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Posts tagged ‘Action Research Theory’

A Humanistic Approach to Change

Organization Development has developed from a mixture of human resource and organizational behaviour research and theory.  For many OD may appear to be a new trend, but it has been around since the early part of the 20th Century when the Hawthorne experiments began in 1927 which took a scientific approach to restructuring the organizational environment to improve organizational efficiency.

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Despite efforts to improve work performance through systems, processes and technology there was a failure to improve efficiency and effectiveness, and this led to research into the socio-psychological factors of work processes or rather the human factors.  WWII furthered the research into social sciences and the impact of behaviour on organizational workings.  Focus areas included leadership and team work and the importance of these on morale, which was an early development in the field of motivation, group dynamics and leadership.

Applied social science began to focus on harmonizing the individual and organizational factors from the perspective of human needs and behavioural sciences developed as a new discipline in social science.  Through the development of Action Research, T-groups, Force Field Analysis, and collaborative approaches to effective change OD as we know it today emerged.

OD begins with diagnosis of the problems at individual, group and organizational level.  Interventions are developed, using a number of specific OD tools and techniques which have been developed on the back of core theories relating to planned change methodologies and complexity, which acknowledges that although interventions can be designed and developed as part of a linear process, change is complex, iterative and unfolds over a period of time.

Central to all OD interventions, is the belief that people have a unique ability to creatively employ their capabilities to develop new outcomes in regards to organizational performance, and that they are the most important element of the organizational system.  Utilizing systems thinking, behavourial research and Human Resource Theory OD is dedicated to humanistic principles in managing organizational change.

 

 

Five Core Theories – Lewin’s Change Theories – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  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.

Lewin’s Change Theories in Brief

Lewin developed a unified change theory based on four distinct elements; Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the Three step model of Change.  All have been criticised and all are necessary to bring about planned change.

Lewin viewed the social environment as a dynamic field which impacted in an interactive way with human consciousness.  The theories are useful to the OD practitioner in understanding that by adjusting elements of the organisationl environment then particular types of psychological experience predictably ensue.  In turn, the person’s psychological state influences the organisational environment.

Lewin first introduced the idea of Group Dynamics in relation to the study of the interaction of complex intra- and inter-personal forces in the operation of group behaviour which determine the groups character, development, and long-term survival.

Group Dynamics is concerned with determination of laws underlying group behaviour and studies a group’s formation, structure, interaction and behaviourial processes while looking at the group functioning.

Lewin was well known for  “field theory”.  He was perhaps even better known for practical use of his theories in studying group dynamics, solving social problems related to prejudice, and group therapy (t-groups).  Lewin sought to not only describe group life, but to investigate the conditions and forces which bring about change or resist change in groups.

In developing the Field Theory approach, Lewin believed that for change to take place, the total situation has to be taken into account.  If only part of the situation is considered, a misrepresented picture is likely to develop.

The field theory proposes that human behaviour is the function of both the person and the environment, this means that an individuals behaviour is related both to their personal characteristics and to the organisational situation in which they find themself.

Lewin’s three step model of change is related to Field Theory.  The three step model states that organisational change involves a move from one static state via a progressional shift, to another static state. The model, is also known as Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze.

Stage 1: Unfreeze

This stage involves creating the right conditions for change to occur. By resisting change, people often attach a sense of identity to their environment. In this state, alternatives, even beneficial ones, will initially cause discomfort. The challenge is to move people from this ‘frozen’ state to a ‘change ready’ or ‘unfrozen’ state.

Stage 2: Transition

The transitional ‘journey’ is central to Lewin’s model and at the psychological level it is typically a period of confusion. People are aware that the old ways are being challenged, but there is no clear understanding of the new ways which will replace them. As roles change, a reduced state of efficiency is created, where goals are significantly lowered. The end goal of this stage is to get people to the ‘unfrozen’ state and keep them there.

Stage 3: Refreeze

The end goal of the model is to achieve a ‘refreeze’, re-establishing a new place of stability and elevate comfort levels by reconnecting people back into their safe, familiar environment. Refreezing takes people from a period of low productivity in the transitional state to that of organisational effectiveness and sustainable performance.

Key Points

  1. Organisational Behaviour is a function of a person’s personality, the group environment
  2. For change to be effective it must be collaborative and participative, and take place at a group level if individual behaviour is to shift
  3. Concentrate on individual field factors including group norms, roles, interaction and social processes
  4. Refreezing requires changes at a cultural level, to embed new organisaitonal norms, polciies and practices.
  5. Creating dissatisfaction with the status quo will provide th disequilibrium required to drive change.

Applying Lewin’s Change Theories in an OD Intervention

  1. Pay attention to group dynamics and the powerful forces within the groups
  2. Identify existing rules that create the current organisational reality and change them to create movement.
  3. Plan the mix of people involved in diagnostic events in order to shift forces and facilitate change.
  4. Diagnostic events are key learning events which lead to ‘unfreezing’
  5. Be clear about the type of ‘unfreezing’ work that is needed during the diagnostic phase
  6. Provide a safe environment in which to destablise the status quo, in order to create the motivation to learn and change
  7. Support individuals and the group in understanding what is required of them, providing a plan for the action needed to begin making the change
  8. Create psychological safety to prevent resistance
  9. Provide a desirable direction or ‘best way’ for group members to change toward.
  10. Develop congruence with the organisation environment to stablise the new equilibrium.

