Organization Process Approaches
Organization Process Approaches
Now we will discuss system wide process interventions change
programs directed at improving such
processes as organizational problem solving, leadership,
visioning, and task accomplishment between
groups—for a major subsystem or for an entire organization.
The first type of intervention, the organization confrontation
meeting, is among the earliest organization
wide process approaches. It helps mobilize the problem-solving
resources of a major subsystem or whole
organization by encouraging members to identify and confront
The second organization process approach is called inter-group
relations. It consists of two interventions:
the inter-group conflict resolution meeting and microcosm
groups. Both interventions are aimed at
diagnosing and addressing important organizational level
processes, such as conflict, the coordination of
organizational units, and diversity. The inter-group conflict
intervention is specifically oriented toward
conflict processes, whereas the microcosm group is a more
generic system wide change strategy.
A third system wide process approach, the large-group
intervention, has received considerable attention
recently and is one of the fastest-growing areas in OD.
Large-group interventions get a “whole system into
the room” and create processes that allow a variety of
stakeholders to interact simultaneously. A largegroup
intervention can be used to clarify important organizational
values, develop new ways of looking at
problems, articulate a new vision for the organization, solve
cross-functional problems, restructure
operations, or devise an organizational strategy. It is a
powerful tool for addressing organizational problems
and opportunities and for accelerating the pace of
The final is a normative approach to OD: Blake and Mouton’s Grid
Organization Development. It is a
popular intervention, particularly in large organizations. Grid
OD is a packaged program that organizations
can purchase and train members to use. In contrast to modern
contingency approaches, the Grid proposes
one best way to manage organizations. Consequently, OD
practitioners increasingly have questioned its
applicability and effectiveness in contemporary organizations.
Organization Confrontation Meeting
The confrontation meeting is an intervention designed to
mobilize the resources of the entire organization
to identify problems, set priorities and action targets, and
begins working on identified problems. Originally
developed by Beckhard, the intervention can be used at any time
but is particularly useful when the
organization is in stress and when there is a gap between the
top and the rest of the organization (such as
when a new top manager joins the organization). General
Electric’s Work-Out” program is a recent
example of how the confrontation meeting has been adapted to fit
today’s organizations. Although the
original model involved only managerial and professional people,
it has since been used successfully with
technicians, clerical personnel, and assembly workers.
The organization confrontation meeting typically involves the
1. A group meeting of all those involved is scheduled and held
in an appropriate place. Usually the
task is to identity problems about the work environment and the
effectiveness of the organization.
2. Groups are appointed representing all departments of the
organization. Thus, each group might
have one or more members from sales, purchasing, finance,
operations, and quality assurance. For
obvious reasons, a subordinate should not be in the same group
as his or her boss, and top
management should form its own group. Group size can vary from
five to fifteen members,
depending on such factors as the size of the organization and
available meeting places.
3. The point is stressed that the groups are to be open and
honest and to work hard at identifying
problems they see in the organization. No one will be criticized
for bringing up problems and, in
fact, the groups will be judged on their ability to do so.
4. The groups are given an hour or two to identify organization
problems. Generally, an OD
practitioner goes from group to group, encouraging openness and
assisting the groups with their
5. The groups then reconvene in a central meeting place. Each
group reports the problems it has
identified and sometimes offers solutions. Because each group
hears the reports of all the others, a
maximum amount of information is shared.
6. Either then or later, the master list of problems is broken
down into categories. This can be done
by the participants, by the person leading the session, or by
the manager and his or her staff. This
process eliminates duplication and overlap and allows the
problems to be separated according to
functional or other appropriate areas.
7. Following problem categorization, participants are divided
into problem-solving groups whose
composition may, and usually does, differ from that of the
original problem-identification groups.
For example, all operations problems may be handled by people in
that subunit. Or task forces
representing appropriate cross sections of the organization may
8. Each group ranks the problems, develops a tactical action
plan, and determines an appropriate
timetable for completing this phase of the process.
9. Each group then periodically reports its list of priorities
and tactical plans of action to management
or to the larger group.
10. Schedules for periodic (frequently monthly) follow-up
meetings are established. At these sessions,
the team leaders report either to top management, to the other
team leaders, or to the group as a
whole regarding their team’s progress and plans for future
action. The formal establishment of
such follow-up meetings ensures both continuing action and the
modification of priorities and
timetables as needed.
