On the eve of our Organization Development Network Conference, I am excited and reflecting on the question Dr. John L. Bennett, Ph.D and I asked of the Organization Development (OD) community in the throes of the global disruptions of the past 18 month: In an Era of Transformative and Traumatic Disruptions…What Can OD Bring? I expect to delve deeper into this question at the Conference but when we first asked it, we expected to curate one Organization Development Review journal issue from the responses. Instead, we curated two: one issue on Organization Development in Times of Disruption and another in Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Organization Development (forthcoming). I am sharing below our introduction to the first issues and a link to a sample article I co-authored with Richard Axelrod in Issue 1. If this peeks your interest and you are in Organization Development/Culture Transformation/Change Management/Strategic Human Resources/Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and related fields, it’s not too late to join us at the Organization Development Network Conference this week, and/or you can join our professional Network for access to member benefits such as the Organization Development Review.


This issue was born out of the desire to serve our field at this time of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity especially since the disruptive events of 2020. As a result, many old practices have become ineffective, much of what we think we know is challenged– how we do work, how organizations (and societies) configure, organize and adapt to new normals are all in the spotlight. Every day, we experience, see or learn more about global health threats, major economic upheavals, inequalities, injustice, flaws in human relations, racism, equity, and our hallmarks of governing. 

By disruption, we mean the interruption of the habitual or normal order of things (Holman, 2010). Disruptions such as the upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic and the revelation of the deep roots of systemic oppressions that it uncovered from health inequities to systemic racism to political manipulation to the upending of social and family norms has propelled us into the Grey Zone of Change (Gilpin-Jackson, 2020). We are in a space where the status quo is breaking down, there is complexity at the edge of chaos and the “new normal” has not yet arrived. In that space, we keep yearning for a return to normalcy or a new normal, where we can escape the dissonances, disturbances, trauma and disruptions and get as quickly as possible to the other side of a new order. Yet, as Organization Development (OD) scholars and practitioners, from our conceptual backpack, methodological tool kits, and applied behavioral science roots, we know that there are ways we can contribute to organizations and the world, in and through the transition. We know that in the space between disruption and emergence, there is great possibility for transformation and opportunities to intentionally design and create the conditions for a better world. So, we asked you to respond to the call: In an Era of Transformative and Traumatic Disruptions…What Can OD Bring?

Our purpose was simply to seek guidance from Organization Development scholars and practitioners to collectively ground us and shed light on the possibilities for the sustained impact and contribution of our field to an emerging world. This call was an attempt to help us as a field better see the system, sense the possibilities emerging, make meaning of the challenges we are collectively experiencing and amplify our contribution to the design of a better world that works for all (Oshry, 2007).

An unprecedented 50 of you responded to the call for abstract submissions. This signals the energy for contribution that we are offering our field and we commend each and every one of you. We encourage you to continue with your work and to continue finding ways to share it with others, whether your work is profiled here or not. As a result of the tremendous response, we decided to release two volumes of this special issue with a total of twenty-two articles. 

In this first issue, we highlight twelve articles that showcase the role of OD in Times of Disruption. In the second issue to be released in June 2021, there will be ten articles that speak to Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) in Organization Development. The articles in this issue journey through the role of OD in times of disruption from the lens of the whole and the parts of OD practice. We note that the JEDI issue also scales to our role in impacting the greater whole of societal issues within organizations and beyond.

Gilpin-Jackson and Axelrod chronicle the journey to initiate collaborative change in a Canadian public sector organization in the midst of a global pandemic. They provide a case study on the impact of high-engagement collaborative change. Godwin & Stavros explore the question: As organization development (OD) professionals, what is your personal operating system that guides you to make sense of and respond to others during the times we are living in – that is a world with increased uncertainty and virtual interactions? They define a personal operating system (OS) as the living synthesis of your experiences, assumptions, values, and beliefs about people, teams, organizations, and change (how you think) and habits of practice (how you act). Then, they propose a reconceptualization of Appreciative Inquiry as an intentional way to operate across any OD intervention in a way that aligns with the original humanistic values of OD. 

