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Posts tagged ‘organization development’


Social Psychology – Conformity

Answers the Question

What causes us to go along with others’ views rather than stand strong and resist the pressure to conform?

How it Began

Solomon Asch set out to study social influences and how social forces affect a person’s opinions and attitudes when he began his conformity study in the 1950’s. After studying the works of Jean Martin Charcot, and subsequent psychologists, Asch noted that participants in these past studies often changed their differing opinions to those of the majorities, when confronted with opposing views. The conformity study that he subsequently designed tests whether or not one can change someone’s judgment of a situation without changing their knowledge or assumptions about the situation.

Asch argued that conformity can best be studied by seeing if people agree or disagree with others who give an obviously wrong answer on tasks with an obvious and unambiguous answer. In his original 1951 study, Asch devised 20 slightly different line judgement tasks. On these tasks,participants have to say which of the 3 lines labelled A, B, and C is the same length as the line to the left of them.

Line Judgement Studies

Asch conducted a pilot study to ensure that the tasks actually did have an obvious and unambiguous solution. In the pilot study, he tested 36 participants one at a time on each of the 20 tasks. So, with 36 people each doing 20 tasks, a total of 720 judgements were made. Asch found a wrong answer was given only 3 times. Therefore, participants got the answer right 717/720 times (99.6%), and this showed that the tasks were very easy and did have one obviously correct answer and two obviously incorrect answers.

Asch then carried out the study itself. He wanted to see how much conformity male students at the university he worked at would show. Some of the participants (Ps) in the pilot study were asked if they would act as stooges (or confederates). Asch told them that they would be doing the tasks again, but this time in a group, with each person saying out loud their answers. The stooges were told that they would be seated around a table, and that there would be one other person (called the naïve participant) who was completely unaware that they were stooges, and that the study was about conformity.

Asch told the stooges that he would be acting as the experimenter, and that they would be seated around a table in such a way that the naïve participant would be the last but one to answer.

The stooges were also told that there would be a total of 18 trials on which they would be asked to do the line judgement tasks. Of these, 6 would be neutral trials, and the stooges were told to all give the correct answer. The other 12 trials would be critical trials, and the stooges were told that they should unanimously give a wrong answer (i.e. they would all give the same wrong answer).Asch informed the stooges that he would give a ‘secret signal’ when he wanted them to give a unanimously wrong answer. The critical trials and neutral trials were mixed up so that there was less chance of the naïve participant suspecting that the set-up wasn’t what it appeared to be.

On average, participants conformed on 3.84 out of the 12 trials, which is where the figure of 32% conformity comes from. Given these results, Asch concluded that even on a task which has an obvious and unambiguous answer, a unanimous numerical majority can influence the behaviour of a numerical minority.

Key Terminology

Conformity – conformity can be defined as ‘yielding to group pressure’, and for this reason it is also referred to as majority influence.

Social Comparison Theory – We determine our own social and personal worth based on how we stack up against others. As a result, we are constantly making self and other evaluations across a variety of domains (for example, attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success). Most of us have the social skills and impulse control to keep our envy and social comparisons quiet but our true feelings may come out in subtle ways.

Normative Influences – The influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them. This often leads to public compliance—but not necessarily private acceptance—of the group’s social norms.

In Brief

The Asch conformity experiments are often interpreted as evidence for the power of conformity and normative social influence, where normative influences is the willingness to conform publicly to attain social reward and avoid social punishment. From this perspective the results are viewed as a striking example of people publicly endorsing the group response despite knowing full well that they were endorsing an incorrect response.

The conformity demonstrated in Asch experiments is problematic for social comparison theory. Social comparison theory suggests that when seeking to validate opinions and abilities people will first turn to direct observation. If direct observation is ineffective or not available then people will then turn to comparable others for validation.In other words, social comparison theory predicts that when physical reality testing yields uncertainty, social reality testing will arise. The Asch conformity experiments demonstrate that uncertainty can arise as an outcome of social reality testing. More broadly, this inconsistency has been used to support the position that the theoretical distinction between social reality testing and physical reality testing is untenable

What does this  mean for OD

Conformity is a lubricant that keeps society running smoothly. Complicated social movements become easier when we conform; we like other people who act like us. There’s something to be said for toeing the line and not ruffling feathers. And in some circumstances, we need the people around us to find out not just the expected way to behave, but also the right answer to important questions.

But especially in an individualistic culture like in the West, it sometimes seems distasteful, all this going along with the majority, especially when we do it just to fit in. These are competing forces, the pressure to conform and our drive for independence. It’s the yin and yang of life in the presence of others.

Conformity can affect organizations and individuals as a whole, and it can be both positive and negative. Conformity can be considered good when it forces people to be respectful and show courteous manners. It also poses less problems in a work environment where people are expected to behave in a certain way and there is no room for rebels. Lastly, it discourages people to do indecent acts in public or to make a scene before a crowd, which can cause others to feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Conformity is considered bad in the form of peer pressure. To conform in the face of injustice or actions which are detrimental to organizational performance is another bad effect. In an organization where workers are treated unfairly, individuals are afraid to speak up because no one else is. Often, they end up silent and take the abuse.

When an alliance of workers is formed with the aim of rallying against the management or decision, that is when more people join in and gain the confidence to voice out their complaints, concerns or ideas for improvement. If there’s anything we can learn from history, never underestimate the power of numbers. It is amazing to learn that it always starts with a single person who is not afraid to be an individual and go against the current.

