Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Archive for September, 2012

The Theorists – Edgar H. Schein

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organization Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Edgar Schein in Brief

Edgar H. Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, is one of the most well known theorists working with organizational culture and is credited with inventing the term ‘corporate culture’.

Schein investigates organizational culture, process consultation, research process, career dynamics, and organization learning and change.  His work shows how individuals can diagnose their own career needs and how managers can diagnose the future of jobs. His research on culture shows how national, organizational, and occupational cultures influence organizational performance and he has also analyized how consultants work on problems in human systems and the dynamics of the helping process.

Schein defined culture as:

“A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems”.

Schein developed a model to explain the basic elements of cultures. The model can be used to analyse all kinds of cultures including corporate and national culture and presumes that cultures can be explained and understood by looking at the core values and assumptions of a given culture. Core values will shape the visible elements, defined as espoused values and artifacts within cultures such as behaviours, expected behaviours, dress codes etc.

Edgar Schein – Life and Times

Edgar Schein distinguished himself with degrees from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago before he developed an impressive body of work in the field of organizational management.

  • 1928 – Born in Zurich
  • 1949 – Awarded Master’s Degree, Psychology, Standford University
  • 1952 – Awarded Ph.D Social Psychology Harvard University
  • 1959 – Publishes Brainwashing and Totalitarianzation in Modern Society
  • 1969 – Publishes Process Consultation
  • 1980 – Publishes Organizational Psychology
  • 1985 – Publishes Organizational Culture and Leadership
  • 1999 – Publishes Process Consultation Revisited
  • 2000 – Awarded Life Time Achievement in Workplace Learning and Performance of the American Society of Training and Development
  • 2005 – Publishes Procesadvisering
  • 2012 – Publishes Cross-Cultural Management Textbook

Key Contributions

Schein presented key words and provided guideposts to leaders and managers through his writing, teaching and published research. His key words, as well as the theories and research behind them, remain important to students of management and executives of major businesses. Schein took an active role in the organization of major businesses where he was able to prove his theories and models.

Schein’s Corporate Culture model enables leaders to be able to understand cultural elements, and analyse the relationship between deep-rooted assumptions and common business practices within the company. Likewise, leaders can try to change the basic assumptions of a given culture, and hence maybe improve the effectiveness of the company. The latter can therefore be seen as a cultural change process, where basic assumptions are sought changed to fit the wanted espoused values and artifacts of a company.

Schein’s career anchors model is one of the most well-known and enduring career management concepts.


The Theorists – Rensis Likert

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organization Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Rensis Likert in Brief

Likert maintained throughout his life an energetic appreciation of Engineering, sociology, psychology, ethics, and statistics concepts. Curiosity about how things worked and how to fix them when they did not coupled with an innate talent for structures and measurements revealed themselves in his quantitative and pragmatic approaches to social problems and social measurements.

During the course of his doctoral research, he developed what soon became the famous Likert scale which has been adopted throughout the world,

Likert started the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization. ISR developed and published many innovations in statistical methods and applications. These included scientific probability methods of sampling from the country level on down to the household and personal levels, sound methods of controls for responses and nonresponses, improved questionnaire and coding methods, machine computations, and deeper methods of analysis and presentation of results.  For 60 years, social scientists have trained there to develop new research methodology.

Likert’s principal research interests and his collaborative efforts with many researchers, especially Robert Kahn, Daniel Katz, Floyd Mann, and Stanley Seashore developed in the area of participative management. The central principles of his System 4 are;

  1. Supportive relationships between organizational members;
  2. Multiple overlapping structures, with groups consisting of superiors and their subordinates;
  3. Group problem solving by consensus within groups
  4. Overlapping memberships between groups by members who serve as “linking pins.

Rensis Likert – Life and Times

  • 1903 – Likert was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • 1922 – Likert entered the University of Michigan, concentrating on civil engineering until he took a course in sociology.
  • 1926 – Transferred in his senior year from the college of engineering and took his bachelor’s degree in sociology
  • 1932 – Took PhD at Columbia University Department of Psychology, moving from traditional fields of psychology to the new social psychology.
  • 1938 – The Likert Scale appears in publication Public Opinion and the Individual
  • 1939 – Appointed Director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Division of Program Surveys
  • 1941 – Scope of Likert’s division expands to a general sample survey organization
  • 1946 – Receives the Medal of Freedom for his leadership of strategic bombing surveys, leaves Washington to set up the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan
  • 1953 – Became Vice President of the American Statistical Association
  • 1955 – Became President of the ASA
  • 1961 – Published New Patterns of Management
  • 1967 – Published The Human Organization: Its Management and Value
  • 1976 – Published New Ways of Managing conflict
  • 1970 – Retired from University of Michigan and set up Rensis Likert Associates

Key Contributions

  1. Likert Scale
  2. System 4 – Participative Management Principles
  3. Social Science Research Methods
  4. Organizational Survey
  5. Change Theories

Likert’s goal was to make the world better.  His initiative, enterprise, and unending energies was backed by a youthful belief that the sciences of human behaviour could be developed to make unique and vital contributions to that goal.

The Theorists – Kurt Lewin

There are a number of individuals who throughout the history and emergence of Organisation Development have made a significant contribution to both the academic theory and practice of the field of OD.

