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About this book

This book focuses on human behavioural processes and describes them from an interdisciplinary perspective. It introduces readers to the main theories and approaches in the field of organisational development and change (ODC), and discusses their relevance and purpose with a clear focus on improving how readers perceive and handle change. The book is tailor-made for business students without any background in the humanities, helping them to conceptualise organisational development and change, and to practically organise interventions to increase organisational effectiveness. The book’s goal is to help future managers and consultants recognise and handle the ‘full situation’, which includes purposes, people and relationships. Furthermore, it elaborates on those theories and instruments that can deliver real benefits to real people working in real fuzzy and complex circumstances, and includes several practical cases focusing on the role of the interventionist.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction

The Challenge of Perceiving Change
Leading change is an inherently complex endeavour and requires an understanding of the emotional and self-contradictory human aspects of coping with complexity, paradox and transition. In this first chapter, we explore the specific challenges and assumptions behind this statement. In doing so, we will introduce and explore the following:
  • A social constructionist perspective, relating ourselves directly to ‘what is going on’ in the way people perceive this themselves.
  • Organisational change as a process, that fundamentally (1) has something to do with time, energy, the same entity, perception and exchanging; (2) takes place on two interrelated levels: at a micro level as an individual process of learning to cope and at a meso or macro level as a process of exchanging the ‘learnings’.
  • A paradoxical situation, that is, in a situation among colleagues who apparently do not agree with our vision and do not support our efforts to make the requisite change.
  • Snowden and Boon’s ‘Cynefin model’ suggesting that those who try to impose order in a complex context will fail, but those who set the stage, step back a bit, allow patterns to emerge and determine which ones are desirable will succeed.
  • A framework with an overview of three different interrelated theoretical approaches: social constructionism, systems thinking and complexity science.
Antonie van Nistelrooij

2. Change Management

A Slight Return
Compared with organisation development (OD), ‘change management’ is a relatively recent phenomenon with certain distinctive characteristics and with a certain practical relevance that gained traction in the 1990s and has continued to grow in the subsequent decades. For organisational change to be managed in a more sustainable way, there is a serious need to question the assumptions that change management is based on. Therefore, the aim of this chapter is to examine the main assumptions behind and beyond interrelated change concepts as ‘change management’ and ‘change strategy’. In doing so, we will introduce and explore the following:
  • Five typical areas of metalanguage on how to manage organisational change, thematically clustered by (1) the way management positions itself; (2) the way management regards change management; (3) the way change is managed by a parallel organisation; (4) the way the need for change is managed by constructing a ‘burning platform’; (5) the usage of top-down communication; and (6) the way management perceives the process of change as an ‘emotional transition’
  • Change management as part of strategic change
  • The three change dimensions, content, process and context, as conceptual tools for engineering a change strategy
  • ‘Emergent change’ as a counterpart of ‘planned change’ which is the main concept of complexity sciences
Antonie van Nistelrooij

3. Organisation Development

As Coupled to the Original Work of Kurt Lewin
Few social scientists can have received the level of praise that has been heaped upon Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) (Burnes 2004). Indeed, his reputation was such that at the 1947 Convention of the American Psychological Association, Tolman gave his memorial address for Kurt Lewin stating that ‘Freud the clinician and Lewin the experimentalist—these are the two men whose names will stand out before all others in the history of our psychological era’. (Marrow 1969b) Echoing this praise some 40 years later, Schein referred to him as ‘the intellectual father of contemporary theories of applied behavioural science’ (Schein 1988). Being a practitioner and scholar, Lewin combined abstract thinking with great personal interest in real-life phenomena and had an unusual knack for turning everyday events and observations into useful practical theories (Weisbord 2004a). This renders Lewin’s work an endless and overwhelming source of inspiration regarding what is really happening when we engage in change processes. It may be rightly said that Lewin’s work was concerned primarily with the activities of people’s daily lives with one another.
Antonie van Nistelrooij

