Organizational Development Research Paper

Academic Writing Service

Sample Organizational Development Research Paper. Browse other research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. iResearchNet offers academic assignment help for students all over the world: writing from scratch, editing, proofreading, problem solving, from essays to dissertations, from humanities to STEM. We offer full confidentiality, safe payment, originality, and money-back guarantee. Secure your academic success with our risk-free services.

1. Introduction

Organizational development (OD) is a special interdisciplinary field focused on organizational change. It provides conceptions for understanding the logic of change as well as techniques and tools for managing the change process effectively. The major purpose of OD interventions is to overcome resistance to change and to encourage the willingness of organizational members to participate actively in the change process. As a discipline of social sciences OD has been criticized for lacking a sound theoretical basis and for misconceiving the nature of organizational change as exceptional projects in organizational life.

Academic Writing, Editing, Proofreading, And Problem Solving Services

Get 10% OFF with 24START discount code

2. Historical Overview

In classical organization theory, the problem of coping with organizational change was not of much concern. Change basically meant reorganization and the critical activity was to determine the best organizational solution to master new situations. Realizing the new solution, if regarded as a problem at all, was seen as a problem of careful preparation and of giving the right instructions. After a brief period of tolerance, all employees were supposed to work according to the new organizational guidelines.

This traditional model, however, rarely proved to be a success. Organizational members notoriously resisted the new organizational design, unforeseen events rendered the design worthless, the change process came to nothing, etc.

The typical reaction to these irritations was to blame the plans for having been imperfect and to ask for their refinement. In most cases this actually made the situation even worse; the resistance became stronger, the rejections more sophisticated, etc. Although the problems of organizational change made themselves felt in practice, they did not gain the status of salient question in classical theory.

It was the behavioral sciences, especially the human resources approach, which made organizational change a problem in its own right and developed completely new approaches for its solution.

The impetus to establish organizational change as a field came from empirical studies finding that success in change critically depends on the attitudes of organization members as well as on the general mood towards the new design. This insight originated from studies on ‘resistance to change.’

The initiative to study resistance to change, as well as the approaches on how to overcome it, dates back to Lewin (1958). Most salient are his seminal experiments on changing the aversion to specific foods. Group meetings and active involvement of group members proved to be the best way to change food habits. The foundations for what were later to become the ‘golden rules’ of successful organizational change (Lawrence 1954) have been laid in these studies:

(a) Broad information at an early stage and active participation in the change process.

(b) The group as an important medium (facilitator) for change: Change processes are perceived as less worrying in groups and generally are accepted more easily.

(c) Mutual cooperation among organizational members.

(d) A settling-down period at the end of the change process designed to institutionalize the changes that were carried out.

Lewin (1958, p. 210) later elaborated on these insights and conceived the well-known ‘triadic episode’ of successful change. The model builds on the idea of homeostasis and suggests a three-step procedure: unfreezing, moving, and refreezing (see Fig. 1).

Organizational Development Research Paper

The most important issue of the model is that organizations need an initial period of irritation in order to break up their habits and routines. Or as Lewin put it, organizations have to become ‘unfrozen’; otherwise they are not likely to give up their equilibrium position and to move to a new level. Changes tend to be short lived if there are no efforts to bring them to permanency. The new patterns, therefore, must be ‘frozen,’ the system has to settle down again and find a new equilibrium.

3. Organizational Development As A Discipline

Lewin’s group experiments and the three-stage model finally boiled down to a special method (Laboratory–Training) designed to cope with behavioral and organizational changes in totally new ways. This new technology of group intervention and observation soon became very popular and built the core of the newly founded National Training Laboratories in Group Development. A series of other approaches emerged and also the facilitation and support of organizational change processes increasingly became a branch for external consultants. All these forces finally led to the birth of a new field, a special discipline in the behavioral sciences, called OD.

Among the other roots of OD, the ‘Survey– Feedback’ method is one of the most prominent. This approach makes use of attitude surveys and data feedback to facilitate change processes. All organizational members are invited to take part in the change process (‘shared power approach’). The intention is to stimulate organizational members’ interest in change, that is, to create a motivation to overcome the weaknesses of the present state. Lewin also pioneered this method.

