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Posts tagged ‘Group Dynamics’

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.


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.



The Development of Culture Change

It’s interesting working in the arena of organization development. All to often managers are confounded by the fact that the employees resist any form of change whether the changes are better for the organization, will secure their jobs, and will most probably make the employees lives better.

Organizations spend thousands of pounds and many hours putting together information packs and communication plans to explain the changes, but no amount of information, no matter how rational, will seeming move those who chose not to be moved. What is more frustrating is that those who refuse to toe and line, and who engage in acts of corporate terrorism will be able to justify their bad behaviour with a perfectly rational and logic line of reasoning– even if the rational remains unreasonable. Further investigation will also unveil the truth, which is that the most reluctant will invent fabrications about the real motives of those trying to push for change, even if those reasons are nothing more than lying to ourselves.

Human behaviour, the mind and each individual’s personality are nothing if not curious and fascinating.

You see we don’t like to consider ourselves as being irrational. We need to deceive ourselves into believing that our bad behaviour is rational. If we are unable to cope with a current situation we may begin to regress, acting out like a petulant teenager, or we might use a displacement defence where we know we have to be strong, so we take out our frustration on a process of change that makes us feel fearful. Finally we might take hide from, and refuse to acknowledge the change that we are experiencing by repressing that which we are finding intolerable from our conscious mind and continuing as if nothing has changed at all.

Social Psychologist Leon Festinger described the discomfort we feel when we modify our beliefs so that we can make two contradictory ideas compatible as ‘cognitive dissonance.’ The more we believe that we are right in our belief that the change is bad, the more effort we will put into proving that we are right – and any information is used to confirm the rightness of our beliefs. If we are lying to ourselves we must in someway justify our lie to continue believing that we are a good person. (Rosenburg, 2011)

Culture or rather ‘the way we do things around here’ exacerbates the cognitive dissonance that individuals develop during a change programme.  The effectiveness of an organization can be seriously compromised if efforts to make changes conflicts with an organization’s norms, standards, working practices and values, potential creating conflict and toxicity around the change efforts.

Take for example the current context of the environmental peril that our planet is in. If we don’t change the way we do things then our grandchildren will quite possible face extinction. The problem is that we have accepted the truth of ‘plenty’ and of not having to count the external costs of our actions for such a long time that the rules and expectations of 21st Century human culture, especially in the Western World is currently stopping us from acting rationally in the best interests of our long term survival.  Organization’s can face similar problems in areas that are in obvious need of change, possibly where the way things are done around here is causing the organization to lose business or damage its reputation and yet still change efforts are met with resistance.

Since we are social creatures, doing things differently, changing to such an extent means that we have to go outside group norms. For example the terms Tree Hugger, eco-warrior and nature loving hippy have for a long time been used as insults and denote that the person acting with a belief structure that puts the environment first is in someway uncivilised. Even those organizations that are pursuing green and environmentally friendly agendas wrap their actions up in more acceptable business language of sustainability, Plan A and corporate social responsibility, it goes against our culture that these organizations should say that they care about the planet.

If you are trying to implement a change programme, it is important to consider how people are acting as a group, not just individually. When individuals are unsure how to behave they will look to the community of which they are part to understand what the norms are, which are usually driven by their peers. If there is someone who strongly represents the group displaying signs of cognitive dissonance, then that will determine what reaction the group will have as a whole to the change situation.

Individuals who have a lot lose and in the current hierarchy are in a privileged position will seek to maintain the traditions that keep them in a position of privilege, regardless of the expense to others. Destructive behaviour in a change situation will always be strongest where individuals who fear change the most are in a position of influence within the wider community.

To make the change your organization seeks, it is essential that you first understand those who are key stakeholders, and help them to transition their thinking prior to any change programme happening. That way the individuals who have most impact on cultural norms can help the group express their reaction to change, which in turn will help make the change journey smooth.

