Integration and Differentiation

As an undergraduate at Rutgers in the early Seventies, one of my first texts in the field of Organization Development was The Handbook of Organization Development in Schools by Richard A. Schmuck and Philip J. Runkel, published in 1972. It has served me well ever since as I have pursued my career.

In their book, Schmuck and Runkel start off by looking at organizations as living systems. Each system, such as a school, is comprised of many interacting subsystems. The organization operates within an environment that sets the context, as well as the conditions that the organization must adapt to if it is to succeed and survive.

They then go on to further explore the notion of adaptability. Adaptability in organizations consists of several aspects such as receptiveness to the environment, responsiveness among subsystems, and effective use of its own resources. But Schmuck and Runkel drill even deeper to the inter-related concepts of Differentiation and Integration:

Differentiation is the ability of an organization to have differing responses to differing environmental demands. Subsystems within an organzation will often have differing goals.

Integration is the ability of an organization to collaboratively bring differing subsystems together to defeat a common enemy, achieve higher goals, and find unified solutions.

As a student, this resonated with me and still does to this day. It strikes me as the yin and yang of OD.

When the need is to come together, to align, to merge, OD should help the client with converging.

When the need is to move apart, to hold separate, to find a new and different way, OD should help the client with diverging.

Differentiation is the diverging aspect. Integration is the converging aspect. Together they add up to adaptability.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 03/21/2006

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