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The Relevance of Power and Politics to OD

Organization Development at it’s heart is a collaboration process which encourages each individual within the organization to make decisions that affect their own future and that of the organization, to #bethechange.

Power and the politics that affect who wields power within the organizational setting therefore has the ability to help the OD change programme achieve its aims or derail the work of the OD practitioner.

There are four key approaches to power that an OD practitioner must incorporate within each phase of the OD cycle;

  1. Build an OD power base that gives access to the OD practitioner to those in power within the organization
  2. Influence key stakeholders in a transparent process, addressing key issues in a way that is creative and efficient than traditional organizational politicking.
  3. Assist the transformation of the existing power structures to make change sticky
  4. Champion and uphold the interests of those affected by changes who don’t have the power to protect themselves.

It would be naive to expect the OD practitioner to enter the organizational system without addressing power and politics.  Any organization is part of a system which relies on an exchange of mutual dependence to achieve results.  This requires the OD practitioner to understand and interact with the complex structures of social exchange which exist within the organizational setting in order to help release the talent potential, knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the organization as a whole.

Within each organizational setting their are core people who are involved in critical activities that need to be challenged and supported throughout the OD process. In order to develop mutual understanding throughout the organization the OD practitioner must carefully negotiate the power positions and brokers in order to enlist their help to lead the change whilst at the same time diminish the existing power base in order to develop a holistic interdependence required for organizational success.

In addition to addressing the existing power bases, the OD practitioner will need to deliberate create and develop their own centres of power throughout the organization to orchestrate the impact needed to create success within the client system.  In addition the OD practitioner must develop a positive framework  in order to role model the ethical use of power and politics going forward.

 Key Points

  • Power is a key element of organizational life
  • Knowing how power is distributed will help you get things done
  • Organizational morale may be impacted by feelings of powerlessness, OD can create a context in which permission is given for the disenfranchised to be empowered
  • Authority of knowledge is just as important as the authority of role in organizational decision making
  • OD practitioners are perfectly placed to help shift the organization from negative to positive forms of power, building a healthy and effective organizational system

Applying the use of Power in OD

  1. During the diagnostic stage investigate and understand how power works in decsion making, resource allocation, conflict and sponsorship.
  2. Map the proportion of the workforce who are disenfranchised, have positional power and where the power centres (informal and formal) exist
  3. Explore the operation of the informal power network and power sources and tap into the networks that can effectively support change.
  4. Build and maintain alliances with key stakeholders and power brokers to drive through and sponsor the change efforts, whilst sharing power with those who are disenfranchised in the current power structure.
  5. Show people how to make things happen and coach them so that they can support themselves and make a positive impact on the organization’s performance.
  6. Help move the organization towards greater levels of collaboration and interdependence by positively demonstrating the effectiveness of greater cooperation in making things happen.
  7. A key part of the OD programme will be to develop healthy and positive power use which contributes to a work environment which nurtures and releases the potential within the organization.