Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Five Currents of Organizational Psychology-From Group Norms to Enforced Change

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Five Currents of Organizational Psychology-From Group Norms to Enforced Change

Article excerpt

Introduction

Organizational psychology (OP) established early in the twentieth century and consolidated in the context of the two world wars and the great depression. In association with this, a number of empirical studies of working conditions and social relations in the workplace appear. One of the pioneers, Münsterberg (1913) aimed at sketching the outlines of a new science, which was to intermediate between laboratory psychology and everyday problems. He argued to bring the psychological science into the service of the working life. Another pioneer, Scott (1911), intended to make the workplace more efficient through the rationalization of worker activities, especially by appealing to the self-interest of laborers. His role in applied psychology eventually led him to be one of the founders of OP. The most comprehensive studies, the 'Hawthorne Experiments', took place in the 1920s and 1930s at the Western Electric Company in Chicago. It was not least through analyses of these by Roethlisberger and Dickson (1939) and Homans (1950) that an interest arose in norms and values in the small group. One became aware that networks among colleagues function as sets of norms for production ceilings, and mention was made of 'the human factor'. This became the foundation stone for OP as an independent discipline and its showdown with Taylor's scientific management (Scheuer, 2014; Taylor, 1911).

OP may be identified in relation to organizational sociology (OS) and organizational development (OD). OS is mainly an analytically driven apparatus that sees organizations as arrangements of elements, more or less successfully adapted to the larger context, determined to fulfill certain tasks through a system of coordinated division of labor (Scott & Davis, 2007). In opposition to this, OP intends to overcome the dichotomies between analysis and intervention, and organizational behavior is seen as implicated by norms and values in the small group. It recurs in many central texts that OP is not a secluded academic discipline; rather advocates of OP have ambitions to treat practical problems in close collaboration with practitioners. Therefore, I argue, both theory and practice is constitutive of OP, and in this article, OP is analyzed as a theoretically warranted practical discipline.

OD, on the other side, appears in the literature as a cross-professional discipline drawing on psychological theory; ideas of involvement; group norms and values in order to promote planned change in organizations (for a good and recent overview see Burnes & Cooke, 2012). In this article, exclusively a number of trends in OP that informs OD are discussed. This means I exclude reputable aspects of OP; I do not for instance offer work motivation, leadership, recruitment techniques, and issues related to the working environment the space it deserves (Hollway, 1991). OD theory and practice trace back to two events. The first is the publication of Lewin and Lippitt's autocracy-democracy studies. These showed that leaders who promote democratic participation obtained far better outcomes than autocratic leaders. Consequently, if autocratic leaders want to improve the performance of their followers, they need to change their own behavior. The second was the beginning of Lewin's long and extensive series of action research and participative management projects with the Harwood Manufacturing Corporation. These honed the tools, techniques, and approaches that became central to OD (Burnes & Cooke, 2012). I will discuss this further in relation to the social psychological current.

The acceleration of industrialization, increasing division of labor, and the need of recruitment principles were among the reasons that OP formed as an independent and relatively strong discipline. After the Second World War, a need arose with regard to the treatment of war trauma and the collective processing of the painful experiences from the Holocaust. How could it happen that civilized human beings could instigate such abhorrent atrocities? …

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