OD requires people to go against the norm and ask questions about what the current norm is in society. OD interventions require non-conformity and creating an environment where it is acceptable. But conformity will be the bond that glues the organization together and ensures that changes are sticky once decisions have been made and changes made. New norms only survive if there is conformity to stay the course.


Sticky Back Plastic and Blu Tac – Organization Development Tools

When it comes to change interventions some popular tools and techniques that are used with workshop environments or project meetings include brainstorming, writing up sophisticated flow charts, developing cause and effect diagrams, Force Field Analysis, SWOT, PESTLE, graphs, quality circles and the development of quality circles.  None of these techniques are necessarily bad in and of themselves.  But their use in business is linked to strategic systems and processes.  They focus on information and data, sophistication and alignment with rational linear thinking.  Most importantly these techniques are focused on efficiency.  Funnelling large amount of data through a process that will transform the data into information that can be used for decision making.

The tools offered by business analysis are useful, and this blog isn’t about discarding them.  But I would suggest that they are useful at the end of a process, not at the beginning.  Organization Development is unique in its treatment of change, because it focuses not on systems and business process but instead on people processes.  It deliberately disrupts linear thinking, in order to ‘jump start’ ideation through a number of seemingly irrational and unsophisticated tools.  But don’t mistake the lack of a formal flow diagrams for a lack of effectiveness, or the use of sticky back plastic for a lack of theoretical underpinning.

In my role as OD practitioner, I very often utilise lego, geomag, paint, modelling clay, glue, card, pipe cleaners and glitter.  I invite participants to lie on the floor and do visioning exercises, ask them to draw animals, food or come up with opposites of statements that they have put on a brainstorming board.  I get participants to tell stories to each other, take a walk and keep a diary.  I have even been known to play a game of Ready, Steady, Cook, where the participants are given ingredients in a bag and have to cook their own lunch.

One executive even said that he never imagined that in his forties he’d be spending a day at a kitchen table playing lego as part of leadership development.  But the ‘fun’ and ‘play’ elements that I utilise in some of the interventions are deadly serious.  Each activity is carefully designed to take the participants on a safe, although sometimes uncomfortable, journey of discovery to open up their potential, creativity and innovation.  Each tool used is part of a technique which draws the participants towards a stated end point, where a strategy and action plan is developed.

The difference?  The ideas are based on fresh thinking, the individuals themselves have developed personally rather gone through the motions, and each and every participant is bought into the plan or strategy created at a behavioural level, avoiding resistance and developing commitment and engagement to see things through.  Furthermore the techniques used trains each individual how to approach problems in a more meaningful way, developing an adaptability and flexibility that is difficult with linear processes.

It doesn’t mean that the fishbone diagram, Force Field Analysis, graphs or statistics are never used.  But they are completed as an outcome of the people processes.  They are easier to complete and they completed with more depth of thought, often pulling together disperate strands of thinking to form a unified whole.

Although the tools used, may appear less controlled, they enable the facilitation of group dynamics, and the output is not only efficient, especially in the long term but effective in drawing out locked up creativity and talent potential lying dormant in an organizations most valuable asset, its people.




Organization Design Capability

The design of organization is a key element when considering organization development programmes.  Organizational outcomes are affected by how flexibly the design features of the organization facilitates resource allocation in regards to people, process, decision making, team environment, communication and politics.

The importance of building flexibility and adaptability into the design of the organizations system cannot be underestimated.  As with all OD interventions, they key is to take a holistic and ‘human dynamics’ centred approach, this means stepping away from drawing a neat organisation chart on powerpoint with simple pyramid reporting lines, and considering the complexity of organizational life.  This means considering the importance of being able to form project teams and communities around a matrix structure in order to address challenges and the resulting changes efficiently, quickly and effectively whilst sustaining necessary routines.

Relationships and communities extend beyond the organizational boundaries, those involved in organizational design must consider both internal and external operational processes and seek to build flexibility into the connections that are necessary.  In order for the organization to avoid repeated ‘restructuring’ and ‘re-organizing’ revolutions, architects must instead design for evolution in order that the organization can respond to the ebb and flow of the wider competitive environment.

“The process of purposefully configuring elements of organization to effectively and efficiently achieve its strategy and deliver intended business, customer and employee outcomes.  The resulting configuration is the organization’s design” Mohrman

The purpose of organization design is that it takes account, not just of the tangible structural elements within the organization such as technology, process, buildings, working capital, materials etc. but also considers the people capabilities that can be deployed in response challenges that the organization may face.  Capabilities refers to the competency, skill, knowledge and talents that reside in the organization rather than simply particular job tasks that can be fulfilled.  It is the utilisation of the human know-how to deliver the organizations value proposition in pursuit of its purpose.

A holistic organisation development approach to organization design delivers both the traditional structural and system design considerations, which are usually delivered in Lean Processing or Business Re-Engineering alongside the OD tradition of both the sensitivity to improving group dynamics, releasing people capabilities, unblocking information flows and delivery of the cultural requirements necessary to deliver sustainable business performance.  The whole organisation approach ensures that the design of the organisation is aligned, networked, flexible and fully leverages the people potential across the business.

Ultimately the output of an organization development design structure is a flexible structure which can respond to the changing requirements of the organization and deliver organizational balance in the system to deliver an environment of sustainable performance.


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