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Focusing on the Right Problem – Organization Development Diagnostics

Organizational diagnosis is an essential part of the OD cycle and essential if the true essence of the problem facing the organization is to be uncovered, and resolved with an OD intervention.  Get the diagnosis wrong and your intervention won’t hit the mark.  Accurately diagnosis the problem and rather than treating the symptoms you will treat the real ailment.

There are several obvious questions that need to be considered;

  • What is the nature of the problem?
  • What ethical issues are there attached tot he problem?
  • What learning issues are apparent in regards to the management processes in the organization?
  • What power and political issues are preventing openness regards the problem, and possible creating resistance to finding a solution?

In OD there are two different types of problems which must be distinguished.  The first is a Manifest problem, which is articulated by someone close to the problem within the organization, and something that your client or their colleagues have direct experience of.  Latent problems can be likened to an obvious ailment that the organization is suffering from.  A manifest problem is more difficult to diagnosis because the problems being experience are the symptoms of the real problem.  The role of the OD practitioner in the diagnostic phase is to gain an understanding of the holistic framework of the organization in order to distinguish between causes of problems and the effects that problems cause.

Getting enough information

To distinguish between a Latent or a Manifest problem the following questions may be useful;

  1. Who defined the problem and why was it defined that way?
  2. How complex is the problem?
  3. Does it involve Technical Issues?
  4. Does it involve Ethical Issues?
  5. Does it involve Stakeholder issues?
  6. How contentious is the defined problem – would other stakeholders see it the same way?
  7. How accurate is the information?
  8. Can you separate facts from opinions?
  9. Do the facts contradict the organizations policies?
  10. How much is opinion and how much is fact?
  11. Is there any evidence of interpersonal or interdepartmental conflict?
  12. Is there any evidence of leadership difficulties?
  13. Is there any evidence of stress and anxiety?

(Taken from Organizational Change Themes and Issues – Jim Grieves)

Following on from gathering the answers to these questions, you will have discovered whether you have enough information to diagnose the problem, or whether more information is needed.  The greater the level of inquiry you make, the greater level of knowledge and skill is required in dealing with organizational behavioural issues which give rise to manifest problems.  One of the biggest difficulties in diagnosing organizational development areas is the assumption that the manifest problems are the cause of the difficulties which the organization is experiencing.  In reality latent problems often are exposed through a systematic approaching to digging around for the facts.  The true purpose of organizational diagnostics is to understand if firstly there is really a problem, to define what that problem is and why it exists and to establish a clear framework of cause and effect within the system.


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