Organization design or organization development?

People frequently ask me the difference between organization design and organization development. I had another go at answering in the workshop I was facilitating last week. This time I gave the car analogy.

Organization design is deciding first what is the purpose of the car that you are about to design e.g. is it to cross the desert? Is it to win a Formula 1 race? Is it to transport two adults and three children to a party? Then designing and delivering a car that is fit for that purpose.

Organization development is about keeping that vehicle in the condition necessary to achieve the purpose e.g. using the right fuel, having it serviced regularly, teaching the driver how to drive it to maximize its performance, and so on.

Clearly this is not a perfect analogy as an organization is in a constant state of flux unlike the vehicle but it does serve an illustrative purpose and it's one that people can grasp instantly. Another analogy I use is of the human body. The underpinning 'design' of the human body is a given – skeleton, cardio-vascular system, etc. But keeping the human body fit and healthy is the development aspect: nutrition, exercise, learning, managing stress, and so on. This analogy works as the human body is adaptive to things but the underpinning design is not necessarily affected in the adaptation process (apart from aging). Note that when I use the human body analogy I don't enter the territory of what the 'purpose' of it is or conjecture on the original 'designer'!

One of the participants in the room was a Head of Organization Development but he was satisfied with the way the analogy worked. (Another long debate avoided!).

Standard definitions of Organization Development exist for example:

"Organization development is a system-wide application of behavioral science knowledge to the planned development and reinforcement of organizational strategies, structures, and processes for improving an organization's effectiveness."
Cummings and Worley, Organization Development and Change, Sixth Edition, South-Western Publishing, 1997.

OD is collaborating with organizational leaders and their groups to create systemic change on behalf of root-cause problem-solving toward improving productivity and employee satisfaction through strengthening the human processes through which they get their work done. Michael Broom, Human Systems

It is the systematic application of behavioral science principles and practices to understand how people and organizations function and how to get them to function better within a clear value base. It is shamelessly humanistic and has strong value drivers. Linda Holbeche, Organization Development – What's in a name?

OD is the activities engaged in by stakeholders in order to build and maintain the health of an organization as a total system. It is characterized by a focus on behavioral processes and humanistic values. It seeks to develop problem solving ability and explore opportunities for growth. Roffey Park

And the definition I use for organization design is: Organization design is arranging how to do the work necessary to achieve a business purpose and strategy. (The resulting configuration is the organization's design)

Notice that the organization design definition does not mention people or behaviors while the organization development definitions are all about these. This doesn't mean that they are neatly boxed into different packages. In most cases you can't do design work without doing development work, and vice versa. But the focus of attention is different depending on what the business purpose of the project is. I like the concepts of development relating to the informal (tacit) aspects of the organization and design relating to the formal (explicit) aspects of the organization.

A complicating factor is sometimes the question 'Where does change management fit into these?' Clearly both organization design and organization development involve change and I am skeptical about whether it can be 'managed'. But again, both organization design and organization development involve change, so I steer clear of labeling a project specifically a 'change management project'.

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