Kurt Lewin 1890 – 1947


Kurt Lewin – In Brief

Kurt Lewin, author of over 80 articles and eight books on a wide range of issues in psychology is recognised as the founding father of modern social psychology.  He was a seminal theorist who deepened the understanding of groups, experiential learning, and action research.   Through his pioneering use of

of theory and using experimentation to test hypothesis he contributed an everlasting significance on an entire discipline–group dynamics and action research.

Lewin is well known for his term “life space” and was committed to applying psychology to the problems of society led to the development of the M.I.T. Research Center for Group Dynamics where six major program areas were developed;

  • Group productivity: why was it that groups are so ineffective in getting things done?
  • Communication: how influence is spread throughout a group.
  • Social perception: how a person’s group affected the way they perceived social events.
  • Intergroup relations.
  • Group membership: how individuals adjust to these conditions.
  • training leaders: improving the functioning of groups (T-groups).

Believing in the field approach, Lewin proposed that for change to take place, the total situation has to be taken into account arguing that if only isolated facts are used, a misrepresented picture could develop.

Kurt Lewin – Life and Times

  • 1890 – Born  in the village of Moglino in the Prussian province of Posen
  • 1909 – Entered University of Frieberg to Study Medicine, transferring to the University of Munich to study biology
  • 1914 – Completed his requirements for a Ph.D.
  • 1916 – Conferred his degree from the University of Berlin
  • 1921 – Joined the Psychological Institute of the University of Berlin – where he was to lecture and offer seminars in both philosophy and psychology
  • 1930 – Spent six months as a visiting professor at Stanford
  • 1933 – Emigrated to the United States  working at the Cornell School of Home Economics
  • 1935 – Moved to University of Iowa published his first collection of papers in English – A Dynamic Theory of Personality and developed his interest in social processes
  • 1940 – Became a US citizen and became involved in various applied research initiatives linked to the war effort
  • 1944 – Founded he Research Center for Group Dynamics at MIT.
  • 1946 – Notion of T-groups emerged
  • 1947 – Set up the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine.  However, Lewin died of a heart attack in Newtonville, Mass. on February 11, 1947, before the Laboratories were established.

Key Contributions

  1. Action Research Theory
  2. Change Theories – Planned Change
  3. Group Dynamics
  4. Field Theory
  5. Experiential Learning
  6. T-Groups

Lewin made defining contributions to a number of fields. He had a major impact on group theory and how to work with groups.  A pioneer of action research he demonstrated the use of controlled experimentation to explore complex social phenomenon and he helped to move social psychology into a more rounded understanding of behaviour.

The consistent theme in all Kurt Lewin’s work was the integration of theory and practice.  65 years after his death it is a lesson that Lewin can still teach Organisation Development Practitioners.

OD Theory – Field Theory

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioners must understand to build on their theoretical foundation for practice.  Good grounding in theory is essential for every OD practitioner.  The better you understand the theory, the better you will understand the complex and intricate nature of the OD process and OD tool kit.

Field Theory in Brief

Developed by Lewin, Field theory is an social science approach which explores the social environment as a dynamic field that impacts individual action and consciousness in interactive way.  By changing elements of the social environment, and in the case of OD, the organisational environment, the individual experiences particular types of psychological forces.  But the relationship is not all one way.  Field Theory also argues that the psychological state of an individual influences the environment that they inhabit.

Therefore the individual and the organisation coexist and are mutually interdependent and the behaviour of an individual is related both to an individual’s personal characteristics and to the social situation in which they find themselves.

According to field theory, if change is to take place, the organisation as a whole has to be taken into account.  If only part of the organisation is considered, only a partial picture of what is really happening within the organisation is likely to develop.

By changing one part of the organisation the intervention will affect another part of the organisation as by product of the changes that have been made.  Changes involve an interaction between the field and the state of other organisational elements.  The field effect involves a ‘force’ will transfer the energy of change in one area to other areas of the organisation.

Key Points

  • The employee and the organisation are interdependent
  • Behaviour is a product of both person and their environment
  • Both the individual and the organisation are important in determining the outcome of any OD intervention
  • It seeks to explain why change occurs in the states of some parts of the organisation that are not the focus of a change effort
  • The organisational environment (the field) is organised and its responses to change are not random.
  • The field itself is not measurable therefore its effects can only be measured by the outcomes.

Applying Field Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Be aware that your presence and behaviour causes a disturbance in the field and make sure your involvement has a positive impact.
  2. Your diagnostic analysis should focus on the organisation as a whole from which are differentiated the component parts
  3. Ensure that your intervention design is holistic
  4. Build into your design what other elements within the organisation will change as a consequence of the intervention – remember your intervention does no occur in a vacuum.
  5. Utilise the ‘force’ in the organisation in developing your intervention, keep in mind how a small change in one area can have a ripple effect that will move the change process forward positively in other area and help ensure change is sticky.
  6. In evaluating your intervention ensure that you focus on the organisation as whole to monitor unexpected changes in state.
  7. Align the goals of the intervention with the wider organisational goals to ensure that there is congruence between the intervention and the directional forces within the organisation.
  8. Network and onboard individuals from all parts of the organisation into the OD intervention to create a disturbance in the force throughout the organisation.