Organisational Development (OD) is the systematic improvement of organisational functioning and effectiveness. It helps organisations to identify and achieve their goals by defining strategy and aligning people and processes in its implementation, often in the context of significant change or transition.
OD might focus on engaging staff, improving efficiency, managing risk better or realising an inspirational vision. It may be concerned with future proofing an organisation – ensuring sustainability as the demands of the environment around it change.
Often OD interventions are described as focusing on ‘hard’ issues, such as strategy, policies, systems and processes or ‘soft’ issues such as engagement, culture, behaviour and leadership. We believe it is essential to address both in parallel. Organisations need a ‘requisite structure1’ fit specifically for the task with which they are engaged – that is, a system of roles and responsibilities, skills and capabilities, processes and policies and including leadership, accountability and governance. Equally important is attention to the organisational culture, behaviour, attitudes and motivation of staff since all the activities of the enterprise, its success or failure depend on the people who make up the organisation.
At Tavistock Consulting we bring our unique systems-psychodynamic approach to the challenges of OD. When we’re asked to help an organisation function more effectively we take a perspective on the whole system, we look beneath the surface at what might be really going on – the unconscious life of the organisation that might not be expressed directly, but which can impede development or progress. Most organisations have stories of the best-laid plans going awry. We think about troublesome individuals, what they might represent, what might their behaviour be communicating on behalf of others.
We observe and talk to people at all levels within the organisation from board to floor. We work with the leadership team on its vision and strategy. We seek to understand the employee perspective, looking at alignment across the organisation and whether people feel valued in the work they do. Our systemic approach means that we look at what different parts of the organisation might be holding for the whole. What does it mean for example that in one department sickness rates are higher than elsewhere?
We sit with teams to understand how they are functioning. We use our clinical skills to understand what might be going on below the surface. Not simply whether they are achieving their objectives, but how are they working together. This is the unique element in our approach and it is what makes a crucial difference between a team that is functioning well and one that is truly high performing.
We believe that the task of the organisation is of significance as it elicits particular anxieties and defensive behaviour both individually and organisationally. Defences can be helpful, allowing us to work, but can also become excessive, resulting in behaviours that are unhelpful or damaging.
Our interventions are dynamic and collaborative, not simply written reports. We work actively with organisations to change culture and bring to awareness the hidden aspects of organisational life that have the power to derail the best of strategies. We consider leadership, authorisation and power and may recommend bespoke interventions to increase leadership capacity and capability. We promote reflective practice, so that staff may work consciously and confidently. We work across organisations to align strategy, people and processes.
1The term ‘requisite structure’ was coined by Eliot Jaques, at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in 1997.