Monday, January 26, 2009

Race To The Finish

In its purest sense, organizational learning seems to beckon us to strive for excellence throughout the pursuit of the goal.  As we perform organizational tasks, consider and evaluate our strategies in executing them, and compare both the immediate and long term success of our efforts, we are immersed in a process that draws its life from time.

Appreciative Inquiry, Organizational Diagnosis, and even the World Cafe Model are long, slow processes that require time and effort in order to achieve the desired results of understanding and change - leading to meaningful and lasting improvement.  Root causes of challenge in organizational systems are not readily revealed.  According to our reading, "significant time and effort are required to trace problems to their origin" for deep organizational diagnosis to be successful.  

Similarly, Appreciative Inquiry, which takes its roots in action research, is a "work in progress".  It is constantly morphing as the input, ideas, and (even) the emotions of the participants are considered.  Because the goal of Appreciative Inquiry is to change social systems, and one of the key components necessary to successfully accomplish this involves affirmative projection, the process is "open to continuous reconstruction".  Taking the time needed to evaluate and reconstruct what is working and has worked is essential, but requires time.

The World Cafe Model can promote change and productivity.  By creating intimate, warm, inviting, safe meeting environments where conversation is encouraged, instead of the impersonal meeting places more typically experienced, participants are more likely to be engaged in discussion, and to believe that they are part of a meaningful process.  

All of these things take time.  In a world that applauds speed; a world where efficiency and productivity are associated with success, strategies such as these may be considered luxuries for which there is insufficient time.  

But how can that be true?  Organizational learning seems to be - in its best execution - an ongoing process of learning and improvement through learning.  Despite current economic trends, and the temptation to race to the finish line with quick fixes and ready-made answers that often accompany such crises, we must recognize the beauty of taking time to reach conclusions that may be necessarily open to refinement.  In order to make authentic improvements in our practices, we must resist the tendency to listen to the competitive sound of the tick-tock of the clock.  Instead, we must be inspired to consider the best of what is, the possibility of what might be, the responsibility of what should be, and the potential of what can be.                   

Monday, January 12, 2009

Organizational Theory in the Real World

I am back, and this quarter my meanderings are related to a decidedly different topic... one whose focus is human through and through...
The study of organizational theory - and its impact on institutions both educational and those of the business world - has many facets.  While the emphasis of most theorists appears to be on reflection upon the effectiveness of practice and efficiency in the workplace, human response is the continuous underlying theme that gives it a heart and a soul.

My initial response throughout the readings has been to seek an understanding of the theories presented by each of the authors.  However, with each theory, there is an example of a "real life" experience (either current or from my past) that corresponds with the research.  Despite the fact that these theories are associated with organizations, it is clear that they play out in virtually every human interaction that involves groups that are working with a purpose or goal.

Tuckman's theoretical model of forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning is one of many examples of this.  Certainly, most have observed and experienced this in association with their working relationships... That movement from the initial phase marked by dependence and the desire for acceptance; to the period during which conflicts may arise as roles are established and problem-solving becomes the focus; into a time of creativity, when authentic sharing is evident professionally and personally; to the period of experimentation in which the interdependence of group members lends itself to productivity; to the final stage of task completion, in which members may experience a sense of loss as they move from giving up control to giving up inclusion in the group.  

While all groups do not move through each of the stages, and, at least according to some theorists, the stages are not necessarily linear; forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning are familiar points on the path that successful groups that I have participated in have followed.  

Within this cohort, whether prescribed or self-designed, groups that I have worked in that have been put to the task of ongoing challenges have moved from the initial phase of orientation to the final phase of productivity.  In groups in which the pairing has been less frequent, there has even been the sense of loss associated with the adjourning stage.  

Human endeavors are human.  Therefore, while theories exist, and they may provide a helpful guide to what can be expected to repeat in the future within similar frameworks, there is no hard and fast rule about people.  It is likely that I will continue to be fascinated by the research in this field.  

Am I more prone to recall Tuckman's model because of the rhythmic and clever terms he uses to describe each stage?  Perhaps.  But it is more likely that, like other research we are reviewing and practices we are studying, the hook for me is the relationship between what is defined and what I have experienced.