Saturday, April 26, 2014

What force-fields do we experience in organisations today?

In 1989, when studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), I opted for an elective subject in Political Science. Little did I know what a towering figure my teacher would be. YD Phadke may not be as celebrated beyond Maharashtra, but his analytic prowess on society and its challenge in the wee years of economic liberalisation was not lost on me. The criminalisation of politics, and the politicisation of crime was a label I heard from this horse’s mouth. Nearly 2 decades after, the grip of this trend is firm and tenacious.
Years later, I learnt that summer months activate certain chemicals that make for greater criminal behaviors

At least for a few years, I watched that phenomenon peak and ebb only to realise that December 6, October 31, and November 26 are all winter dates for that theory to find generalisation in India. In 2014, as I write, I cannot recall how much less incidents of violence and blood-letting have been since the 1990s. It was in the 1990s itself, however, that academics studying group and individual behaviors revisited what a famous scientist once mentioned “There is nothing so practical as a good theory”.

Edgar Schein was the first to resurrect Lewinian thinking into group relations theory. The underlying reason being the neglect of ‘field theory’ that Kurt tried to model as in a topological psychology from the pure sciences of physics and mathematics. Schein and others have argued that many aspects of Lewin’s work have become fundamental to understanding how organizations and the people
who populate them behave. Burns and Cooke (2013) state that even modern social constructivist approaches miss force-field theory integration, so much so that in their paper “Kurt Lewin’s Field Theory: A Review and Re-evaluation”; they call for a restoration of field theory. They believe that Appreciative Inquiry, for example, among other large-scale change efforts have a fault line. That is, despite its apparent success and appeal, it fails in widespread participatory renewal of organisations.

Cutting the chase short, here’s what I surmised from an ongoing intervention in an apparently sunrise industry sector, to exercise my brain muscles to attention in this regard. Let me know if it reads meaningfully for you.

1. Unless, employees participate in determining a company-specific way, they will not own the intangible, inimitable strengths of diversity, uniqueness and novelty. Sustaining the feeling of pride will be over and above an industry sector factor
2. Speed needs calibration during this determinism, else, it will risk being experienced as forced, or contrived.  Neither too slow, nor too swift, but enough for employees to set an absorbable pace. Priority will be business performance, and culture merely a reflective enabler; albeit subtly influential.
3. Ecologically sound, it is to be an effort that needs to strengthen not only company internals, but its ecosystem too. Any imbalance will indicate lack of alignment. E.g. investors are discerning constituencies in this respect.
4. Critical connects: Strategy, Identity, Operations. Miss any one, may be missing all.
5. Alignment features : performance climate, learning from others, Company manifesto, employee life-cycle, and technologically enabled (hand-device friendly collaboration tools) and aspirational enough to provide the  creative tension for excellent employee contributions.

Apparently, the time for the movement away from ‘presidential’ / oligarchic economic systems is now. The movement toward ‘communitarian’, ‘participative’ and ecologically conscious corporations is slowed by habit and lack of imagination than by the conception of possibilities already on offer. With cognition, socialisation of learning, and pace of dissemination, processes stewarded by leadership teams will tell on the future of organisations and our planet per se. 

I will also watch out for the use of language, that may indicate what paradigms I may be stuck in. E.g. "this time around...." OR "Up until now....". Am reminiscing, finally, a quote my old school Principal, the late Rev. Fr. Vivian Lobo SJ, mentioned to me in a special exclusive evening walk "It is ideals that give meaning to practice. Practice without ideals is a troubling act". 

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