Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Facilitator Withdrawal from Organizational Change Initiatives: A Review of Strategies and Guidelines

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Facilitator Withdrawal from Organizational Change Initiatives: A Review of Strategies and Guidelines

Article excerpt


Many descriptions of the stages of planned change can be found in the literature (Argyris, 1970; Armenakis, Harris, & Field, 1999; French & Bell, 1999), as well as strategies for external facilitation of planned change projects in organizations, much of it written by facilitators in the form of manuals or guides (see Bens, 2005; Ghais, 2005; Hogan, 2003; Hunter, 2009; Jenkins & Jenkins, 2006; Kaner, Lind, Toldi, Fisk, & Berger, 2007; Schuman, 2005; Schuman, 2006; Schwartz, 2002; Wilkinson, 2012). Although it is often recognized that change projects will come to an end, the research providing guidance for the termination stage of a project, specifically when and how a facilitator should take leave, is quite sparse (Harrigan, Fauri, & Netting, 1998; Keyton, 1993; Wardale, 2008).

The focus of this paper will be on external facilitators' withdrawal practices in planned change projects within organizational systems, for facilitators who employ a style of facilitation that includes guidance, encouragement, and support to promote client decision making, and conduct of tasks related to the change. This is a style of facilitation concerned with development of the client system rather than doing tasks for a client (Loftus-Hills & Harvey, 1999). The developmental facilitator uses her knowledge and skills to enable and guide the client in using evidence to inform practice (Stetler, Legro, Rycroft-Malone, Bowman, & Curran, 2006). The themes identified in this paper have been selected based on the assumptions (1) that a facilitator's departure behavior should be consistent with a general strategy that encourages client action, change, participation and autonomy and (2) that the external facilitator is departing at some point, rather than forming a permanent partnership (French & Bell, 1999). Argyris (1970) expressed a similar view that change should not be the interventionist's primary goal. Instead, the goals of a facilitator are comprised of providing information that allows clients to make free and informed decisions based on valid data, and thereby become committed to their decisions (Argyris, 1970).

The intention of this paper is to provide guidance for facilitators withdrawing from change projects and to identify additional research needed on facilitator withdrawal, in order to make facilitator guidelines more evidence-based. The need for this guidance became clear to the author in a recent multi-site project, the Criminal Justice Drug Abuse Treatment Studies II (CJDATS II). The CJDATS II project sought to improve assessment, case management, and services for substance-abusing criminal offenders. Facilitators worked with local change teams that included members from multiple organizations. While the intervention was manualized, it provided more attention to beginning the project than to how to end it. When facilitators got closer to the end of the work with their teams, they began to raise issues concerning when and how they should withdraw from the site.

Based on these facilitators' concerns, a search was conducted for empirical and theoretical literature on techniques facilitators can use towards the completion of a planned change project. This resulted in a small amount of theoretical literature and almost no empirical support that focused solely on facilitator withdrawal. Due to the limited amount of literature on facilitator withdrawal, the search was expanded to include literature on sustaining planned changes, whether or not an external facilitator was involved. The fields covered in the literature search included management, nursing and healthcare, and social work. Search terms included: planned change, organizational change, facilitator, change agent, exit, withdrawal, departure, exit phase, tactics and strategies.

Although only a small amount of research focused specifically on facilitator withdrawal practices, some themes were still identified for facilitator withdrawal in this literature. …

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