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Posts tagged ‘Systems Theory’

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Five Core Theories – Systems Theory – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Systems Theory in Brief

Systems Theory was first introduced by Van Bertalanffy (1950) and was introduced into the organisational setting by Kataz and Khan (1966).  Systems theory is an approach to organisations which likens the enterprise to an organism with interdependent parts, each with its own specific function and interrelated responsibilities.  The system may be the whole organisation, a division, department or team; but whether the whole or a part, it is important for the OD practitioner to understand how the system operates, and the relationship the parts of the organisation have.

The emphasis in OD is that that real systems are open to, and interact with, their environments, and it is possible to acquire new properties through emergence, resulting in continual evolution. Rather than reducing an organisation to the properties of its parts or elements, systems theory focuses on the arrangement of and relations between the parts which connect them into a whole.

Key Points

  1. The organisation is an open system, which interacts with the environment and is continually adapting and improving.
  2. The organisation influences and is influenced by the environment in which it operates
  3. If an organisation is to be effective it must pay attention to the external environment, and take steps to adjust itself to accommodate the changes in order to remain relevant
  4. All part of the organisation are interconnected and interdependent; If one part of the system is affected, all parts are.
  5. It is not possible to know everything about the system, but if you look hard enough there are plenty of clues.

Applying Systems Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Use mixed groups to achieve a rich understanding how the change is seen from different perspectives.
  2. Generate a holistic view of what must be done to give the organisation a secure future
  3. Use diagnostic events to enhance people’s understanding of important independencies and to support them in devising a way forward
  4. Help different sub-systems to work well together in independent areas
  5. Use processess that will increase collaboration across units
  6. Honour the primacy of relationship between different groups
  7. Where possible bring in outside bodies/data to stimulate the organisation to think about the issues
  8. Expose people to the outside world in which the organisation operates
  9. Ensure the organisation stays externally sensitive and not insulated in their perspective.
  10. Help the leadership team understand that they don’t have all the data required to manage change the organisation desires.

 

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Three Essentials of Organisation Development

I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are.  It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking.  What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?

You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.

#1 – People

Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre.  Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for.  OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass.  In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.

If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.

#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory

Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice.  If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.

A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life.  OD is no different.

Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world.  The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process.  Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.

#3 – Be Sustainable

I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy.  The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions.  They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful.  They become the centre of the intervention.  The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice.  BUT.  What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end?  How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?

This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner.  You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself.  The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things.  The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions.  The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.

When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.

So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.