Organization Development offers an alternative to the ‘information centric’ approach to change management.  Rather than a top down change that tells people how to think and act, organization development takes the organization on a journey of discovery.  Leaders are taught to role model, coach and teach so they can reflect the change that is being asked for.  For individual employees, OD interventions create safe places for them to consider the areas of thinking and belief structures that might need to change, and provides the tools for the individual to make that change themselves.  For groups it helps transition the change through careful facilitation of groups dynamics to help the group help each other make the transition.  Finally, OD considers the reinforcement mechanisms within the organization, processes and systems which will support the culture change going forward, and removing barriers to the successful change.

OD Practitioner considerations for Culture Change

  1. Know the business beyond an organization chart and what the leaders tell you.  Investigate, question and discover;  How are things done? What makes the organization tick?  What is the underlying rhythm of the business?
  2. If you don’t know find out, and use the right OD tools for the situation.
  3. BE the change, coach, mentor and position yourself as a conduit of change.
  4. Ensure Change goals are relevant, and focused on people relationships and behaviour especially in regards to how processes and systems within the organization reinforce or inhibit people processes.
  5. Support leaders to create the climate for change
  6. Develop plans that reward behaviours that reinforce the desired culture change but also manage areas where there is reversion to old behaviours.
  7. Handle uncertainty and ambiguity with confidence.
  8. Use methods that work on both the mind, in regards to intellectual stimulation but also the heart, in regards to emotion.
  9. Create experiences and opportunities for people to explore new behaviours within a positive framework
  10. Always develop methods that reinforce new ways of working.

The Theorists – Bob Tannerbaum

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.

Bob Tannerbaum in Brief

Bob Tannenbaum humanist vision profoundly affected the field of organizational development for more than 50 years, starting from a deep-seated belief about the importance of personal consciousness and the capacities of people to grow themselves psychologically, with derivative payouts in interpersonal sensitivity, Tannenbaum’s work was a forerunner contributor to considerations of human capital as a corporate asset.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, he was instrumental in establishing UCLA’s Graduate School of Management as a key centre of thought and practice in the fields of organization development and leadership training. During this period he helped found the Western Training Lab, which promulgated a derivative of T-groups that became known as Sensitivity Training, and played an important role in the evolution of the NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science, which spearheaded the drive to utilize group dynamics as an important pedagogy for promoting increased awareness of self and impact on others as essential to team play in the corporate environment.

Bob Tannenbaum’s intellectual work described organizational systems not as machines with interchangeable human parts, but as living communities that can be designed to enable people to grow and learn while achieving business goals. His writings, as well as his teaching and consulting, reflected the value he placed on people, and his belief that, to a great extent, leadership effectiveness derives from awareness of one’s own basic assumptions about human nature and the testing out and revision of those assumptions.

Bob Tannerbaum – Life and Times

  • 1916 – Born Cripple Creek Colorado
  • 1935 – Achieved an A.A. degree from Santa Ana Junior College
  • 1937 – Received an A.B. degree in business administration at the University of Chicago
  • 1937 – Instructor in Accounting at Oklahoma A&M College
  • 1938 – Received an MBA in Accounting at the University of Chicago
  • 1939 – Began Ph.D Studies in Industrial Relations
  • 1942 – Enlisted in Navy as Officer in Pacific teaching Radar
  • 1945 – Married Edith Lazaroff
  • 1946 – Return to Chicago to Finish his Doctorate
  • 1948 – Completed Ph.D
  • 1948 – Joined UCLA -The Anderson School as Acting Assistant Professor and Assistant Research Economist
  • 1958 – Published Journal Article How to Choose a Leadership Pattern
  • 1960 – Published Journal Article Management Differences
  • 1961 – Published Leadership and Organization
  • 1973 – Published Journal Article How to Choose a Leadership Pattern
  • 1977 – Retired as Professor of Human Systems Development to concentrate on consulting and counselling executives.
  • 2003 – Died

Tannerbaum – Key Contributions 

Pioneer in the West Coast movement that valued personal development and teamwork as instrumental to organization effectiveness.

