Growth and Development
In Roots, we reviewed the origins of organizational behavior research and practice in North America through the emergence of Kurt Lewin as the “grandfather” of organization change. In 1946, the state of Connecticut asked Kurt Lewin to head a two-week workshop on race relations. During the workshop, Lewin and his colleagues Ron Lippitt, Ken Benne, and Lee Bradford developed a form of training which they called the “training group,” or “T-group.” This method involves forming groups of about 10 participants who learn about group dynamics and processes directly by observing and discussing their own behavior in the group. The concept proved to be a very powerful tool for both learning and behavioral change.
Lewin and his colleagues were excited by the success of the Connecticut workshop and decided to create a regular series of T-groups the following summer. In the midst of their planning, in February 1947, Lewin died. Lippitt, Benne, and Bradford carried on. They secured funding for a new institute, to be known as the National Training Laboratories (NTL), where they could continue developing T-groups. Since then, NTL has become a highly influential research and training organization, and the T-group concept has evolved in many directions, from encounter groups and sensitivity training to many of today’s team-building techniques.
A serious labor dispute at Standard Oil’s Bayway plant in New Jersey set the stage for the first large-scale use of T-group methods in a U.S. corporate setting. In 1958, Robert Blake and Herb Shepard, both members of NTL, were engaged to use T-group techniques with groups of union members and management at Bayway. Their intervention was successful in resolving the labor dispute, and it improved the plant’s overall effectiveness. Blake and Shepard reportedly coined the term “organization development” at this time to describe the organizational growth and change resulting from their work.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic in England, the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations was also engaged in group dynamics research. One of Tavistock’s foremost scholars, Eric Trist, was a great admirer of Lewin. He and his colleagues conducted many studies in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, developing the theory that work organizations depended on both social and technical processes. Trist described them as “sociotechnical systems.” Trist and colleague Fred Emery also adopted Lewin’s concept of organizations as “open systems” which, like living organisms, are interrelated with their environment. Trist believed that to cope effectively with external changes, an organization must allow its members to create their own self-governing communities within the workplace.
In 1960, MIT professor Douglas McGregor, an admirer and associate of both Lewin and Trist, published a now-famous book titled The Human Side of Enterprise. McGregor proposed a pair of opposing theories of management based on opposing assumptions about human nature. “Theory X,” as he describes it, holds that humans are inherently passive, self-centered, and indolent, and require active control and management if they are to be productive. “Theory Y” is just the opposite; it holds that humans are inherently motivated to grow and do their best and will be most productive if allowed maximum responsibility for their own work. McGregor argued strongly for Theory Y. He acknowledged the reality of the less-than-ideal behavior on which Theory X is based, but suggested that it is the result of over-controlling management, not the proof of its necessity. He proposed modifying traditional management practices to allow more individual responsibility. By bringing up the subject of underlying assumptions, McGregor also foreshadowed the concept of “corporate culture.”
By about 1960, the roots and a solid trunk for the study of organization change was in place. Since then, some main and smaller branches emerged along with many blossoms. We will touch on this growth in our next installment.