Another, and closely related, historical root was the work of the Tavistock Institute (UK) which is anchored deeply in psychotherapy and group therapy (Bion 1961). The doctor–client consultation framework and the high professional demands which were later put on the change manager originate from this concept. Some prominence was gained from the so-called Tavistock Conferences, that is, leaderless group discussions designed to experience and to explore leadership, authority, and obedience. Tavistock started to transfer the clinical methods to organizational settings in the early 1950s.

Further roots of OD are the approach to job redesign and to the improvement of the quality of working life. Here again, The Tavistock Institute (of Human Relations) played a major role. Frame of reference is the sociotechnical systems approach; that is, a conceptual framework and an action research program which is devoted to meet both individual needs and technical demands (Rice 1958). The emphasis is on changing traditional organizational design towards group-oriented work designs giving organizational members more variety, meaning, and feedback in their work.

Later, the focus of OD was extended significantly. Additional approaches and new issues enriched the field and made it somewhat diverse (Cummings and Worley 2000). At the core of OD, however, still remain change methods and specific interventions at different levels of social systems.

4. Organizational Development: Conception

The field of OD is truly interdisciplinary in both focus and methods. Even though different perspectives exist on what OD is and should be, some overarching characteristics can nevertheless be identified (Cummings and Worley 1993):

(a) System-wide effort; that is, OD is being applied to a whole system (company, division, subsidiary, plant, etc.) and addresses comprehensively the change of both structure and behavior. The basic philosophy is that sustainable changes require the involvement of the whole system. Isolated small-scale changes are likely to fail. While OD aims at changing the entire system, the interventions address various levels: the individual, the group, intergroup relations, the whole unit, and interorganizational relations.

(b) Planned organizational change; that is, OD conceives change as a planned, systematic effort working on a long-range perspective.

(c) Based on social sciences that is, OD methods and procedures are derived from knowledge of various scientific disciplines.

(d) Full cycle; that is, OD includes all periods of a change project: its initiation (unfreezing), its realization (moving), and the subsequent stabilization (refreezing).

(e) Change agent; that is, OD projects are conducted by external professional consultant facilitators who are trained in the use of sophisticated intervention techniques and clinical methods. It is assumed that organizations often do not know what is wrong and they need professional help in diagnosing the problems and in overcoming the invisible barriers to change.

(f) Top management support; that is, commitment of top leadership is considered a precondition of any successful OD project. A commitment is expected in both paying attention to the change problems and giving the OD intervention a sense of urgency.

(g) Shared power approach; that is, the OD process is designed to involve all parties affected by the change project and to encourage participants to jointly develop new solutions.

(h) Dual objectives; that is, OD projects are intended to reach both organizational effectiveness and fulfillment of individual needs.

From time to time, new themes and fads were included in addition; for example, quality management, learning organization, transformational leadership, organizational culture, strategic vision, intercultural communication. The inclusion of these parts, however, never resulted in a paradigm shift or an essential theoretical revision. The overall framework basically remained the same.

5. Organizational Development Models

Various authors and consultants have developed comprehensive OD programs; among them four models are salient: (a) Survey-guided Development, (b) Process Consultation, (c) Grid Organization Development, and (d) Systemic Intervention.

5.1 The Survey-Guided Development

This model is based on a multistep data feedback procedure (Likert 1967, Nadler 1977). After an orientation stage a standardized questionnaire is used to gain a comprehensive picture of the client organization’s situation, its major problems, and their causes. The subsequent data feedback is used to determine what changes are required, how they should be reached, and what interventions are appropriate. The data feedback also aims at unfreezing participants and encouraging their willingness to take part in the change process. Follow-up surveys serve to monitor the progress of the OD process and to determine whether the change efforts did work. A somewhat similar abbreviated form of this model is the Confrontation Meeting originally developed by Beckhard (1967). Data collection and evaluation are conducted directly and in a condensed form (one day only). A meeting of all those involved is held to identify the major problems of the system. After a joint ranking of the problems the unit develops an action plan and establishes a system of periodical reports on the progress of implementation.

