Jenny’s “Top 10” OD Tools

By Jennifer Tucker  

For those outside (OK, even for those INSIDE) the Organization Development (OD) field, it might seem somewhat nebulously defined. (In fact, the first time I was introduced as an OD speaker, I thought they mixed up my bio with someone else.) I have become more comfortable with the term, and I thought I’d use this blog post to list the top OD tools most helpful in my work.

First, let’s start with a working definition of OD itself, drawing from the definitive source of all knowledge, Wikipedia:  “Organization development (OD) is a planned, organization-wide effort to increase an organization’s effectiveness and viability.” I like this definition because it is both broad and pragmatic, leaving room to do good and substantive work, without limiting the diversity of disciplines and perspectives through which that work is done. In fact, much of the work of Information Technology and systems development could neatly fit as sub-fields within OD given this definition. Talk about culture wars!

Second, a word about selection criteria, as – late night comedy shows as exceptions – I dislike Top 10 lists that fail to make overt the criteria against which the 10 were selected, so let’s quickly cover that. I am a pragmatist at heart, so the tools, models, and ideas that follow are practical, pretty easy to apply, and quickly learnable. Most can be used to understand and address problems at multiple levels, from individual to team to organization and system. (OD purists would argue that by definition, OD is not about the individual person, and that those tools are psychological tools, not OD Tools.) OK, fair point. I’ll go with the position that it is people that actually take action, so tools for individual self-awareness are fair game in my list.

And now, to Jenny’s “Top 10” OD Tools List

  1. Psychological Type and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Assessment – A cognitive model, psychological type (the theory underlying the MBTI) is a great tool for multiple levels of awareness. In addition to providing great insights for leadership, communication and teamwork, I also use it regularly to diagnose and intervene with troubled projects. Want to better balance vision and practicality; top-down governance with bottom-up community? Psychological type offers great insights across the board.  Visit Type and Project Management.
  2. Reversal Theory – The best model I have seen for understanding and getting to action with respect to motivation, emotion, and change. Reversal Theory focuses on our changeability, and how we can create motivational shifts in ourselves in others. Organizations struggling with fear, risk aversion, difficulty with innovation, and problems with customer service can all benefit from this theory and tool.
  3. Technology, in all its forms – Many OD professionals selected into the field because of its connection to people not technology. Sometimes, this can lead to a bit of a resistance to learning about the technology that is now center stage in many organizations. From webcasting software to social media to websites to other virtual team tools, how an organization engages with technology and people (and how it values each) reveals a lot about its culture. Even a look at an organization’s website will often tell you a lot about what it values, where some of its blind spots are likely to be, and how it thinks about its own structure and processes.
  4. Polarity Management – Too often, organizations struggle with “either-or” choices that are really tensions to be managed rather than decisions to be made. Top-down or bottom-up? Integration or differentiation? Centralization or decentralization? All of these are poles to be balanced, rather than directions to choose from. Polarity management offers a great framework for complexity and risk management, as well as a nice process for identifying “triggers” indicating that one pole of being overemphasized at the cost of the other, and actions that can be taken to rebalance when that trigger is met.
  5. The Cable Model – Created by Hile Rutledge at OKA, the Cable Model is a complete and scalable tool for assessing and interpreting the challenges facing organizations, projects, and teams. The model consists of seven core elements – mission, structure, leadership, processes, people, money, and environment – contained within a defining shell, representing the eighth element of culture. There are lots of great models out there – I encountered the Cable Model before I came to OKA, and it was part of what brought me there. It is an essential framework for all my consulting and assessment work.
  6. Work Environment Scales (WES) – While not particularly well known, the WES is my tool of choice for gathering quantitative data in an organizational assessment quickly, easily, and at a low price point. It is ideal for organizations that rely on “data-driven” approaches (and when they say “data,” they mean numbers), and want to do an organizational snapshot, but don’t want to invest in a full scale culture survey. Ten scales assess a variety of workplace dynamics, looking at both what people perceive as the “Real Environment” (As Is), and what they would like in an “Ideal Environment” (To Be). (Organizations consistently agree more on what the Ideal should be than what the Real is, making this tool a GREAT way to both define and kick start a change effort – helps to agree on where we are going!)
  7. Tops-Middles-Bottoms – Lots of writing these days about better collaboration and integration across organizations – up and down and side to side. It’s good work, and, the realities – and even the benefits – of hierarchies are not going away anytime soon. The differences in perspectives between those leading at the top of an organization, those leading at the bottom, and those connecting the two make Barry Oshry’s classic “Seeing Systems” better than ever.
  8. Metaphor – The imagery and metaphors used in organizations often point to the unspoken assumptions and deep seated values that both help support success and hold the organization back. Is the organization described as a dysfunctional family or a firefighting troop? Are we running from tsunamis or playing in the kiddie pool? The objects, subjects, and scales of the metaphors used in an organization can quickly reveal the cultural dynamics that are at the heart of the organization.
  9. Leadership Spectrum Profile (LSP) – Another instrument that is less well known than it should be, the LSP is a tool I use in many strategic planning efforts because of its link between personal preferences and organizational life cycles. What are the most important priorities at different stages of an organization’s or product’s/project’s life cycle? Developed by Dr. Mary Lippitt, the LSP is a terrific bridge to connect leadership development and business realities.
  10. Livescribe Pulse Smartpen – This is a great piece of technology worth knowing about if you do a lot of interviews or focus groups as part of organization assessments. It’s a pen with a built in camera right above the ink and a microphone – when you record, the camera maps the audio to where your pen is physically writing on the special paper. When you synch the pen to the computer, you get digital copies of your printed page. Click anywhere on the page (or press the pen on the paper in Play mode), and you can hear what was being said when you were taking those notes. With the right permissions, this tool can save hours of analysis and keep things fresh for you over a longer project.

What are YOUR favorite OD tools?