The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations

Research-Technology Management, September/October 1999 | Go to article overview

The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations


The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations; Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Charlotte Roberts, Richard Ross, George Roth, Bryan Smith; Doubleday Currency, New York NY, 1999; 624 pp., $35.00 (paper).

"When I look at efforts to create change in big companies over the past 10 years," Peter Senge said recently, "I have to say that there's enough evidence of success to say that change is possible-and enough evidence of failure to say that it isn't likely. Both of those lessons are important." Senge maintains that most change initiatives fail "because organizations don't foresee the obstacles that arise naturally wherever growth and learning take place. Predictable and interconnected, these challenges go hand in hand with any step into the unknown, and must be anticipated and mastered in order for sustained growth to occur."

Ten years ago, Senge and his colleagues at MIT's Center for Organizational Learning (now the Society for Organizational Learning), formulated their thinking on how to create a "learning organization"-a company that adapts, changes and grows, continually building the capacity for doing things in a new way. Their research was published in The Fifth Discipline ( 1990) and The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook ( 1994). Subsequent research focusing on the challenges facing change motivated Senge to invite the Fieldbook authors to expand upon that body of work, resulting in their new book.

The Dance of Change observes that challenges to change occur at all levels within the organization, and leaders at every level-be they executive, line or network-need to be aware of their consequences.

What thinking and behaviors reinforce innovation-or impede it?

Which strategies can effective leaders pursue to anticipate and meet the limits of corporate growth?

How can they recognize the challenges of profound change ahead of time, and generate the greatest return from them?

These concerns are the core of The Dance of Change, which is rooted in experiences and reflections from a variety of major organizations, including British Petroleum, Chrysler, DuPont, Ford, General Electric, Harley-Davidson, Hewlett-Packard, Mitsubishi Electric, Shell Oil Company, Toyota, the U.S. Army, and Xerox.

Senge and his colleagues identify ten distinct forces that oppose significant organizational change:

The first four changes develop as a "pilot group" (which could be a local team or business unit or a senior management team) begins to conduct its work in unfamiliar ways. …

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