Laura Roelofs  

More Recent Developments: Branches and Blossoms

Laura Roelofs
March 18, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

If you have read the about us area of this website, you know that our roots are with an organization that was founded by Paul R. Judy in 1994—the Symphony Orchestra Institute. As a successful businessman with a keen interest in music and symphony orchestras, Mr. Judy created the SOI with the particularly interest and dedication to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations. His interest in organizational change led him to commission Laura Roelofs to write a series of eight articles for the web version of the SOI journal Harmony. The articles describe various approaches to understanding and implementing organization change.

Today Polyphonic begins presenting this series again, and will publish one article every two weeks. But to start us off, and since seven years have elapsed since Laura published the first article on the subject, we asked her to bring us up to date with recent trends in the field.

- Ramon Ricker

More Recent Developments: Branches and Blossoms

In earlier segments of our series on Organization Change (Roots and Growth and Development), we identified four interrelated orientations that shaped the early development of the discipline:

  • Laboratory training (T-groups) (Kurt Lewin and colleagues)

  • The Action Research Model (Lewin, carried forward by other NTL founders and influential members, such as Chris Argyris

  • Sociotechnical systems theory—Tavistock studies (Trist and colleagues) with roots in the Hawthorne studies (Mayo and colleagues), and

  • Theory X and Y (Douglas McGregor)

In the second half of the century, a variety of approaches to organization change emerged. One of these, participative management, can be traced back to ideas introduced early in the century by Mary Parker Follett. This concept also drew on a body of sociotechnical research including the classic 1948 study by Lester Coch and John French on resistance to change, which showed that the more involved employees are in a change process, the more supportive they will be of it.

A key figure in the development of the participative management orientation was Rensis Likert. In 1961, Likert published The Human Organization, in which he classified management systems into four categories: authoritarian, benevolent, consultative, or participative. His classification was not value-neutral; for Likert, the "participative" system represented the ideal.

In a later book, New Patterns of Management, Likert described in detail how such a system would look in practice. Instead of imposing standards from the top, leaders would create an environment where groups could set and achieve their own high goals. Communication, support, and respect would be primary values, and mutual influence would foster flexibility and creativity. These concepts quickly gained wide acceptance as ideals, and their application in practice is still growing.

Most early organization change applications were internally focused, despite the theoretical models of Lewin, Trist, and others, that described organizations as systems interrelated with their environments. But during the 1960s and 1970s, as organizations faced ever more turbulent social, economic and technological environments, a broadly strategic orientation to organization change began to emerge: systems theory. This new orientation placed a greater emphasis on the organizations relationship with its environment. It is based on the assumption that performance can be improved by aligning the mission and design of an organization with environmental constraints and demands.

Sometimes called "open systems theory," this approach is based on a 1956 work by Ludwig von Bertalanffy describing the nature of biological and physical systems. Because it includes the concepts of organizational "input" and "output," this orientation encouraged change agents to pay attention to economic factors—in addition to psychological and sociological ones—in their analysis of organizations. In contrast to many previous orientations, it also discouraged a "one best way" approach to all organizations, substituting a "contingency" model in which environmental factors help determine organizational design.

Another area of interest for organization change scholars and practitioners since the 1960s has been the dynamics of power and influence within organizations. The early work of Raven and French (1959) established a definition of the bases of power; later authors including James March and Jeffrey Pfeffer continued to explore the management of power relationships.

Early theorists, from McGregor to Likert, referred to aspects of what we now call "organization culture," shared values, assumptions, and patterns of behavior within an organization or subgroup. The study of organizational culture became widely popular by the mid-1980s, when analysis of group culture and its effects on organizational success dominated the literature. Perhaps the best-known among the scholars of organizational culture is Edgar Schein.

As gender, racial, and ethnic diversity has increased in U.S. workplaces, much has been written about the effect of human differences on the power structures and cultural climates of organizations. Bailey Jackson, Rita Hardiman, Taylor Cox, and Judith Katz are just a few of the prominent contemporary theorists of diversity issues.

Leadership is critical to successful change in organizations, and has become a distinct area of study. Many authors, including John Kotter and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, have articulated the attitudes and skills leaders need to manage a major change process. James McGregor Burns pioneered the idea of the "transformational leader," someone who could "look for potential motives" and "engage the full person" of his/her followers. Robert Greenleaf defined what he called servant-leadership, in which the leader's task is to make it possible for subordinates to achieve their best—and in turn serve others. The ideal of participative management leads naturally to a broad definition of leadership that is independent of formal authority; everyone in an organization can develop and use leadership skills in their interactions with others.

Over recent years, ideas and insights about organization change have proliferated almost exponentially. Contemporary organization change practitioners have an ever-growing number of theories and methods to choose from as they work with organizations, influencing change processes through "interventions" in their roles as "change agents," "facilitators," or "process consultants."

This installment concludes our brief survey of the historical development of organization change theory and practice, and of some of the key thinkers in this field. In our next set of installments, we will examine some organization change theories and methods in more detail, and review how they can be applied to symphony orchestra organizations.

We hope you will join us in these further explorations!

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