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Organizational Development Theories


Today, in the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that organizations and their internal and external environments are in a state of constant change due to a multiplicity of factors including globalization, evolving technological trends, and wavering markets (Lyons, Jordan, Faas, & Swindler, 2011).

This preoccupation with change has necessitated researchers and practitioners to use available organizational development theories to develop strategies and methodologies aimed at supporting ongoing change efforts and enhancing the effectiveness of firms in the competitive business arena (Cummings & Worley, 2009). The present paper not only discusses the shifting roles, requirements, and demands of contemporary organizations but also illuminates several organizational development theories commonly used in supporting organizations to change.

Shifting Roles, Requirements, and Demands

Within the organizational development context, it is evident that the effects of globalization, evolving technological inventions, and shifts in human resource practices are playing a significant role in forcing contemporary organizations to implement continuous changes in order to remain competitive in the harsh business environment.

Today, the role of organizations as purely profit-seeking enterprises is increasingly changing in the face of social and environmental concerns that demand businesses to be socially responsible and environmentally friendly. Indeed, available literature demonstrates that increased globalization and advancing technologies are forcing organizational managers to invest in socially responsible programs and implement environmentally friendly policies or risk the wrath of customers and regulatory agencies (Lyons et al., 2011).

Additionally, owing to shifting customer expectations and demands, managers are increasingly forced to change processes and procedures with the view to advancing organizational renewal and promoting the organization’s competitiveness. It is also important to note that the wavering markets and omnipresent competition witnessed in contemporary business environments are increasing the demand for managers to change the operations, processes, and culture of organizations with the view to maintaining a competitive edge over other players (Lyons et al., 2011). Lastly, new human resource practices and employee engagement procedures are increasing the demand for managers to change how enterprises operate with the view to ensuring the health and wellbeing of organizations and their employees (Lynham, Chermack, & Noggle, 2004).

Theories supporting Organizational Development

Although organizational development has been defined differentially in the available literature, this paper defines the concept as any “effort that is planned, organization-wide, and managed from the top to increase organization effectiveness and health through planned interventions in the organization’s processes using behavioral-science knowledge” (McLean, 2005, p. 9).

Managers can use available organizational development theories to develop interventions that could be used to deal with the shifting roles, requirements, and demands of organizations. For example, Bridge’s Transition Theory defines three zones of personal transition (an ending, a neutral, and a new beginning) and can be effectively used to inform human resource professionals on how employees are likely to cope with the intended changes, or how they can align employee performance with their coping mechanisms (Cummings & Worley, 2009; Lynham et al., 2004).

Bernoulli’s Expectancy Theory has found widespread usage in organizational development literature, particularly in explaining “the importance of the value that individuals assign to organizational decisions based on potential individual outcomes” (Lynham et al., 2004, p. 163). Consequently, this theory can assist organizational development practitioners and change managers in articulating the impact that a particular change effort may have on employees, customers, and the organization.

The Team-Building Theory contains a multiplicity of theories and perspectives that continue to be used by organizational development professionals to not only explain a range of activities that assist groups and teams in improving on how they comprehend activities and make decisions but also to illuminate the various methodologies and strategies used to enhance the effectiveness of groups and teams within an organization (Lynham et al., 2004; McLean, 2005).

Another important theory in organizational development research is the Game Theory, which “describes and explains decision-making processes that involve multiple people in terms of social interaction” (Lynham et al., 2004, p. 166). These authors indicate that the Game Theory can be of immense importance in assisting organizational development practitioners and human resource professionals to not only understand the autonomy and interaction of employees or processes but also to develop the capacity to evaluate possible results of decisions and actions made by individuals through a conscious, interdisciplinary methodology. Other theories that support the organizational development literature, according to Lynham et al. (2004), include Skinner’s positive reinforcement theory, organizational learning theory, open systems theory, human capital theory, group process consultation, and the theory of communication.


Overall, it has been reported that amplified globalization, advanced technologies, uncertain markets, and a multiplicity of other factors have led managers to increasingly assume the role of change agents, particularly in developing and implementing change efforts intended to ensure the survival and competitiveness of their respective organizations.

Consequently, it is safe to assume that the managerial profession of the future will entail assuming more proactive approaches and highly individualized strategies aimed at dealing with risky decisions arising from the globalized economic outlook. Adequate knowledge and expertise of organizational development theories will, therefore, be instrumental in assisting future managers in developing and implementing proactive changes aimed at solving arising challenges occasioned by increased globalization and improving the health of contemporary firms and employees.


Cummings, T.G., & Worley, C.G. (2009). Organization development and change. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.

Lynham, S.A., Chermack, T.J., & Noggle, M.A. (2004). Selecting organization development theory from an HRD perspective. Human Resource Development Review, 3(2), 151-172.

Lyons, J.B., Jordan, J., Faas, P., & Swindler, S. (2011). Organizational development goes digital: Applying simulation to organizational change. Journal of Change Management, 11(2), 207-221.

McLean, G.N. (2005). Organization development principles, processes, performance. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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