14 Jul ASK THE 7TH ESTATE: HOW HAS ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS?
Among groups within The Seventh Estate (aka The 7th Estate), organizational development (OD) leaders represent an important population. Experts here operate in a field that encompasses the practices and methodologies used to improve organizational effectiveness and facilitate individual and organizational change. Pros purview often spans applying behavioral science knowledge and practices to help organizations achieve their strategic objectives. But where did the industry come from exactly – and how has it evolved over the last few decades?
1950s: The field of OD originated in the 1950s, with Kurt Lewin often cited as one of its pioneers. Lewin developed the change model (unfreeze-change-refreeze), which is still commonly used in OD. During this time, the sector primarily focused on improving organizational effectiveness through better interpersonal and group processes.
1960s: The term “organizational development” was first used in the 1960s, and the concept started to gain recognition as a distinct field of practice. Richard Beckhard, one of the pioneers in the field, defined OD as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, (3) managed from the top, to (4) increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes,’ using behavioral-science knowledge”.
1970s: This was a time of growth and expansion for the field. It started to draw from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. The focus of OD also began to shift towards a more systems-based approach, looking at the organization as a whole.
1980s to 1990s: The rapid changes in technology and the global economy in the 1980s and 1990s led to significant changes in the way organizations operated. As a result, the sector had to adapt and evolve. Its focus shifted towards large-scale organizational change, culture change, and managing diversity.
2000s to Present: In the 21st century, the practice of organizational development has continued to evolve. As technology has exploded in popularity, digital transformation has become a key area of focus. Additionally, the increasing awareness of the importance of organizational culture, employee engagement, and sustainable business practices has further broadened the scope of OD.
Future Trends: Turning our gaze towards tomorrow, areas like virtual and remote working, agile organizations, artificial intelligence, and sustainability are expected to influence the direction of organizational development. The field continues to evolve to address the emerging needs and challenges of organizations in an ever-changing business environment.