18th September 2013


The social scientist, Edgar Schein, has observed how many of the pioneering activities of the early years of the field of Organisation Development (‘OD’) – “better communications, team building, management of inter-group competitions, and change management, to name just a few” – have evolved into organisational routines that are now taken for granted[i]. This has led some to question whether the discipline of OD still has a role to play in organisational life, and others to propose that it is already dead.[ii] 

My own view is that the profession is, indeed, at a turning point but with a new direction available to it which is one of opportunity for the field and, importantly, one of opportunity for the wider world.

We do our work in a period of great turbulence. Time was when the word ‘globalisation’ simply described the transnational flow of information, goods, people, money.  Today (as I suggest in Finding Merlin), working effectively in a globalised world requires of us a new world-view – a perspective of the world as one territory, one space in which all peoples are in a relationship of interconnectedness and interdependence. 

In previous eras, the threats faced by human societies were local threats, requiring local solutions. In our globalised community, one in which it is no exaggeration to say that our social, political, economic, environmental and climatic systems are failing simultaneously, the threats we face as an interrelated and interdependent human species are of an existential magnitude. 

Organisations are essential elements of our interconnected world. How might we serve as evocateurs, to help the leaders we support to recreate their organisations for a greater purpose, to have a more meaningful role to play in the world than simply to maintain themselves as, increasingly, their stakeholders expect, and, in so doing, participate in the renewal of our global systems?

This is, I believe, our challenge as OD professionals – to work at our own developmental edge, to expand our own world-view so that we can see ‘the pattern that connects’ and help organisational leaders from their own place of greater awareness - a holistic, integral mode of meaning-making - to play their part in system transformation, to safeguard not just their organisation’s own survival but also that of the wider world. 

If we can achieve this purpose together as a community of OD professionals, we will also succeed in reigniting the fire of our pioneering profession.

[i]Organization Development, ed JV Gallos, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, 2006, Foreward.

[ii]Organization Development, A Practitioner’s Guide for OD and HR, Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge and Linda Holbeche, Kogan Page, London, 2011, p23.