Building OD capability

Grow OD

In July 2013 our OD community came together for the first OD in the NHS Conference. We asked the room to help us shape our priorities for the coming year, ranking and shaping where we should put our energy. OD capability was near the top of the list.  In November 2013, Carolyn Norgate (Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust) and Julia Petherbridge (Thames Valley & Wessex Leadership Academy) offered to lead a piece of work to explore OD capability in more detail which began the first cycle of learning. 

Follow the development of the project as we work on this important priority.

  1. Phase one: a safe space to stay sharp
  2. Phase two: OD capability project, reporting our findings 
  3. Phase three: the 3P model - latest update

Phase one

The capability group met many times in 2013, supported by James Traeger of Mayvin. The group agreed a process of action learning and cooperative inquiry. They looked at three aspects of OD capability:

  • credibility and confidence
  • core Skills and development
  • branding OD.

Developing the OD workforce: our journey shares the data gathered during the inquiry process, which is available to download.

The group made two recommendations. 

  1. That we needed to inquire further into this issue of capability and broaden our scope of research to include wider representation of the OD community.  
  2. They recommended that everyone needs their own 'safe space to stay sharp' – whether that be a network or a mentor, a course or a coach, OD practitioners should reflect on where their safe spaces are and how they are using them to sharpen their practice.

Carolyn Norgate and James Traeger took this work one step further. They wrote an account of practice which has now been published in the Action Learning: Research and Practice journal. This is the first piece of Do OD work to be formally published and we are delighted to have supported it.

We asked Carolyn and James to share their experience of writing for an academic publication.

“Last summer we finished the first piece of research for Do OD on building OD capacity in the NHS.  After we’d shared this in a few places, including the 2014 OD in the NHS conference, we were invited to write it up for the Action Learning: Research & Practice journal.  

"The article explores the meeting point between action learning and action research as a way of doing capacity building in organisational development in the NHS.

"We started this in January and the final submission was in May. This was a great thing to do but don’t underestimate the amount of back and forth it involved. So if you’re going down this road be prepared for some ongoing work and short deadlines. It is worth the effort. The feeling of pride to know your work is contributing to the wider field of knowledge is brilliant and exactly what the NHS OD community should be doing."

Read Carolyn's and James work, The Action Learning: Research & Practice.

Phase two

Our second cycle of research (April to June 2015), used the capabillity group’s recommendations as a springboard. Christina Quinn, director of leadership at the South West Leadership Academy, along with colleagues in Kent Surrey and Sussex and Thames Valley and Wessex, joined forces to sponsor a three month project led by Kathryn Winterburn from the Yorkshire and Humber Leadership Academy.

Kathryn posed the question “how can we better support the OD community to build their confidence and capability?”.  The three month inquiry included interviews, focus groups and an online survey which generated over 100 pages of data to be analysed.

Kathryn’s report, Organisational Development capability project: reporting our findings sets out demographic data about the OD community and illustrates the challenges and opportunities faced in the practice of OD. The report highlighted a series of paradoxes that OD practitioners are often wrestling with.

  • Is OD a mindset or a toolkit?
  • Is it short term operational fixes or long term strategic change?
  • Are we aiming for certainty or ambiguity?
  • Does the power of OD lie in behind the scenes transformational conversations or visible transactional activity?

A key recommendation from the report is that the OD community has the opportunity to make sense of the data to diagnose itself and to work with us to identify solutions and interventions that might help to build confidence and capability.  

Phase three

Since publishing our OD Capability Report in July 2015 we’ve been gathering feedback on the findings in lots of different ways. Thank you to those who shared their views via SurveyMonkey, the OD conference, in the OD networks we visited and through the LDPs. All these conversations generated lots of rich, useful feedback about the findings.

We took the data back to our newly refreshed OD Capability working group on 15 September. The group analysed the feedback and pulled out three bundles of themes, these were:

  • the reasons we do OD (our impact, coherence and clarity) 
  • where we show up in the organisation (our power, profile and positioning)
  • how we do OD (our competence, confidence and identity).

We worked on some models and words that would best summarise those three themes to describe our OD capability in terms of our purpose, presence and our practice. We have also tested the model with different groups of OD practitioners who fed back that it resonated and made sense to them.

We’d now like to take it wider and get your views on it. You can download a PDF summary of our thinking which includes our draft model. This is just a version one framework at the moment and needs to be polished, but we’d like your views on it before we go develop it further.  

Please take a look at the '3P model' and tell us:

  • does it make sense?
  • does it reflect the themes in the feedback?
  • does it offer an opportunity to have a generative conversation about capability?

Please email your thoughts to

We would like to thank Carolyn, Julia, Kathryn, Christina and everyone who has been involved in this work so far. We’ll be in touch again with an update very soon.

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