Next, Voss and Chender offer an initial model of how experiences might dislodge and reshape the self-concept using the elements of Awareness, Humility, and Will. Deep self-work may change how we feel about ourselves and others, which can support the creation of more equitable societal spaces. Eppehimer and Pintar show us how coupling the art and science behind improvisational theater with the tenants of effective leadership, OD professionals can support their client leaders not only to thrive in VUCA moments, but to transform fundamental relationships with themselves and their followers. They propose a YES, AND model to activate courageous mindfulness of improvisational leadership and productively engage their followers. Improvisational Leaders say yes to every gift offered by VUCA, directly face every fear, and calm the sense of chaos. Next, Ey introduces mental models and describes three mental models that leaders can use for crisis thinking and decision making in a VUCA world of work. Leadership crisis thinking can benefit from mental models as practical tools to help leaders become more cognitively attuned to the nuances of systems thinking for a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) work environment. Where quick decisions are needed in dynamic environments, the most successful leaders and decision makers are insightful—with the cognitive flexibility to reconfigure mental models to suit new and changing conditions. Together Ey and Berka contend that the ability to create an agile organization necessitates Adaptive Critical Thinking (ACT). Flexibility, speed, and strategic assimilation of new information are required as these situations unfold. OD as a field and practice can embrace Adaptive Critical Thinking to prepare leaders to navigate the current and likely future VUCA world. 

Next, Ong explores how and if we can teach children dialogic organizational development (OD) skills and mindset so that they become the future generation of leaders and change agents who are adept at using OD practices. Bringing her experience as an elementary school teacher, Ong has explored dialogic pedagogy as a vehicle to introduce young children to a dialogic way of thinking that will serve as a foundation upon which a dialogic organizational mindset can be built. The author will suggest how those outside the education world can influence a shift in educational pedagogy and so influence institutions and the world of the future. Gigliotti and Wear suggest that internal organization development offices, scholars, and practitioners have an important role to play in helping organizations and their leaders in navigating the ambiguity, complexity, and disruption posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and in helping them repair, recover, and reinvent for a post-pandemic future that remains unclear. This article provides an overview of two internal organization development offices—one in Australia and one in the United States—and the ways in which these offices have evolved to best meet the short-term and long-term needs of university colleagues. Then, Rogers, O’Brien, Harkins, Mitchell and O’Neil suggest that talent development practices face new challenges as the world reckons with our altered COVID-19 pandemic reality. They consider how changes in work environments are affecting employees and organization performance, examine how recruitment, training, onboarding, and developing talent present complex challenges that must be addressed for sustainability, and consider how talent development principles can enhance OD practices. 

Next, Berthoud presents three examples of transition to online OD, then identifies common client conditions and OD adaptations, including facilitation in virtual space, that addressed upheaval to clients and students, uneven participant capacity, and the blurred separation between professional and personal life. Berthoud concludes with a discussion of practitioner preparation and stance necessary for any new environment, including the virtual. Then, Szelwach and Matthew remind us that virtual teams existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; yet organizations may have taken them for granted by assuming that employees could easily adapt to virtual work if needed. They share key observations about virtual teamwork during the COVID-19 pandemic, generated through interviews with experienced virtual team leaders from diverse backgrounds and industries. They discuss how OD scholar-practitioners can improve virtual team effectiveness and encourage organizations and their employees to embrace this way of working through becoming more present, embodied, and connected. Finally, McCulloch sounds a clarion call for OD practitioners to consider radical transformation. We must cultivate and deepen somatic intelligence for embodied use of Self (UoS). In an era of transformative and traumatic disruptions, developing a centered presence is fundamental—a powerful presence invites connection. The upheaval of 2020 resulted in a universal legacy of contraction, an internal shaping that fuels our reactive Self. Mastery in maintaining equanimity under pressure grows. The most efficacious UoS is for social coherence. Holding our common humanity with dignity is essential.

We hope that the articles in this issue contribute to your scholarship and practice and that collectively we will continue to powerfully share the impact of OD in these times of disruption.