Tannenbaum’s work from the 1950s to the 1970s with Western Training Lab and the NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science was considered crucial to the development of modern small-group processes such as “sensitivity training” and “T-groups.”

First to describe a leadership continuum ranging from an autocratic manager — “the leader makes the decision and announces it to the group” -to a more democratic process in which employees are deeply involved in decision-making.



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 – Group Dynamics

In addition to the five core OD theories there are other theories that a solid OD practitioner 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.

Group Dynamic Theory in Brief

Kurt Lewin had a profound impact on thinking regarding Group Dynamics. Two key ideas emerged out of field theory that are crucial to an appreciation of group process: interdependence of fate, and task interdependence.

Interdependence of fate – Groups come into being when people realize their fate depends on the fate of the group as a whole.  A group will contain individuals of very different character, but when an individual learns how much his own fate depends on the fate of the entire group he will proactively take responsibility for his part in the groups welfare.  However, Lewin argued that Interdependence of fate can be a fairly weak form of interdependence in many groups.

Task interdependence – Lewin argued a more significant factor is where there is interdependence in the goals of group members. In other words, if the group’s task is such that members of the group are dependent on each other for achievement, then a powerful dynamic is created.  Task interdependence can be positive or negative. In negative interdependence – known more usually as competition – one person’s success is another’s failure.   Positive interdependence results in the group being a ‘dynamic whole.’

One of the most interesting pieces of Group Dynamics work concerned the exploration of different styles or types of leadership on group structure and member behaviour.  Three classic group leadership models we studied – democratic, autocratic and laissez-faire.  The research concluded that there was more originality, group-mindedness and friendliness in democratic groups. In contrast, there was more aggression, hostility, scapegoating and discontent in laissez-faire and autocratic groups.


Key Points of Group Dynamic Theory

  • Groups under conditions of positive interdependence were generally more co-operative and tend to be productive as compared to those working under negative task
  • Democracy must be learned anew in each generation, and that it is a far more difficult form of social structure to attain and to maintain than is autocracy
  • The difference in behaviour in autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire situations is not, on the whole, a result of individual differences.
  • Democracy cannot be imposed on people, but has to be learnt by a process of voluntary and responsible participation.
  • Change and periods of transition needs to be facilitated and guided.
  • Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. Participants must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about self, relationships and the group as part of the process.


Applying Group Dynamic Theory in an OD Intervention

  1. Encourage the senior leadership team to be the same as any good teacher, becoming unnecessary, and allowing natural leaders to rise from the group during a period of transition.
  2. Asking the Leader to change one or more of their characteristics or replace the leader with another person to harness the power of an informal group
  3. Systematically rotate out of the group its leaders and its key members in order to facilitate the emergence of a leader who has aims similar to the organisation
  4. Be alert to leaders sympathetic to the organisations objectives and use them toward the betterment of the formal groups effectiveness.
  5. Locate the best person in the group who is the best position to facilitate the smooth flow of information among group members
  6. Encourage group discussion and decision-making, and ensure participants regardless of position, treat each other as peers.
  7. Use a feedback activity to enable participants to engage in active dialogue about differences of interpretation and observation of the events by those who had participated in them.
  8. Develop a creative tension in the learning environment, bringing together the immediate experiences of the participants and the conceptual models of the facilitators in an open atmosphere where inputs from each perspective could challenge and stimulate the other.
  9. Observe the behaviour patterns of the group through interviews and asking the group members to identify their own norms; as members become aware of negative norms they commonly reject them and seek to change their behaviour.
  10. Create an environment in which values and beliefs can be challenged.
  11. Develop the group as students of OD tools, providing the group with models for organizing ideas through brief lectures, reading material, handouts and experiential learning techniques.
  12. Involve group members in the decision making process to reduce feelings of alienation and also improve communication between leaders and their employees and thereby reducing conflict