Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Conceptualizing and Engaging in Organizational Change as an Embodied Experience within a Practical Reflexivity Community of Practice: Gender Performance at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

Academic journal article Tamara : Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science

Conceptualizing and Engaging in Organizational Change as an Embodied Experience within a Practical Reflexivity Community of Practice: Gender Performance at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy

Article excerpt

Abstract

In this article, we outline our organizational change initiative, our "small experiment," and our attempt to understand how organizational change is actually accomplished. It is our desire to first change our selves and how we perform gender and through this local initiative, to eventually change how our organization as a whole performs gender. In our effort to accomplish this goal, we began by attempting to understand the issue, our experience, and the performance of gender within our organization. Based upon these understandings and because of this understanding, we will identify initiatives that change our organization's performance of gender. Finally, in an attempt to understand the microprocesses of change, of how organizational change is accomplished - "its dynamic, unfolding, emergent qualities (in short its potential) (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002, 568)," we will document and attempt to understand our experience of change from within.

THE BREATHLESS RHETORIC of planned transformational change, complete with talk of revolution, discontinuity, and upheaval, presents a distorted view of how successful change works...[has led people] to underestimate the value of innovative sensemaking on the front line, the ability of small experiments to travel, and the extent to which change is continuous.

(Weick, 2000, 223)

In the article, first we provide background on the organizational change initiative that we will undertake at the Coast Guard Academy. Then we will describe the change process we will engage in and our assumptions about organizations and organizational change. Finally, we will describe what efforts we will take to understand organizational change from within a continuous and ongoing process.

Background

This project developed out of a Leadership and Organizational Development course taught in the spring semester of 2004. As one of their assignments, based on their experience, students were asked to develop and inquire into a personal leadership question to conundrum (i.e., puzzle, paradox, or question for which there is no self-evident answer) (Eriksen, 2007). A large percentage of the female students' questions concerned issues of gender. When the instructor recognized this pattern and learned from the female students that they were hesitant to talk among themselves about their gender questions/ issues, he connected these women with one another so that they might learn from one another and together as a group. When they began to talk to each other, it fueled their interest and frustration about these gender issues. Although for many this community offered temporary relief, it also led to more questions and, in some cases more confusion and uncertainty. Many students experienced a lack of closure concerning their understandings of their particular conundrum. seeing the students' curiosity and frustration, the instructor proposed that these students join to create a directed study on gender and leadership. Five of these students demonstrated an interest and commitment to such an endeavor. Thus, the instructor and these students collaboratively developed the directed study.

We decided not only did we want to develop and grow as a group; we also wanted to change the organization in a way that would help other female cadets make sense of and improve the quality of their experience at the Academy. The professor had become frustrated with his participation on organizational committees due to their inability to create meaningful change. It seemed to him the greatest value of these committees was their symbolic value. For example, if a university had a formal diversity initiative task force, it was perceived as legitimately addressing diversity issue on its campus. But these committees produced no meaningful change, the type of change that positively affects one's day-to-day organizational experience.

Although planned transformational change may be effective in crisis situations situations in which the organization's survival is questionable (i. …

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