Internal or External; that is the question

Organizational Development is a planned, organization-wide change used to improve organizational health and effectiveness. It is a process that demands that senior management trust the practitioner in whose hands the project lays. The trust can come from an established relationship or from perceived expertise: internal or external consultants. In addition to the differences, there are commonalities in what defines success of any OD project, whether internal or external.

External Practitioners

External practitioners are most common in the field of organizational development. The most straight forward reason for this is you hire an external consultant on an as-needed basis. There are other benefits to hiring an external practitioner as well: expertise, flexibility, and independence. External consultants are considered experts in their field (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). Their primary function is to perform OD transformations for clients. With this external expertise, the organization is also buying the flexibility of cooperatively defining the terms and scope of the working relationship (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.).

An obvious challenge is that external practitioners must learn about the company “from scratch” (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). They are not familiar with the company’s culture, norms, and lingo. This distance makes it more challenging to sway employees toward the needed change. Adding to this challenge is the common problem facing many consultants – they often don’t act as business owners (Bergholz, 2000). The external practitioner is limited to the terms of the agreement or contract, even if the organization’s needs morph into new forms (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.).

Internal Practitioners

Although the overhead and strategic changes of creating an internal OD practitioner team is more involved, there are many benefits to developing an internal team of consultants. The most immediate is that internal teams can “talk the talk” of the organization. They are familiar with the culture, goals, and jargon of the organization. The perception of expertise of internal consultants comes from known working relationships and professional ties (Authenticity Consulting, n.d.). Harrison & Tarter (2007), who jointly wrote an article on high-performing internal practitioner teams, recommend that internal groups “live with those you seek to influence” (p. 189). Because internal practitioners have a long-term interest in the company, their focus extends beyond the immediate project. Being rooted in the organization can hold back a practitioner team as well.

Despite the conflicts in strategy and approach that can arise from either external or internal practitioners, there are consistent measures for success. Promised outcomes and results must be achieved on time and on budget. Success is also shown in the development of high quality relationships so the client will reach out again if they need help. Ultimately, a consultant, internal or external, wants their client to become more self-reliant in the handling of changes in their organizations.


Authenticity Consulting. (n.d. a). Comparison of internal and external consultants. Retrieved,

Bergholz, H. (2000). Equalateralists. Retrieved, from

Harrison, B., & Tarter, D. (2007). Building and sustaining a high performance internal O.D. practitioner team. Organization Development , 25 (2), 187-192.