Working Toward Sustainable Development: Consulting to the Eco-System

Stu Winby (Spring) and Sue Mohrman, Ph.D. (CEO)
May 2018

We argue that in order to address the contemporary challenges that organizations and societies are facing, the field of organization development (OD) requires frameworks and skills to focus on the eco-system as the level of analysis. In a world that has become economically, socially, and technologically highly connected, approaches that foster the optimization of specific actors in the eco-system, such as individual corporations, result in sub-optimization of the sustainability of the natural and social system because there is insufficient offset to the ego-centric purposes of the focal organization. We discuss the need for OD to broaden focus to deal with technological advances that enable new ways of organizing at the eco-system level, and to deal with the challenges to sustainable development. Case examples from healthcare and the agri-foods industry illustrate the kinds of development approaches that are required for the development of healthy eco-systems. We do not suggest fundamental changes in the identity of the field of organizational development. In fact, we demonstrate the need to dig deeply into the open systems and socio-technical roots of the field, and to translate the traditional values and approaches of organization development to continue to be relevant in today’s dynamic interdependent world.

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