5.2 Process Consultation

This is a nondirective model for supporting the client organization in carrying out change processes, originally developed by Schein (1988). The process consultant helps the client organization to figure out what should be done to improve the situation. A process consultation project typically includes the following stages: Entering and defining the relationship, choice of setting and work methods, data gathering, diagnostic and confrontive interventions (e.g., through the use of feedback or coaching) by the consultant, evaluation of results, and disengagement. Due to its indirect character the results of process consultation are not predictable at the beginning.

5.3 Grid Organization Development

This is a highly standardized intervention program building on one basic conception; that is, an ideal managerial style with high concern for both people and productivity (Blake and Mouton 1969). The development contains six distinct phases: Grid Seminar, teamwork development, intergroup development, developing an ideal model for the whole organization, implementing the model, and examination of the organization’s progress toward the plan.

5.4 Systemic Intervention

This is a more recent OD model that builds on family therapy and systems theory. At the core stand paradoxical transactions as invisible barriers to organizational change thereby drawing on the Double Bind Theory of schizophrenia (Watzlawick et al. 1967). The transformation of these ideas into an organizational development approach originally was initiated by the Italian psychotherapist Selvini-Palazzoli and her Milan School. This approach focuses on the hidden rules and games in organizations. In many cases this agenda is pathological in character, its circular reinforcement is likely to consume a lot of the system’s energy and to evoke aversions against innovation and change. As a consequence, this approach refrains from any participative change design. Rather, it addresses the hidden agenda and its paradoxical architecture. OD interventions to open the system are conceptualized as a counter paradox (Selvini-Palazzoli 1995). Consultants try to identify the ruling paradox of the pathological system and to dissolve it by implanting counter paradoxes. Systemic interventions mostly result in ‘explosions’; that is, the whole architecture of pathological rules breaks apart and unpredictable new patterns emerge.

6. Organizational Development And Beyond

The OD approach in the beginning was received enthusiastically in both theoretical and practical fields but later became increasingly criticized. The most common objection is to the underlying promise of harmony of interests; that is, to meet always both employee needs and the organization’s efficiency goals. Critics doubt whether there is always such a win–win solution for interest conflicts. This argument leads into a broader criticism that OD shows a general naıvete towards organizational power structures. It is said that OD can never to be neutral because it always operates within power structures and is likely to become part of micropolitics.

Another objection relates to hidden influences. It is suspected that OD-intervention techniques leave considerable scope for manipulation because ‘clients’ understand their logic and their implications at best partially. Organizations and their members, therefore, may become objects of uncontrollable influences (Neuberger 1991, McKendall 1993). Also, the financial dependence of the change agents is emphasized. It does not allow them to play the alleged neutral role in the change process. They are paid by corporate management and, therefore, are expected to pursue the interests of this group.

In addition to these objections a lack of sufficient theoretical foundation has been diagnosed (Beer 1990). The focus is on techniques and instruments but there is no compelling overarching conceptual framework; the empirical evidence is small.

From a practical point of view, OD projects rarely reach the status of a core activity. In most cases, it is considered as an interesting extra-activity, but not as a necessary element of corporate management.

Recently, a new debate on the nature of change came into the foreground of academic and practical interest (Brown and Eisenhardt 1997, Schreyogg and Noss 2000). It goes beyond the criticisms mentioned above and fundamentally challenges the paradigm of organizational change underlying OD models. An indepth analysis of the OD approach revealed three highly questionable assumptions on the nature of change.

6.1 Organization Change Is An Area For Specialists Only

The strong psychological or even psychotherapeutic orientation of OD led to the implicit assumption that organizational change can be achieved by specially trained professionals only. The organization or department is put into the role of a client or even a patient who badly needs a ‘doctor’ to master the challenge (illness) of change.

This perspective puts managers into a paradoxical situation. They are expected to rationalize and improve procedures and structures, but the important function of putting improved systems into action is said to be an exercise of which they are not capable. Change, however, nowadays is ubiquitous in organizations. It is a challenge for every manager and cannot be reserved for specialists only.

6.2 Organizational Change Is A Clear-Cut Process

In OD, organizational changes are conceived as clear-cut processes with a clearly defined beginning and end; processes that are separated from the ordinary organizational processes. This view essentially misconceives organizational processes. Problem-solving processes largely overlap and interpenetrate. This is the result of the fact that organizatons are, after all, to be managed in a complex and ambiguous context. Change processes are an integral part of the system’s general dynamics; they are not separate entities or events. The definition of a change period is always an artificial construction and does not reflect the (actual) flow of events.

