Rethinking Organisational Development: Bridging the Gap Between Training and Real-world Application

Organisational Development (OD) initiatives have long been the backbone of fostering positive change within organisations, and now more than ever before, with a particular focus on leadership development. However, a comment made by a colleague in the field during a very insightful conversation highlights a critical issue: the practice of removing leaders from their natural context for training and then expecting seamless integration upon their return. I would like to highlight a few of my observations with conventional OD practises in this piece and look at some significant adjustments that have the potential to transform the discipline and its guiding ideas.

Contextual Learning

The isolation of leaders from their day-to-day work environment is one of the core challenges with traditional OD activities, particularly in leadership development. Removing leaders from their immediate environment and immersing them in training programmes frequently results in a disconnect between theory and practise. To address this, Worldsview Academy’s approach to OD initiatives has prioritised contextual learning, including practical challenges and scenarios in training programmes. We offer inhouse (a cohort of at least six delegates from the same organisation) programs that begin by contextualising leadership and understanding what leadership entails within that specific organisation. When it comes to public programs we make an effort to have at least two delegates from one organisation to keep the context relevant and improve local practice. Delegates gain problem-solving skills throughout the programme by addressing practical problems and challenges associated with their field of work. This approach ensures that leaders develop skills and insights directly applicable to their work environment. 

Experiential Learning

Learning by doing has proven to be one of the most effective methods for skill acquisition. Rather than relying solely on classroom-style training, our approach incorporates experiential learning opportunities by making use of case studies, or on-the-job projects that allow leaders to apply newly acquired knowledge. Most of our programs are designed in a way that allows reasonable time between sessions to allow the delegates to process the content reflect and apply the acquired knowledge in real life.

Continuous Learning and Development

The traditional OD model often follows a linear trajectory: leaders undergo a training program, return to their roles, and the process is considered complete. However, in a rapidly evolving business landscape, continuous learning is essential. Our belief is that an OD intervention is an ongoing process that offers leaders opportunities for continuous development, coaching, and mentorship. The last session of an OD initiative does not mark the end of the leadership journey; we offer our delegates ongoing support and build a community of practice to share experiences as well as new developments on relevant topics. This approach ensures that leaders remain adaptable and responsive to changing organisational needs.

Customisation and Personalisation

Leadership styles vary, and so do organisational cultures. A one-size-fits-all approach to OD interventions is no longer sufficient. Instead, programs should be customised to align with the specific needs, goals, and challenges of both the leaders and the organisation.  I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to understand the various leadership styles, communication styles, and different learning styles among delegates.  Personalised learning paths ensure that leaders acquire skills tailored to their roles and responsibilities, maximising the impact of OD interventions.

Measurement and Evaluation

To ensure the effectiveness of OD initiatives, it is crucial to implement robust measurement and evaluation mechanisms. So far this has proven to be the tricky bit of implementing OD interventions. Beyond traditional metrics like participant feedback, organisations should track the application of learned skills, changes in leadership behavior, and the overall impact on organisational performance. This data-driven approach allows for continuous improvement and adaptation of OD programs.

The comment from the OD colleague sparked a longstanding thought in reevaluating the traditional approaches to organisational development and training. By embracing contextual, experiential, and technology-driven learning methods, and by adopting a continuous and personalised approach, I believe that OD interventions can evolve to meet the dynamic challenges of the modern workplace. It’s time to bridge the gap between training and real-world application, ensuring that leaders not only learn but also seamlessly integrate their newfound skills into the fabric of their organisations.