Five Core Theories – Action Research Theory – Organisation Development

There are five core theories that provide a solid foundation for the work that OD practitioners do.  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.

Action Research Theory in Brief

Lewin developed a unified change theory based on four distinct elements; Field Theory, Group Dynamics, Action Research and the Three step model of Change.  All have been criticised and all are necessary to bring about planned change.

Lewin is one of the founding fathers of Organisation Development, especially the pursuit of the commitment to humanistic values in developing society, facilitating change through learning and the pursuit of changing an individuals mental models and perceptions of the world that they inhabit in order to move forward.

Action Research is the foundation stone of Organsation Development practice, it is what underpins the theory and practice of the discipline in the organisation.  The theory is based on what Lewin advised, “no action without research, no research without action.”

The theory provides the very heart of the purpose of the OD diagnostic phase in the OD cycle.  It provides the opportunity to build the knowledge of the causes and dynamics of organisational issues, the understanding of organisational change and the basis of the need for collaboration and joint inquiry between the OD practitioner and the organisational players experiencing the change.

Ultimately though it is a theory based on pragmatism, data itself is no the answer to change, but data regarding the issues that the organisation is experiencing provides the catalyst for change and provides the basis for practical solutions owned by all members affected by the change.  Action Research provides both the theoretical underpinnings and the practical application of organisational change.

Key Points

  1. Action Research is a four step continuous process; Diagnosis, Planning, Action and Evaluation
  2. Action Research Theory provides the bridge between knowledge building and data gathering with effective action
  3. It empowers employees and enables the organisation to sustain the change by providing data not only of how to make the changes required today but also on the change process itself
  4. Action refers to the OD interventions that are implemented to develop the organisation
  5. All organisational stakeholders are involved in the collaborative process of creating and executing the planned changes.

Applying Action Research Theory in an OD intervention

  1. Involve the people affected by the change so that they become co-investigators into the reasons for change, and participate in analysing the current reality
  2. Let individuals discuss the future they need to move toward
  3. Work to increase the amount and quality of inquiry between people so that they can learn from each other and gather a rich mix of data
  4. Secure a commitment to give some decision making power to the people involved in collecting the data so that real change can be achieved
  5. Set up a temporary diagnostic team by using those key individuals who have to support the implementation of change.
  6. Provide space for individuals to reflect on the insights they have gained
  7. Plan the direction of change/OD intervention in collaboration with all stakeholders
  8. Implement decisions that employees and leaders make democratically
  9. Provide a learning zone where individuals and groups can self organise for change.

Three Essentials of Organisation Development

I was asked the other day what my three essentials of Organisation Development are.  It was a interesting questions which really got me thinking.  What are the three most important things an OD practitioner should practice in any intervention?

You might have an alternative set of essentials but this was the answer I gave.

#1 – People

Any organisation development intervention must have people at its centre.  Organisation Development is about allowing the people in the organisation to create the change the organisation is looking for.  OD is a holistic intervention, and therefore isn’t restricted to the top brass.  In fact, it works quite the opposite in that it releases everyone from the bottom up to have a say, and share their knowledge, talent and skills in developing the organisation.

If your OD intervention isn’t people centred, and unashamedly humanistic it is probably not an OD intervention.

#2 – Know you Tools, Know your Theory

Whether it is Complexity theory, Action Research Theory, Lewin’s Change Theory, Systems Theory or Appreciative inquiry the cross discipline theoretical background of OD is essential to understanding the tools that an OD practitioner will use in their OD practice.  If you don’t understand the behavioural sciences, sociology and psychology behind methods such as gamestorming, focused conversations or world cafe’s you won’t know which tools to use to deliver the results the organisation needs for sustainable performance and organisational effectiveness.

A mechanic doesn’t try to fix your car engine without knowing how the combustion engine works ‘in theory’ – by understanding the process the mechanic can quickly identify where the process is broken and know what tool/method required to make the engine roar back into life.  OD is no different.

Many practitioners dismiss academic theory as ridiculous ‘ivory tower’ thinking and not applicable to the real world.  The interesting thing is that the theory that OD is built on is often criticised by the academic community because it is built on practice and field work experimentation, worse still, in the eyes of academics, it takes bits of different disciplines because those ‘bits’ are relevant and ignores the stuff that doesn’t add value to the process.  Get to know your theory and you’ll get to understand How the OD toolkit works and when to use the different tools.

#3 – Be Sustainable

I could have chosen a number of things for number three, but the one I plugged for is that of legacy.  The OD practitioner is the catalyst in OD interventions.  They must have the ability to build the business case for the leadership team, get the leadership team on board to sponsor the programme, build relationships with key change agents within the business and draw together disperate groups to make the intervention successful.  They become the centre of the intervention.  The use of self as a catalyst of change is a central pillar of OD practice.  BUT.  What happens when the OD intervention comes to an end?  How do you prevent the organisation from slipping back into old habits?

This is the paradox of the life of the OD practitioner.  You are the centre of change whilst at the same time building a legacy which means that the organisation learns how to change itself.  The OD practitioner must translate the practices, and tools that they use so they become embedded into the way that the organisation does things.  The questions you ask, become the organisation’s questions.  The techniques you use, are understood and used by the organisation you are working with and more importantly you leave the organisation in a positon where they have learnt how to develop themselves without the ‘self’ of the OD practitioner being present.

When the OD practitioner is no longer needed then the OD intervention has worked.

So there you have it, my top three essentials for the OD practitioner.