No Image Available

Stephen Walker

Read more from Stephen Walker

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Training and organisation development


To wrap up OD month on TrainingZone, Stephen Walker explores the issues that make organisation development such a diverse and interesting field.


The demands of people involved in organisational development (OD) are huge. It is an extremely complex field which needs a variety of support from both trainers and consultants. This article maps the main areas and should allow a better decision to be made when addressing OD issues.

"The bloom of success becomes the bitter seed of failure if the same methods are used to manage across the organisation."

Crises of growth

Larry Greiner’s article appeared in 1972 and is reviewed here (Crises of Growth). In summary he said that at each stage of growth of an organisation there needs to be a different skill set used to manage the organisation. More than that he said the present skill set would be the downfall of an expanded organisation and lead to it performing poorly. The bloom of success becomes the bitter seed of failure if the same methods are used to manage across the organisation.

OD people need to recognise this and develop new skills to continue to drive success.

Sports coaches

Sports coaches offer another experimental arena. Sports coaches are brought in to resolve a lacklustre performance on the basis of what they have just achieved.

Often their initial success with the team is good. But in time, as the situation changes, the coaches need other skills. If they do not have the other skills or don’t see the need for change they quickly lose favour as the team’s performance declines.


Similarly Executives faced with a situation might reach for a “tried and trusted solution”. Unfortunately the efficacy of the trusted solution depends on the present situation as much as the solution itself.

Many, working in a large organisation, will know the joy of multiple change programmes. Each one attempts to put right what the last one failed to achieve.

The OD catalyst

As trainers and coaches we need to create multi-skilled, flexible organisations with leaders who know how to let their people innovate: how to evolve the organisation into the best match to tomorrow.

These multi-skilled managers need good situational analysis skills. They need to be able to discern one scenario from another to be able to make the right decision about what is needed.

Not only do they need the ability to analyse the situation they need a toolkit of solutions from which to choose.

Sometimes this may mean that the OD project is not led by the senior person. It is difficult for one person to have a complete toolkit. There are too many conflicting personal attributes needed to cover every tool in the kit.

Managing by delegating to the most suitably skilled person is in itself a skill and has demands on the organisation’s structure and particularly on its culture.

Flexible organisations need to have good information flow. The information needs to flow horizontally between departments and functions. That information should be on a largely unrestricted platform. The application of "needs to know" thinking on information access is an excellent way of maintaining the status quo.

A flexible organisation needs a different structure. In fact "structure" is a bad term for what is needed. A "cloud" is what is needed. Departments and functions dip into the cloud to borrow people and resources to do what they need to do today.

Organisation culture comes to the fore again. Is the person who is lent out to other departments one of your best people or one of the worst?

If the organisation needs a cloud structure the best people should be the most flexible to deliver benefit to the individual, the function and the organisation.

If the cloud structure can be made sustainable, which implies a degree of surplus resource at some times, then resources are available to innovate. Every organisation should be looking to innovate. Simply that means giving people time to think about what can and should be improved. The cloud can provide this innovation time by better utilising existing resources.

Unfortunately in today’s operating conditions with public budget constraints and private business’s difficulties, the notion of surplus resources is a hard sell. Yet this is precisely the time we need to be developing our organisations with all the innovation we can muster.

To make the cloud structure truly effective requires three skills.

  1. Failure tolerance: The organisation must show tolerance to failure. Innovation requires experiment, is the result of experiment. Most experiments will yield information and insight but fail to deliver a “better way”. The key is to make the experiments fast.
  2. "Light touch" management. To let people innovate requires a “light touch” management style. So many good ideas do not see the light of day for fear of being labelled stupid. Tolerate failure and explore the absurd, just do it quickly and don’t pursue failing innovations too far. Don’t involve people’s pride in their failed idea.
  3. Motivation management. The motivation for people to step outside their routine and offer up ideas is the key. Why should someone put themselves in some discomfort to help their employer’s performance? The management of motivation is an essential skill in any change programme. When you are introducing new ways of behaving, innovating, why people would behave in that way is of the utmost importance.

What is it like?

First of all it seems like the managers are letting go of control. But what is needed is a lighter, more sympathetic touch. The failure tolerance, floating resources and permission to innovate characteristics all strike at the core of "command and control" management systems and managers.

To work in such an environment is invigorating. Work is exciting, your contribution is recognised and you are interested in what you are trying to achieve today.

For the organisation the benefits are clear. Get it right and the performance improvement is massive: both in capacity and in the fit to the market’s needs.


We hear a lot about the poor performance of the world economy and in that, the UK. If we are able to boost performance per person we will improve the lives of people.

You should be aware the Indians and Chinese are already looking at these innovations to drive up their performance. So standing still is not an option.

As trainers and coaches we need to deliver abilities based on the needs of the organisation today, bearing in mind the changes needed due to growth (or contraction) and their journey toward an innovation culture.

We all need to feel part of the success that is waiting for us. Anyone at Number Ten reading this I wonder?



Stephen Walker is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop the management of motivation to inspire greater performance. He has worked for notable organizations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. You can follow Stephen on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blog.



Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!