6.3 Organizational Change Is An Exception In Organizational Life

In OD change is given a special status, that of an exception. It is conceived of as an extraordinary phase, which is threatening and somewhat chaotic. Changes come close to disturbances likely to undermine the rational order and system of rules. The guiding idea is the stable state of equilibrium. Stability stands for efficiency, rationality, and harmony. Organizational members are assumed to be strongly in favor of order and stability, and to feel helpless and frightened in the face of change. These assumptions fly in the face of nearly all more recent models of flexible organizations. Modern organizations are conceived as inherently restless and fluid in nature. The most recently discussed conceptions of a Virtual Organization or a Modular Organization point in the same direction. All these conceptions fundamentally challenge the view of organizational change as an exceptional state.

7. Outlook

The critique of the basic assumptions showed that a new conceptual orientation is needed which allows for overcoming the episodic view of change and offers a template to understanding change as a continuous challenge. The conception of the learning organization seems promising for providing such a reorientation. This concept builds on the idea that organizations operate on the basis of dynamic and not stable elements. The elements constitute and are constituted by communication. Organizational change occurs within streams of learning processes that build the basis of the organization’s activities and strategies. By implication, the learning organization no longer experiences the issue of change as an exceptional stage; rather learning and change become common issues in the system’s operations. Portraying organizations as self-reflexive learning systems makes it difficult to find reasons why an organization should suddenly cease to learn; that is, stop cognitive enacting, information processing, and knowledge development.

While the basic OD concept of change seems to be questionable, it is not necessary to give up all those well-developed OD methods and experiences. OD methods can be reframed. The mission of OD could be reformulated to help identify communication disturbances and to eliminate learning blockades (Argyris 1985). The purpose of the OD methods would then be to support the processes of learning to learn, and also to guarantee the competency of the system. They would become endogenous system catalysts that can help the ongoing learning processes to function smoothly.


  1. Argyris C 1985 Strategy, Change and Defensive Routines. Pitman, Boston
  2. Beckhard R 1967 The confrontation meeting. Harvard Business Review 45(4): 149–55
  3. Beer M 1990 Organization Change and Development: A Systems View. Goodyear, Santa Monica, CA
  4. Bion W R 1961 Experiences in Groups. Basic Books, New York
  5. Blake R R, Mouton J S 1969 Building a Dynamic Organization through Grid Organizational Development. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA
  6. Brown S L, Eisenhardt K M 1997 The art of continuous change: Linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly 42: 1–34
  7. Cummings T G, Worley C G 2000 Organization Development and Change, 5th edn. South-Western College, Cincinnati, OH
  8. Lawrence P R 1954 How to deal with resistance to change. Harvard Business Review 32(3): 49–57
  9. Lewin K 1958 Group decision and social change. In: Maccoby E E, Newcomb T M, Hartley E L (eds.) Readings in Social Psychology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp. 197–211
  10. Likert R 1967 The Human Organization: Its Management and Value. McGraw-Hill, New York
  11. McKendall M 1993 The tyranny of change: Organizational development revisited. Journal of Business Ethics 12: 93–104
  12. Nadler D 1977 Feedback and Organization Developments: Using Data-based Methods. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA
  13. Neuberger O 1994 Personalentwicklung (Human Resources Development), 2nd edn. Enke-Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany
  14. Rice A K 1958 Productivity and Social Organization: The Ahmedabad Experiment. Tavistock, London
  15. Schein E H 1988 Process Consultation, 2nd edn. 2 Vols. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA
  16. Schreyogg G, Noss C 2000 Reframing change in organizations. In: Havlovic S J (ed.) Best Papers Proceedings of the Annual Meeting. Academy of Management, Toronto
  17. Selvini-Palazzoli M 1995 The Hidden Games of Organization. Pantheon, New York
  18. Watzlawick P, Beavin J B, Jackson D D 1967 Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. Norton, New York
Entrepreneurship Research Paper
Organizational Design And Form Research Paper


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get 10% off with the 24START discount code!