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Organizational Diagnosis Approaches Comparison Essay


In the organization development (OD) literature, organizational diagnosis is often described as a process that assists organizations in augmenting their capacity not only in evaluating and changing dysfunctional elements of their culture and patterns of behaviour to develop greater effectiveness and ensure continuous improvement (Beer & Spector, 1993) but also in promoting increased understanding of the system by its members (Alderfer, 1980). The current paper assesses the benefits of using two models of organizational diagnosis, namely action research diagnostic approach, and systems approach, to spearhead OD. Additionally, the paper looks into some of the documented consequences of undertaking OD activities without first conducting a meticulous diagnosis of the existing situation.

Upon synthesizing the various definitions of OD, Waclawski and Church (2002) acknowledge that OD is essentially a data-driven process in that “diagnosis and intervention are based on some form of behaviorally relevant data (such as observations, assessments, and surveys) collected through a process known as action research” (p. 9). Similarly, as suggested by these authors, “the OD model represents a total systems approach to organizational change in which this change is a formal and planned response to targeted organization-wide issues, problems, and challenges” (p. 9). From these descriptions, it is evident that both action research diagnostic approaches and systems approach are fundamental in guiding OD processes and activities.

Conceptualized by Kurt Lewin in 1946, the concept of action research in OD domain involves systematically collecting qualitative or quantitative data on the issue or problem of interest, assessing and analyzing the collected data to develop fundamental themes and patterns regarding the issue or problem of interest, feeding back or synthesizing a synopsis and analysis of the data in some participative form and, eventually, deciding on what action to take based on the critical analysis of the data as well as the ensuing diagnosis of the situation (Waclawski & Church, 2002). The first benefit, therefore, is grounded on the fact that “the process of collecting data during organizational diagnosis can serve to motivate organizational members to learn about and participate in the change process” (Leadersphere, 2008 p. 2). This is made possible because action research is essentially a participatory process.

The second benefit is grounded on the premise that the systematic collection and analysis of data conducted in the action research diagnostic approach enables diagnosticians to determine gaps between current effectively and desired organizational performance and to develop strategies on how the desired objectives could be achieved (Hassin, 2010). Lastly, this approach allows diagnosticians to identify and deal with restraining forces to facilitate organizational change efforts (Alderfer, 1980).

In the systems approach, an “organization is conceptualized as a system or series of interdependent subsystems and individual components, such as people, technology, or processes, that operates as a collective entity in response to changes in and pressures from the external environment, such as competitors, customers, or government regulations” (Waclawski and Church, 2002 p. 12). Consequently, it can be argued that the systems approach is beneficial to OD not only because it assists organizational systems in responding to changes appearing in the external environment to remain effective, but also due to its emphasis on interactivity and interdependence of organizational components (e.g., people, processes, design, and culture) as organizations attempt to initiate change (Beer & Spector, 1993). In light of this acknowledgement, the systems approach assists diagnosticians to understand that effective change efforts reside not in any one independent element of the organization but rather at the interface between many elements, hence the need to direct adequate attention to the critical interactions occurring between the many constituents making up the organization (Hassin, 2010).

Additionally, change scholars, and practitioners argue that it is often difficult to change one component of the organization without affecting the others (Cummings & Worley, 2008). With this in mind, it can be argued that the systems approach to OD is beneficial since it provides diagnosticians with a clear framework for understanding that organizations are comprised of “complex collection of forces (for example, economic, social and technological), actors (customers, suppliers, and regulators) and behaviors (consumer and competitor” (Adcroft et al., 2008 p. 40). In guiding OD efforts, therefore, the systems approach not only simplifies complexity and clarifies organizational thinking about what has happened and what should happen next, but also provides explanations about the strategy that should be used to deal with the problem as well as the consequences of such a strategy to a multiplicity of external and internal stakeholders (Hassin, 2010).

Lastly, scholars agree that it is of immense importance to conduct a meticulous diagnosis of the problem or issue of concern before commencing OD initiatives (Beer & Spector, 1993; Hassin, 2010). Failure to conduct a thorough diagnosis, according to these authors, leads to (1) incapacity to understand the vital dynamics of a given problem, leading to lack of a proper framework that could be used to design appropriate organizational interventions, (2) incapacity to address the underlying problems that may be responsible for causing the presenting problems, (3) incapacity to motivate organizational members to shift their behaviours in ways that will likely lead to new patterns of behaviour, and (4) incapacity of the organization to uncover essential information about the future, leading to challenges in resolving problems and improving organizational functioning.

Overall, from the above exposition of facts, it can be concluded that there are far-reaching benefits concerned with employing the action research diagnostic approach as well as the systems approach in the process of spearheading OD.


Adcroft, A., Willis, R., & Hurst, J. (2008). A new model for managing change: The holistic View. Journal of Business Strategy, 29(1), 40-44.

Alderfer, C.P. (1980). The methodology of organizational diagnosis. Professional Psychology, 11(3), 459-468.

Beer, M., & Spector, B. (1993). Organizational diagnosis. Its role in organizational learning. Journal of Counseling & Development, 71(6), 642-650.

Cummings, T.G., & Worley, C.G. (2008). Organization development and change (9th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Hassin, A. (2010). Effective diagnosis in organization change management. Journal of Business Systems, Governance and Ethics, 5(2), 23-29.

Leadersphere. (2008). Organizational diagnostic models: A review and synthesis. Web.

Waclawski, J., & Church, A.H. (2002). Introduction and overview of organization development as a data-driven approach to organizational change. In J. Waclawski & A.H. Church (Eds.), Organization development: A data-driven approach to organizational change (pp. 3-26). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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