Model of the Organization Development Process
Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.

There are many versions of an overall model of the organization development process in the literature; however, all are basically variations on the model outlined below. We will use the following four-stage model of the OD process as a fundamental, orienting structure throughout the course:

Entering & Contracting
Diagnosing (data based)
Planning & Implementing Change
Stabilizing & Evaluating Change

Note that, although this is shown as a single cycle in the diagram above, there normally is considerable overlap, feedback, and cycling back among all of the stages. For example, during data collection and diagnosis, frequently new issues are identified that require a revision of the contracting, or during planning and/or implementing change, there will be identified needs for additional data gathering and diagnosis. The OD process is NOT a simple, linear, one-pass process.

Entering and Contracting

This initial phase is a necessary part of every consulting project, although the process and formality vary considerably, depending on the situation. These initial steps involve a preliminary exploration of the organization's problems and issues, plus developing a collaborative relationship between the consultant and key members of the client organization regarding how to work on those issues. Entering and contracting are quite different for an external consultant who is completely new to the organization than for a consultant who is internal or has a previous history with the organization. There are both advantages and disadvantages to being an internal or external consultant. In major projects, it often is useful to involve both in a team.

Some of the issues in almost all cases are: Contracting involves both the mechanical/legal/financial arrangements, but also psychological contracting [developing a common understanding with commitment and comfort between the consultant and the primary client(s)]. Contracting should include developing shared clarity about: Some potential "red flags" in the consultant-client relationship that may arise during entry and contracting include:


It is important for the consultant to obtain current relevant data about the organization and to develop a diagnosis of the organization's functioning and major issues. However, the scope and process for the data gathering and diagnosis may have to vary considerably for different projects. Fundamentally, a diagnosis is a description of how the organization is currently functioning, particularly what is not functioning well, that provides the information necessary to design change interventions. A diagnosis should:

There are many methods of data collection, each with different advantages and disadvantages. For modest-sized teams, the most common methods are individual interviews and direct observations of meetings and other interactions. For larger organizations, questionnaires and surveys may be necessary and useful. All of these differ in richness, efficiency, flexibility, validity, opportunity to establish rapport, etc.

In analyzing data, it is important to look for:

It is vital to provide appropriate feedback of data to those who participate in providing it to:

Planning & Implementing Change

There are many types of interventions that might be used. A separate note classifies some of the major options in terms of their primary target (organizational level) and focus (aspect or process within the organization that needs improvement). A few important considerations are:

Stabilizing & Evaluating Change

There are ever-present forces in every organization that tend to dampen out and reverse changes. It is vital to create ways to monitor and reinforce the planned changes until they become stabilized and part of the organization's culture. Major organization changes tend to take years to complete and stabilize, rather than the initial few weeks or months in which the more visible changes may seem to occur.

Also, it is important for all concerned - consultant and client system - to evaluate and learn from the actions and changes that have been made. Too often both dash on to their next projects and fail to analyze and distill learnings from the previous project. I believe Toynbee's warning, "those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them."

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Last modified July 14, 2006 Copyright 1986-2006 Rex Mitchell