Inter-group Relations Interventions:
The ability to diagnose and understand inter-group relations is
important for OD practitioners because (1)
groups often must work with and through other groups to
accomplish their goals; (2) groups within the
organization often create problems and place demands on each
other; and (3) the quality of the
relationships between groups can affect the degree of
organizational effectiveness. Two OD
interventions—microcosm groups and inter-group conflict
resolution—are described here. A microcosm
group uses members from several groups to help solve
organization- wide problems. Inter-group issues are
explored in this context, and then solutions are implemented in
the larger organization. Inter-group conflict
resolution helps two groups work out dysfunctional
relationships. Together, these approaches help improve
inter-group processes and lead to organizational effectiveness.
A microcosm group consists of a small number of individuals who
reflect the issue being addressed. For
example, a microcosm group composed of members representing a
spectrum of ethnic backgrounds,
cultures, and races can be created to address diversity issues
in the organization. This group, assisted by OD
practitioners, can create programs and processes targeted at
specific problems. In addition to addressing
diversity problems, microcosm groups have been used to carry out
organization diagnoses, solve
communications problems, integrate two cultures, smooth the
transition to a new structure, and address
dysfunctional political processes.
Microcosm groups work through “parallel processes,” which are
the unconscious changes that take place in
individuals when two or more groups interact. After groups
interact, members often find that their
characteristic patterns of roles and interactions change to
reflect the roles and dynamics of the group with
whom they were relating. Put simply, groups seem to “infect” and
become “infected” by the other groups.
The following example given by Alderfer helps to clarify how
parallel processes work.
An organizational diagnosis team had assigned its members to
each of five departments in a small
manufacturing company. Members of the team had interviewed each
department head and several
department members, and had observed department meetings. The
team was preparing to observe their
first meeting of department heads and was trying to anticipate
the group’s behavior. At first they seemed to
have no ‘rational” basis for predicting the top group’s behavior
because they “had no data” from direct
observation. They decided to role-play the group meeting they
had never seen. Diagnostic team members
behaved as they thought the department heads would, and the
result was uncanny. Team members found
that they easily became engaged with one another in the
simulated department-head meeting; emotional
involvement occurred quickly for all participants. When the team
actually was able to observe a
department-head meeting, they were amazed at how closely the
simulated meeting had approximated the
Thus, if a small and representative group can intimately
understand and solve a complex organizational
problem for themselves; they are in a good position to
recommended action to address the problem in the
The process of using a microcosm group to address organization
wide issues involves the following five
. This step involves finding a
system wide problem to be addressed. This may result
from an organizational diagnosis or may be an idea generated by
an organization member or task force. For
example, one microcosm group charged with improving
organizational communications was started by a
division manager. He was concerned that the information provided
by those reporting directly to him
differed from the data he received from informal conversations
with people throughout the division.
. Once an issue is identified,
the microcosm group can be formed. The most
important convening principle is that group membership needs to
reflect the appropriate mix of
stakeholders related to the issue. If the issue is
organizational communication, then the group should
contain people from all hierarchical levels and function,
including staff groups and unions, if applicable. If
the issue is integrating two corporate cultures following a
merger, the microcosm group should contain
people from both organizations who understand their respective
cultures. Following the initial setup, the
group itself becomes responsible for determining its membership.
It will decide whether to add new
members and how to fill vacant positions.
Convening the group also draws attention to the issue and gives
the group status. Members also need to be
perceived as credible representatives of the problem. This will
increase the likelihood that organization
members will listen to and follow the suggestions they make.
. Once the microcosm group is
established, training is provided in group
problem solving and decision making. Team-building interventions
also may be appropriate. Group
training focuses on establishing a group mission or charter,
working relationships among members, group
decision- making norms, and definitions of the problem to be
From a group-process perspective, OD practitioners may need to
observe and comment on how the group
develops. Because the group is a microcosm of the organization,
it will tend, through its behavior and
attitudes, to reflect the problem in the larger organization.
For example, if the group is addressing
communication problems in the organization, it is likely to have
its own difficulties with communication.
Recognizing within the group the problem or issue it was formed
to address is the first step toward solving
the problem in the larger system.
