Organisation Development – the missing piece of the leadership puzzle

  • Authors: Robin Ryde
  • Published Date: 16 March 2017

“There is a well-established body of expertise found in the Organisation Development (OD) discipline that leaders can greatly benefit from when making decisions about strategic change, cultural alignment and organisational health. Understanding the core principles and insights from this body of knowledge should be a priority for any leader,” says Robin Ryde.

The Organisation Development (OD) discipline has been the missing piece in the leadership puzzle for quite some time. Leadership thinking, and teaching, has tended to move in two different directions; heading towards personal leadership and personal influence on the one hand, while on the other hand, focussing on the external environment, and shifts in the operating environment that require a leadership response – everything from demographic changes to technological shifts and beyond. Both of these are important, and mastery of both will help all sectors, including the public service to perform better. But, the OD discipline helps bring together both of these ideas with an important third area of emphasis, namely how organisational systems can be shaped and designed to bring about the change that is desired. The person sitting inside leadership remains important, but just as critical is the system over which they preside.

The central dilemmas the OD discipline has focused on include:

  1. How to shape organisational cultures particularly when they are, by definition, locked into ways of operating and of seeing the world - heeding the warning from Peter Drucker who once claimed, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
  2. What causes an organisation to be healthy, to be resilient and to be adaptive to change.
  3. How our own mental models of the drivers of organisational performance simultaneously clarify and limit our understanding of where leadership attention should go.
  4. Where we should look to understand how employees make sense of the organisation, it’s strategy and its change agenda.

On culture and organisational sensemaking, there is a certain commitment to hard truths in the OD discipline’s study of organisational life that is captured well by Gerard Egan’s work on the shadowside; “The ‘shadow side’ consists of all the important activities and arrangements that can make a difference but do not get identified, discussed and managed, in decision-making forums.” It is these conversations, insights, and sensemaking discussions that are informal, unstructured and emergent, that carry the culture and real values of organisations that leaders need to understand. They offer the equivalent of the genetic codes to the organisation.

Leaders within organisations, and at all levels, can benefit from the insights and methods of OD not only because the discipline casts more light on some tough and familiar challenges, but also because it helps leaders find the ‘tipping point’ of organisational change. As we know, most major change programs fail within their own terms, and this is for a host of reasons ranging from cultural resistance to competing priorities. OD helps to build the knowhow to generate momentum that will overcome these and other barriers.

Robin Ryde, author, consultant and director of ANZSOG’s Executive Fellows Program, demystifies leadership and shares insights in how to align personal, team and organisational elements of leadership in his two upcoming Melbourne workshops.

The two day ‘Critical Skills for Team Leaders’ is designed for emerging leaders who want to advance their careers and are keen to understand what they will need to do and how they will need to think, when they take on senior leadership roles. Robin will share organisation development best practice models and principles. Working through practical examples, case studies and diagnostics, participants will learn to sharpen their leadership practice through looking at the systemic and cultural aspects of change and leadership.

The one day workshop ‘An Organisational Development Approach to Leading’ is for experienced leaders who want to deepen their understanding of organisational leadership and enhance their ability to lead and influence change. Participants will strengthen their skills to articulate a strategy for change, and to hold the right kind of conversations about the change work required.