Research in Organizational Change and Development: Volume 13


Table of contents

(10 chapters)


Pages vii-ix
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Although the field of organization development (OD) has been in a seemingly eternal state of evolution and flux, the highly competitive nature of the contemporary business and consulting environment has reached a point where the future of OD is arguably in serious jeopardy. The field lacks consistency in its core theories, skills, values, ideologies, and interventions. It is time to professionalize and parameterize the field of OD or ultimately accept its relegation to being a faded approach of the past. This chapter focuses on the need for and importance of professionalizing OD, and the subsequent implications and complexities of such an approach for the future of the field. Building on prior research, theory, reviews, and calls for change, a compelling argument is made for why it is finally time to force the next step in the evolution of the field, and what has, can, and should be done about it.

This study describes a research methodology that evolved as a result of a longitudinal participative research effort at Ericsson. The study lasted six years and is built upon ten different, but interrelated research projects. The methodology developed was labeled table-tennis research to capture the intense interactions between researchers and organizational members throughout the life cycle of the study. This chapter reviews and briefly examines alternative interactive research approaches for knowledge creation and knowledge utilization in the context of the knowledge-based firm. The table-tennis research approach is advanced as an alternative inquiry approach for the generation of actionable knowledge. Through an in-depth inductive study, three clusters crucial to the development of actionable knowledge emerged: (1) the contextual dimensions, (2) the quality of the effort's focus, and (3) the quality of the table-tennis process itself. Within these clusters, variables and processes were inductively derived and linked together to form the process-model. Implications for the design of the knowledge-based firm, continuous innovation, change, learning and actionable knowledge creation are discussed.

The literature on downturn management has concentrated on reductions in size, ignoring how an organization de-develops by moving to a lower order of complexity. This paper discusses the dangers of unmanaged de-development in which an organization experience unwanted losses of core competencies. The paper shows how a de-developed organization can preserve core competencies found in its customers, products, markets, channels, revenue sources, alliances, skilled people, ways to organize, and image. A managed letting go of some unwanted complexity is carried out to produce a soft-landing in which core competencies are preserved. Conditions under which de-development can be desirable are discussed and a devolutionary process that suggests how to reduce organized complexity and realize a soft landing that retains core competencies is offered. Ways to study de-development are also considered.

This chapter explores the role of contract breaches in firm turnarounds. Drawing from the turnaround and contract literatures, this chapter proposes that implicit and explicit contract breaches provide substantial resources to firms in turnaround situations during their retrenchment phase. It is asserted that the turnover of top management, the threat of bankruptcy, and the severe time compression of the turnaround situation will facilitate contract breaches. These contract breaches will, however, cripple the firm's ability to accomplish the goals of the reorientation phase, particularly if they choose to pursue a “return to growth” strategy. To avoid these crippling effects, it is proposed that the management of the firm will utilize the uncertainty inherent to the turnaround situation to provide accounts of why the contract breaches were necessary. Through these accounts, management will lower the perceived losses of the violated parties and will maintain their commitment during the firm's reorientation phase.

Although it may be argued that the goal of flattening the organization is to empower employees with a higher level of involvement and decision-making abilities, several cases provide evidence of the emergence of highly restrictive control structures in the “flattened” organization. This phenomenon is not a necessary outcome of an attempt to flatten the organizational hierarchy, however. There is also evidence that the organizational hierarchy can be “successfully” flattened. What is not clear in the current literature is a theoretical basis to explain the tendency for highly restrictive control structures to emerge after a change toward flattening the organizational hierarchy. This essay attempts to address this issue by examining the emergence of disciplinary structures in flattened organizations, looking at cases of various structural changes and, finally, elaborating the basis for a developmental theory of the spiral resulting in the emergence of unintended and oppressive control structures in the flattened organization.

A three-year Action-Research organizational development (OD) project in an automotive parts manufacturing plant was designed to: (a) increase employee participation, and (b) solve specific problems. All employees were surveyed before and after interventions. The OD effort was directed at the largest of four internal business units in the Plant, called the Experimental group. The remaining three business units formed the Comparison group, resulting in a quasi-experimental research design. Elements of the OD effort to increase employee participation included; (a) collaboration in data gathering, interpretation, and action planning, (b) widespread dissemination of survey results, and (c) collaboration in four issue-specific Task Forces. Besides differences in focus, the Task Forces also differed in the degree of their “visibility” to employees. We define visibility as: (a) the number of employees exposed to the intervention, and (b) the degree to which the intervention was directly observable by employees. Task force visibility was directly related to Task Force success, as measured by data from the second survey. Detailed suggestions for increasing employee participation and the visibility of OD projects are offered. In addition, some new suggestions are also offered for the effective conduct of Town Hall meetings in order to achieve decisions that need both high quality solutions and high employee acceptance.

Since the 1950s the process of information technology (IT) related change in organizations has been problematic regularly resulting in reports of persistent underperformance and failure, a situation well supported by empirical research. On closer inquiry it emerges that this plight is a product of the behavioural patterns of both the executive and IT occupational communities with their respective economic and technical mindsets. This article not only makes explicit the plight with IT related change and its behavioural underpinnings but also establishes the role of clinical inquiry, as an action research form of organization development, in fostering a more systemic approach to change. The article makes explicit the dual roles of organizational scientists in this domain which involves simultaneously attending to effective social action and the development of robust social theory.

Socio-Technical Systems Design has a long-standing reputation as an integral approach to organization design. One of its local brands is known as the Dutch approach to Integral Organizational Renewal of the firm (IOR). Central in IOR is an attempt to integrate both business process design, organization design and work design, simultaneously.

Although applying IOR has resulted in fundamental changes in many companies, the targeted change in human behavior patterns seldom has been observed to be an efficient process. Although reasons for this inertness may be several, we conclude that the unsuccessful mental processes of internalization of the newly acquired perspectives are a major cause.

In order to explore both problems and solutions, we compare Open Systems Thinking - the foundational paradigm of IOR, with novel ‘Chaordic Systems Thinking’ (CST). We conclude that using CST as a lens will allow expansion of the theoretical scope of IOR. The hypothesis is presented that focusing more thoroughly on the so-called ‘interior’ aspects of the organization will speed up the problematic mental processes of internalization.

About the authors

Pages 253-256
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Research in Organizational Change and Development
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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