. This step involves solving the
problem and implementing solutions. OD
practitioners may help the group diagnose, design, implement,
and evaluate changes. A key issue is gaining
commitment in the wider organization to implementing the group’s
solutions. The following factors can
facilitate such ownership. First, a communication plan should
link group activities to the organization. This
may include publishing minutes from team meetings; inviting
organization members, such as middle
managers, union representatives, or hourly workers, into the
meetings; and making presentations to
different organizational groups. Second, group members need to
be visible and accessible to management
and labor. This can ensure that the appropriate support and
resources are developed for the
recommendations. Third, problem-solving processes should include
an appropriate level of participation by
organization members. Different data collection methods can be
used to gain member input
and to produce ownership of the problem and solutions.
. The microcosm group can be
disbanded following successful implementation of
changes. This typically involves writing a final report or
holding a final meeting.
Large Group Interventions
The third system wide process intervention is called large-group
intervention. Such change programs have
been referred to variously as “search conferences,” “open-space
meetings,” “open-systems planning,” and
“future searches.” They focus on issues that affect the whole
organization or large segments of it, such as
developing new products or services, responding to environmental
change, or introducing new technology.
The defining feature of large-group intervention is the bringing
together large numbers of organization
members and other stakeholders, often more than one hundred, for
a two- to four-day meeting or
conference. Here, conference attendees’ work together to
identify and resolve organization wide problems,
to design new approaches to structuring and managing the firm,
or to propose future directions for the
organization. Large-group interventions are among the
fastest-growing OD applications.
Large-group interventions can vary on several dimensions,
including purpose, size, length, structure, and
number. The purpose of these change methods can range from
solving particular organizational problems
to envisioning future strategic directions. Large-group
interventions have been run with groups of less than
fifty to more than two thousand participants and have lasted
between one and five days. Some large-group
processes are relatively planned and structured; others are more
informal. Some interventions involve a
single large-group meeting; others include a succession of
meetings to accomplish system wide change in a
short period of time.
Conducting a large-group intervention generally involves
preparing for the meeting, conducting it, and
following up on outcomes. These activities are described below.
Preparing for the Large-Group Meeting
A design team comprising OD practitioners and several
organization members is formed to organize the
event. The team generally addresses three key ingredients for
successful large-group meetings: a compelling
meeting theme, appropriate participants, and relevant tasks to
address the theme.
interventions require a compelling reason or focal point for
change. Although “people problems” can be an important focus,
more powerful reasons for large-group
efforts include managing impending mergers or reorganizations,
responding to environmental threats and
opportunities, or proposing radical organizational changes.
Whatever the focal point for change, senior
leaders need to make clear to others the purpose of the
large-group meeting. Ambiguity about the reason
for the intervention can dissipate participants’ energy and
commitment to change. For example, a largegroup
meeting that successfully envisioned a hospital’s future
organization design was viewed as a failure by
a few key managers who thought that the purpose was to cut costs
from the hospital’s budget. Their
subsequent lack of support stalled the change effort.
. A fundamental goal of
large-group interventions is to “get the whole system
in the room.” This involves inviting as many people as possible
who have a stake in the conference theme
and who are energized and committed to conceiving and initiating
change. Senior managers, suppliers,
union leaders, internal and external customers, trade group
representatives, government and regulatory
officials, and organization members from a variety of jobs,
genders, races, and ages are potential
to address the conference theme.
described below, these tasks typically are
assigned to several subgroups responsible for examining the
theme and drawing conclusions for action.
Generally, participants rely on their own experience and
expertise to address system wide Issues, rather
than drawing on resources from outside of the large-group
meeting. This ensures that the meeting can be
completed within the allotted time and that members can
participate fully as important sources of
Conducting the Meeting:
The flow of events in a large-group meeting can vary greatly,
depending on its purpose and the framework
adopted. Most large-group processes, however, fit within two
primary frameworks: open-systems methods
and open-space methods.
A variety of large-group approaches, such as search conferences,
open-systems planning, and real-time
strategic change, have their basis in open-systems methods.
These approaches help organizations assess
their environments systematically and develop strategic
responses to them. They help organization
members develop a strategic mission for relating to the
environment and influencing it in favorable
directions, Open-systems methods begin with a diagnosis of the
existing environment and how the
organization relates to it. They proceed to develop possible
future environments and action plans to bring
them about. These steps are described below.
Map the current
environment surrounding the organization
In this step, the different domains or
parts of the environment are identified and prioritized. This
involves listing all external groups directly
interacting with the organization, such as customers, suppliers,
or government agencies, and ranking them
in importance. Participants then are asked to describe each
domain’s expectations for the organization’s
organization’s responses to environmental expectations.
This step asks participants to
describe how the organization currently addresses the
environmental expectations identified in step 1
core mission of the organization.
step helps to identify the underlying purpose or
core mission of the organization, as derived from how it
responds to external demands. Attention is
directed at discovering the mission as it is revealed in the
organization’s behavior, not as it is pronounced in
the organization’s official statement of purpose. This is
accomplished by examining the organization and
environment transactions identified in Steps 1 and 2 and then
assessing the values that seem to underlie
those interactions. These values provide clues about the actual
identity or mission of the organization.
realistic future scenario of environmental expectations and organization
step asks members to project the organization and its
environment into the near future, assuming no real
changes in the organization. It asks participants to address the
question, “What will happen if the
organization continues to operate as it does at present?”
Participant responses are combined to develop a
likely organization future under the assumption of no change.
Create an ideal
future scenario of environmental expectations and organization responses.
Members are asked to create alternative desirable futures. This
involves going back over steps 1, 2, and 3
and asking what members ideally would like to see happen in the
near future in both the environment and
the organization. People are encouraged to fantasize about
desired futures without
worrying about possible constraints.
present with the ideal future and prepare an action plan for reducing the
. This last
step identifies specific actions that will move both the environment and the
organization toward the desired future. Planning for appropriate
interventions typically occurs in three
timeframes: tomorrow, six months from now, and two years from
now. Participants also decide on a
follow- up schedule for sharing the flow of actions and updating
the planning process.
There are a number of variations on this basic model, each of
which follows a similar pattern of creating
common ground, discussing the issues, and devising an agenda for
change. For example, search
conferences begin with an exercise called “appreciating the
past,” which asks participants to examine the
significant events, milestones, and highlights of the
organization’s previous thirty years (or less, in the case
of newer organizations). It demonstrates that participants share
a common history, although they may
come from different organizations, departments, age groups, or
Once common ground is established, members can discuss the
system wide issue or theme. To promote
widespread participation, members typically organize into
subgroups of eight to ten people representing as
many stakeholder viewpoints as possible. The subgroups may
address a general question (for example,
“What are the opportunities for new business in our global
market?”) or focus on a specific issue (For
example, “How can we improve quality and cut costs on a
particular product line?”). Subgroup members
brainstorm answers to these questions, record them on flipchart
paper, and share them with the larger
group. The whole group compares responses from the subgroups and
identifies common themes. Other
methods, such as presentations to the large group, small-group
meetings on particular aspects of the
conference theme, or spontaneous meetings of interest to the
participants, are used to discuss the
conference theme and distribute information to members.
The final task of large-group meetings based on open-systems
methods is creating an agenda for change.
Participants are asked to reflect on what they have learned at
the meeting and to suggest changes for
themselves, their department, and the whole organization.
Members from the same department often are
grouped together to discuss their proposals and decide on action
plans, timetables, and accountabilities.
Action items for the total organization are referred to a
steering committee that addresses organization
wide policy issues and action plans. At the conclusion of the
large-group meeting, the departmental
subgroups and the steering committee report their conclusions to
all participants and seek initial
commitment to change.
The second approach to large-group interventions is distinguished by its lack of
formal structure. Open-space methods temporarily restructure or
“self-organize” participants around
interests and topics associated with the conference theme. They
generally follow these steps:
conditions for self-organizing
. In the
first step, the OD practitioner or manager responsible
for the large-group intervention sets the stage by announcing
the theme of the session and the norms that
will govern it. In addition, participants are informed that the
meeting will consist of small-group discussions
convened by the participants and addressing any topic they
believe critical to the theme of the conference.
Two sets of norms govern how open-space methods are applied, and
although the norms may sound
ambiguous, they are critical to establishing the conditions for
a successful meeting.
The first set of norms concerns the “Law of Two Feet.” It
encourages people to take’ responsibility for
their own behavior; to go to meetings and discussions where they
are learning, contributing, or in some way
remaining interested. Moving from group to group is legitimized
by the roles of “butterflies” and
“bumblebees.” Butterflies attract others into spontaneous
conversations and, in fact, may never attend a
formal meeting. Bumblebees go from group to group and sprinkle
knowledge, information, or new ideas
into different meetings.
The second set of norms is labeled the “Four Principles.” The
first principle is “whoever comes is the right
people.” It is intended to free people to begin conversations
with anyone at any time. It also signals that the
quality of a conversation is what’s most important, not who’s
involved. The second principle, “Whatever
happens is the only thing that could have,” infuses the group
with responsibility, encourages participants to
be flexible, and prepares them to be surprised. “Whenever it
starts is the right time” is the third principle
and is aimed at encouraging creativity and following the natural
energy in the group. The final principle,
“When it is over, it is over,” allows people to move on and not
feel like they have to meet for a certain time
period or satisfy someone else’s requirements.
The second step in Open-Space
interventions is to develop a road map for the
remainder of the conference. This is accomplished by asking
participants to describe a topic related to the
conference theme that they have passion for and interest in
discussing. This topic is written on a large piece
of paper, announced to the group, and then posted on the
community bulletin board where meeting topics
and locations are displayed. The person announcing the topic
agrees to convene the meeting at the posted
time and place. This process continues until everyone who wants
to define a topic has been given the
chance to speak. The final activity in this step asks
participants to sign up for as many of the sessions as
they have interest in. The open-space meeting begins with the
first scheduled sessions.
activity through information.
an open-space session, there are two ways to
coordinate activities. First, each morning and evening a
community meeting is held to announce new topics
that have emerged for which meeting dates and times have been
assigned, or to share observations and
learning. Second, as the different meetings occur, the conveners
produce one-page summaries of what
happened, who attended, what subjects were discussed, and what
recommendations or actions were
proposed. Typically, this is done on computer in a room
dedicated for this purpose. These summaries are
posted near the community bulletin board in an area often
labeled “newsroom.” Participants are
encouraged to visit the newsroom and become familiar with what
other groups have been discussing. The
summaries also can be printed and copied for conference
Following up of Meeting Outcomes:
Follow-up efforts are vital to implementing the action plans
from large-scale interventions. These efforts
involve communicating the results of the meeting to the rest of
the organization, gaining wider
commitment to the changes, and structuring the change process.
In those cases where all the members of
the organization were involved in the large-group meeting,
implementation can proceed immediately
according to the timetable included in the action plans.
Grid Organization Development: A Normative Approach
Grid OD, a change model is one of the most widely used
approaches to system-wide planned change. This
process is a systematic approach aimed at achieving corporate
excellence. It is believed that managers and
organizations can only be made more effective if the basic
culture of the system is changed.
Grid OD starts with a focus on individual behavior, specifically
on the managerial styles of executives,
called Managerial Grid. The program moves through a series of
sequential phases involving the work team,
the relationships between groups or subunits, and finally the
overall culture of the organization.
According to the Managerial Grid, an individual’s style can be
described according to his or her concern for
production and concern for people.
A concern for production covers a range of behaviors, such as
accomplishing productive tasks, developing
creative ideas, making quality policy decisions, establishing
thorough and high-quality staff services, or
creating efficient workload measurements. Concern for production
is not limited to things but also may
involve human accomplishment within the organization, regardless
of the assigned tasks or activities.
A concern for people encompasses a variety of issues, including
concern for the individual’s personal
worth, good working conditions, a degree of involvement or
commitment to completing the job, security, a
fair salary structure and fringe benefits, and good social and
Managers who have a low concern for production and a high
concern for people view people’s feelings,
attitudes, and needs as valuable in their own right. This type
of manager strives to provide subordinates
with work conditions that provide ease, security, and comfort.
On the other hand managers who have a
high concern for production but a low concern for people
minimize the attitudes and feelings of
subordinates and give little attention to individual creativity,
conflict, and commitment. As a result, the
focus is on the work organization.
Managerial style is the most effective in overcoming the
communications barrier to corporate excellence.
