Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Barriers to Transformation in a Higher Education Organization: Observations and Implications' for OD Professionals

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Barriers to Transformation in a Higher Education Organization: Observations and Implications' for OD Professionals

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The field of organization development has made significant contributions to the health of organizations. In the 1965 text, Organizational Psychology, Edgar Schein introduced an "adaptive coping-cycle" as a systems model of organizational health. His criteria of organizational health were 1) Ability to sense environmental change; 2) Ability to get information to the right place; 3) Ability to digest and utilize information; 4) Ability to adjust and transform self without self-- destruction; and 5) Ability to get feedback on consequences of transformations. In Schein's (1997) view, these criteria are still applicable for organizational health; all five must be met for the organization to learn and grow.

This article illustrates an organization transformation effort that eventually became paralyzed by a failure to meet these criteria in a multi-campus community college district organization. In addition, the presence of strong intra-group cohesiveness and strong intergroup conflict prevented the organization from transforming itself and adjusting to emerging market changes as suggested by Schein's adaptive coping cycle. Overall, the college district stakeholders were very effective at sensing environmental changes but struggled under ineffective decision-making systems that should have moved information to the right places.

Additionally, decision-makers did not effectively digest and utilize the information that emerged during the consulting effort. Although each stakeholder group had the ability to sense environmental changes and had important information contributing to effective change, Criteria Two through Five in Schein's model for helping an organization learn and grown were impacted by the strength of the intra-group cohesiveness and inter-group conflict. OD practitioners Rashford and Coghlan (1994) highlight the importance of identifying and integrating individual, group, intergroup, and total organizational level issues and interventions. The authors observed three conditions that contributed to the dynamics that allowed the inter-group conflict to thrive in this organization. The first condition and easiest to observe was the strength of local group identities throughout the organization. Employees has strong alliances within these groups and groups defined by location or by profession or by interests were meeting affiliation needs. The second condition was the lack of systems for moving information to the right people at the right time. The Shared Governance decision-making process was the vehicle in place to accomplish this; however, the potential for effective use of this process had been dismantled by increasing inter-group conflicts. The third condition was the virtual lack of alliance or identify with the district-wide organization overall. The authors observed these last two conditions, lack of systems and lack of organization-wide identify, as a key to why this organization could not better manage the group and inter-group dynamics. After completing a two-part organization assessment of the Board of Trustees and the organization, it quickly became clear that the very system formed to ensure open line communication and inclusive decision-making was now impeding progress on critical organizational issues. Furthermore, moving, digesting, and using information was done in the context of local group interests, not the superordinate interests of the whole district. These dynamics might have been overcome if decision-making systems and district identity had provided boundaries within which stakeholder groups could disagree. Instead, local groups could not adequately access or believe in the decision-making systems available to them nor could they see how their interests would be met by the future direction of the district. The authors believe that this organization failed to mobilize Schein's adaptive coping skills because there was no framework to ensure progress. Figure 1 illustrates the authors' view of how systems and organizational identify can offer the necessary framework with which groups with strong local identities can mobilize Schein's five adaptive criteria. …

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