative connection between personal values and beliefs with the purpose of the organization. Furthermore, the aim of OD is not just about bottom line profit growth for that quarter, but an approach, which seeks to secure a sustainable future for the organization.

Want to read more?  Coming Soon…

Organization Development – A Tool Kit for People-Led Change by Carrie Foster


Association of Coaching Conference

1st September 2016 – Kings College London

How we can recognise and operate better within our systems

Layout 1 (Page 1)

This conference brings together different strands of thought around how we can recognise and operate better within our systems. Some sessions are theory based while others are playful and experiential.

Whichever field you work in, and whatever your coaching practice focuses on, you will hear thought provoking speakers and gain new perspectives to take back into your practice that will enable you to make changes in your system.

Areas to be explored include:

  • Brains and bodies
  • Allowing creativity in a complex organisation
  • Systems leadership in the public sector
  • Drama as a lens to create different outcomes
  • Wicked problems
  • Coaching contracting in complex systems

Different approaches to freeing up stuck systems:

  • Relational
  • Constellations
  • Structural Dynamics
  • Gestalt and Transactional Analysis

Cost: £180 – Early Bird Discount until 31st July

For more information click here



Focused conversations – Introducing a New Topic

If you are introducing a group to a new topic, whether in a training session or in an OD workshop where you what to open them up to new ideas and also get them to realise that they probably have some of the knowledge they need already – try this focused conversation.

Focused Conversation


Well Today we’re going to launch into a new topic – [NAME TOPIC] Let’s talk about this a bit. We all have some experience of this area.

Objective Questions

  • When was your first experience of this topic?
  • As you think about this, what images jump into your mind?
  • What are some of the things we already know about this?

Reflective Questions

  • What feelings do you associate with this topic?
  • What are some of your past experiences related to the topic?
  • What colour do you associate with this?
  • What animal does it remind you of?
  • What aspects of it do you enjoy?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • What is the most challenging things about it?

Interpretative Questions

  • Why is this topic important?
  • How will if affect you? Your work? Other aspects of your life?
  • What are your major questions in this area?

Decisional Questions

  • How can we help each other learn about this topic?


As we share our insights like this, we have already taken the first steps in grasping this topic.



Organizational Psychology – Virtual Teams

Answers the Question

How do organizations successfully utilize virtual teams?

How it began

Research into virtual teams continues with the growth of global organizations and remote working. The improvements in communication technology has enabled virtual teams to become normalized in most organizational settings but the setting is recognized as being messy.

They share many challenges as those experienced by face-to-face teams but these challenges are exacerbated by their virtuality: poor line management;

Underperformance from individual members leads to greater levels of dysfunction.

Other theoretical issues are also raised including: Where does team boundaries begin and end? How can technology be used to improve performance? What is the balance between local responsiveness and global integration?

Virtual Teams

Key Terminology

Virtual Teams – groups of interdependent coworkers who are geographically dispersed, dependent on technology, structurally dynamic and culturally diverse

Emergent states – important mediational influences with explanatory power accounting for variability in team performance.

In Brief

Input-process-output (IPO) Framework (Hackman & Morris 1975; McGrrath, 1984)
Inputs are factors that are controllable by organisations for example; leadership behaviours, team composition; HR policies; job design
Team processes are the interdependency of team activities required for teamwork leading to the achievement of team goals. Categories include action, transition or interpersonal. The lack of understanding of group values; regulative information and social cues negatively affect individual’s ability to reduce ambiguity, establish social identity to establish collaborative partnerships
Outputs include performance; attitudes and behaviours.


Four themes are highlighted at individual level; 1) Communication effects caused by technology; Computer mediated communication is highlighted where individual or social identity will determine conformity to either personal or social norms. 2) relational demography where diversity affects individual expectations about teamwork 3) individual differences; where individual differences including personality characteristics and cognitive styles and the resulting commitment to virtual teams and 4) task type and characteristics; where relation to positive individual outcomes including trust, task attraction, social attraction and self rated task success impact adherence to a set of team work rules.

What does this mean for OD

  1. Reviewing technology to ensure leaner media (video-conferencing; e-mail) is used to facilitate communication clarity when team members have less task-relevant knowledge
  2. Check team composition; heterogeneous virtual teams are more superior that Face to Face teams, but Homogeneous teams are more satisfied, cohesive and experience less conflict.
  3. Keep virtual teams small – smaller teams participate more actively, are more committed to the team, have high goal and team member awareness and higher levels of rapport.
  4. Pay attention to the four critical success factors for virtual teams – communication; culture; technology and project management.
  5. The most successful virtual teams have more concentrated leadership behaviour focused on performance and keeping track of group work.
  6. Length of leader’s tenure increases levels of trust and technology support.
  7. Social communication is linked to building trust early in global virtual teams.
  8. Substantive and timely response and leadership are involved in maintaining trust at later stages.


Hackman, J. R. and Morris, C. G. (1975) Group tasks, group interaction process and group performance effectiveness: A review and proposed integration. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 8 pp. 47 – 101). New York. Academic Press

Kirkman, B. L, Gibson, C. B. and Kim, K. (2012) Across Borders and Technologies: Advancements in Virtual Team Research. In Kozlowski, S. W. J. (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psychology (Vol. 2. pp. 789 – 858). Oxford. Oxford University Press

McGrath, J. E. (1984). Groups, interaction and performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall