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When problem solving prevents organizational learning

Anita L. Tucker (Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Amy C. Edmondson (Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Steven Spear (Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 1 April 2002

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Abstract

We propose that research on problem‐solving behavior can provide critical insight into mechanisms through which organizations resist learning and change. In this paper, we describe typical front‐line responses to obstacles that hinder workers’ effectiveness and argue that this pattern of behavior creates an important and overlooked barrier to organizational change. Past research on quality improvement and problem solving has found that the type of approach used affects the results of problem‐solving efforts but has not considered constraints that may limit the ability of front‐line workers to use preferred approaches. To investigate actual problem‐solving behavior of front‐line workers, we conducted 197 hours of observation of hospital nurses, whose jobs present many problem‐solving opportunities. We identify implicit heuristics that govern the problem‐solving behaviors of these front‐line workers, and suggest cognitive, social, and organizational factors that may reinforce these heuristics and thereby prevent organizational change and improvement.

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Citation

Tucker, A.L., Edmondson, A.C. and Spear, S. (2002), "When problem solving prevents organizational learning", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 122-137. https://doi.org/10.1108/09534810210423008

Publisher

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MCB UP Ltd

Copyright © 2002, MCB UP Limited