The basic assumptions behind this managerial style differ
qualitatively and quantitatively from those
underlying the other managerial styles, which assume there is an
inherent conflict between the needs of the
organization and the needs of people. By showing a high concern
for both people and production,
managers allow employees to think and to influence the
organization, thus promoting active support for
organizational plans. Employee participation means that better
communication is critical; therefore,
necessary information is shared by all relevant parties.
Moreover, better communication means selfdirection
and self-control, rather than unquestioning, blind obedience.
Organizational commitment arises
out of discussion, deliberation, and debate over major
Grid Organization Development has two key objectives: to improve
planning by developing a strategy for
organizational excellence based on clear logic, and to help
managers gain the necessary knowledge and skills
to supervise effectively. It consists of six phases designed to
analyze an entire business and to overcome the
planning and communications barriers to corporate excellence.
Phase 1: The Grid Seminar
In this one-week program, participants analyze their personal
styles on the Managerial Grid and learn team
methods of problem solving. Top management attends the seminar
and then leads the next level of
management through a similar experience. In addition to
assessing themselves using questionnaires and
case studies, participants receive feedback on their styles from
other group members.
The learning objectives for the week include:
• Learning the GRID in a
way to analyze thinking.
• Increasing one’s
personal objectivity in appraising oneself.
• Achieving clear and
• Learning and working
effectively in a team.
• Learning to manage
• Analyzing one’s
corporate work culture by applying the GRID framework.
• Gaining an understanding
of the phases of GRID OD.
Participants in the seminar analyze their own managerial
approaches and learn alternative ways of
managing. In addition, they study methods of team action. They
measure and evaluate team effectiveness in
solving problems with others. A high point of the seminar
learning is reached when the participants critique
one another’s styles of managerial performance. Another is when
managers critique the dominant style of
their own organization’s culture, its traditions, precedents,
and past practices. A third is when participants
consider steps for increasing the effectiveness of the whole
Phase 2: Teamwork Development
Teamwork development begins with the organization’s top manager
and employees who report directly to
him or her. These people later attend another team meeting with
their own subordinates. This continues
down through the entire organization.
During this session the team deals with subjects directly
relevant to their daily operations and behaviors.
Before the conclusion of the week, the team sets group and
Phase 3: Inter-group Development
Although an organization may have various sections or units,
each with specialized tasks and different
goals, it still must work as a whole if it is to achieve
organizational excellence. A fair amount of inter-group
or interdepartmental conflict is present in most organizations.
Each group builds negative stereotypes of
other groups, and this conflict can escalate easily into subtle
or overt power struggles that result in win-lose
situations. Improving inter-group relations involves the
• Before the sessions,
each person prepares a written description of the actual working relationship,
as contrasted with the ideal relationship;
• Each group isolates
itself for several days to summarize its perceptions of the actual and ideal
• The two groups meet and
limit their interaction to comparing their perceptions via a spokesperson;
• The two groups then work
on making the relationship more productive. The action step is
completed when both groups have a clear understanding of the
specific actions each group will
take and how those actions will be followed up.
Phase 4: Developing an Ideal Strategic Organization Model
The top managers in the organization now work toward achieving a
model of organizational excellence,
incorporating six basic factors:
• Clear definitions of
minimum and optimum organizational financial objectives;
• Clear, explicit
definitions of the character and nature of organizational activities;
• Clear operational
definitions of the character and scope of markets, customers, or clients;
• An organizational
structure that integrates operations for synergistic results;
• Basic policies for
organizational decision making; and
• Approaches to implement
growth capacity and avoid stagnation or obsolescence.
Phase 5: Implementing the Ideal Strategic Model
The Grid OD program has an implementation model that can be
adapted to any organization.
Organizations can be divided into identifiable segments, such as
products, profit centers, or geographical
• The top management team
assigns one planning team to each segment.
• Because the units cannot
be completely autonomous, one corporate headquarters team and a
coordinator must be established.
• Finally, the planning
coordinator and the corporate headquarter team need to ensure that the
implementation plan is understood clearly.
Phase 6: Systematic Critique:
The systematic critique determines the degree of organization
excellence after Phase 5 compared with
measurements taken before Phase 1. The basic instrument is a
100-question survey investigating behavior,
teamwork, inter-group relations, and corporate strategy. With
instruments administered at each phase, it is
possible to observe the degree of change and gain insight into
the total process of change. Because change
never ceases, discovery sets the stage for a new beginning.