Dialogic OD: The next step in the evolution of organizational change theories


Dialogic OD: The next step in the evolution of organizational change theories

Dialogic OD: The next step in the evolution of organizational change theories

By Dr. Nancy Zentis

The Dialogic system perspective introduces new ways of thinking by engaging with the ongoing organizational conversations that continuously create, re-create, and frame understanding and action.

Diagnostic OD strives in a change driven process by diagnosing how to objectively align organizational elements with the demands of a broader environment.  This diagnostic OD approach is widely suggested by open systems theory.

Core Dialogic Assumptions:

Organizations and organizational behavior are socially created realities resulting from the ongoing interactions of its members, stakeholders, and others.  The process of inquiry, reflective and generative inquiry, can disrupt the status quo. This disruption helps to create new awareness, new knowledge and ideas that can potentially transform the organization.

Change happens when there are significant changes in language, conversations, and communication patterns that encourage the emergence of new ideas and possibilities because human interactions can produce unexpected results.

The Dialogic OD consultant collaborates with members of the organization and becomes part of the ongoing planning activities that reshape and transform the organization.  They become a part of the system.

How it works:

Diagnostic OD drives the change process by determining how to objectively align organizational elements with the demands of a broader environment that:

  • Disrupts habits and embedded meanings so that something new and better can emerge
  • Brings increased diversity into conversations so that creativity and innovation are heightened
  • Energizes networks of motivated people to propose and try small experiments that, if successful, can be leveraged into transformational changes

When to use it:

  • When current approaches trap an organization and its leaders in repetitive but futile responses
  • When there is little agreement about what’s happening
  • When there are no known solutions or remedies available to address the situation

Why it works:

  • Fosters generativity to develop new possibilities
  • Alters the prevailing narratives and stories that limit new thinking (i.e., problem solving)
  • Works with the self-organizing complex systems
  • Offers a viable alternative to creating a vision, planning a path, and implementing through action teams practice of organizational change
  • Is better able to meet some of the challenging complexities of 21st century organizing

Diagnostic OD vs. Dialogic OD

Diagnostic ODDialogic OD
OntologyPositive Objective RealityInterpretative, Constructionist, Social Reality
OrganizationsOpen SystemsDialogic Networks
EmphasisBehavior and ResultsDiscourse and Generativity
ChangePlanned, Episodic, more developmentalEmergent, Continuous, Iterative, more transformational
ConsultantsStay apartAre immersed
Change ProcessHierarchical – top-downHeterarchical, start anywhere, spread out

Some Dialogic OD Techniques:

Appreciative Inquiry – Cooperrider

Dynamic Facilitation – Rough

Future Search – Weisbord

Intergroup Dialogue – Nagada, Gurin

Open Space – Owen

Organizational Learning Conversations – Bushe

Polarity Management – Johnson

Preferred Futuring – Lippitt

Six Conversations – Block

Talking Stick – Preindustral

Whole Systems Change – Dannemiller

World Café – Brown and Issacs

Dialogic OD practitioners believe that dialogic processes are the most effective way to deal with change and complex challenges.  During the entry process the Dialogic OD Practitioner works with the sponsor to identify what needs to change and why, and who needs to be involved in the change process. They may involve the stakeholders in planning the change event, if the change involves a complex issue.

Like Diagnostic OD, Dialogic OD involves both structured interventions (Action Research) and experiential interventions (Process Consultation).  Structured Dialogic OD involves one or more planned events designed to develop relationships to create effective interpersonal communication, creativity and engagement.  OD Practitioners partner with leaders to observe behaviors and help them learn and cultivate ideas that lead the organization to achieve their desired direction.

Unstructured OD is less rigid. The OD Practitioner helps cultivate the dialogic mindset by helping them become aware of and take more control over the processes that are shaping the group’s effectiveness.  They help them to observe the group’s process and how it impacts individuals.  For instance, how the group recognizes others, acknowledges suggestions, and how inclusive or exclusive they are with a diverse group.  When groups become more aware of how they interact with one another and individuals react when feeling exclusion or unfairness, groups tend to self organize in new and different ways.  There is now a structured event used to shift from a current state to a desired future state.

In conclusion, dialogic and diagnostic OD are similar.  One uses a structured process and the other is more unstructured, with both styles utilizing techniques to create opportunities to achieve sustainable change.


The Dialogic Organization Development Approach to Transformation and Change, Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak.

My Journey into Dialogic OD, Robert J. Marshak.

Dialogic OD, Patricia Dammann and Martha Panagua, May 2016, IOD 6th Conference.

IOD offers online Organization Development Certification Programs to help participants gain skills to advance in their career in the field of OD.  If you are new to OD, you will benefit from the OD Process Consulting Certification Program (ODPC).  If you have been in the field for several years but lack formal OD training, the Organization Development Certification Program (ODCP) will provide you with the tools and skills needed to advance in the field of OD.

IOD’s OD Certification Programs are offered online over 8 months, meeting 3 hours per month.  Each session is delivered through Go-to-training.  Our expert faculty provide interactive discussions, examples, tools, guidelines, and resources to enrich your learning experience.


This certification program provided me with the resources and tools I needed to practice OD.  The structure and process helped me to be more confident and focus on helping the client achieve their goals.

The practical experience I learned during this program gave me the confidence to support organization change management initiatives.  I used the skills to transfer my knowledge immediately after each session.


Dr. Nancy Zentis is the CEO of Institute of OD, offering online certification programs for those interested in Organization Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and OD Advanced Skills courses for ongoing learning.  She can be reached at info@instituteod.com.  For more information about our certification programs and short courses, please visit our website www.instituteod.com.


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