4. Beyond Organisation Development

Exploring Diagnostic and Dialogic OD
Emerging from Lewin’s original work, OD grew in the 1950s towards an identifiable field of practice that included action research, T-groups, systems thinking and process consultation. In the 1960s it was officially given its name (Shull et al. 2014a), and it became known as a practical intervention approach that improved the functioning of overly bounded, hierarchical organisations by regarding them as living, open systems (Marshak and Bush 2013). Throughout the 1960s OD also became more and more grounded in theory (Lewin 1948) and applied research (Marrow et al. 1967), with roots from a variety of practice areas including psychotherapy (Bion 1959), participative management (McGregor 1960), survey methodology (Likert 1967) and social psychology (Katz and Kahn 1978a). Since then, ideas, experience and intervention methods have enriched each other and expanded the field’s range of theories and approaches (Bushe and Marshak 2013a). From the 1970s on, OD was known as a field of research and application (Beckhard 1969). Later, during the 1980s, OD integrated insights from management and business studies and became a more interdisciplinary field just like, and overlapping with, hybrid fields such as organisation sciences, organisational behaviour and strategic management (Burnes and Cooke 2012). Since the 1990s, boundaries of the field have become even more blurred with the adoption of new practices and the growing popularity of closely related fields such as change management. Together with the recent ‘relational turn’ in the social sciences, many of the original ideas, methods and characteristics of the field of OD have converged into approaches to organisational change that differ in important ways, from earlier OD theories and practices (Van Nistelrooij and Sminia 2010a).
Antonie van Nistelrooij

5. Large-Group Interventions

As Part of a Developing Learning Infrastructure
Large-group interventions (LGIs) are a relatively new group of organisational change methods for involving ‘the whole system’ in a change process. As an intervention technique, LGIs are closely linked with Lewin’s action research, field theory and theory of change (Bunker and Alban 1997a; Heracleous et al. 2017; Bartunek et al. 2011d). One of their denominators is that they all ‘get the whole system in one room’ (Weisbord 1987). In recent decades, ‘these large-group methods have been used in change efforts concerning (1) changes in strategic direction, (2) acceptance and implementation of quality programmes or redesign projects, (5) changes in relationships with customers and suppliers and (6) changes in structures, policies or procedures’ (Bunker and Alban 1997b). Organising an LGI means we enable those who have a stake in the change purpose to exchange directly, face to face, their perspectives for establishing a common ground. Besides identifying a common ground, Weisbord speaks about four more activities that take place in most LGIs: reviewing the past, exploring the present, creating an ideal future scenario and making action plans (Weisbord and Janoff 1996). In the same vein, Coghlan also argues (Coghlan 1998) that the purpose of LGIs is not only to engage actors with a stake in a situation but also to promote ownership and create a commitment to act on the identified common ground and jointly developed plans.
Antonie van Nistelrooij

6. Changing and Learning

Bringing Assumptions to the Surface and Challenging Them
Traditional teaching and learning can be a very weak experience compared to the immediate here-and-now feedback that occurs when groups diagnose their own process and members give each other face-to-face feedback (Schein 2006a). In this regard, learning is an inevitable consequence of daily work, processes of feedback and interaction within organisations (Orr 1990). Although not all organisational change is the consequence of learning, individual and collective learning can be a substantial driver of organisational change. Furthermore, organisational learning can be affected by the way members are invited to participate actively in the process of changing (Tsang 1997) what managers say and do (Vera and Crossan 2004). However, most often learning is a by-product of decisions made and actions that are taken for other purposes (Lines et al. 2011). For example, participative collective leadership as introduced in the last Chapter, can be introduced in order to boost employee morale, but simultaneously it can affect what is learnt, as well as the rate at which learning occurs (Lines 2005). What these remarks show us in general is that the concepts of learning and change are interrelated: where it says ‘changing’ it could also say ‘learning’ and vice versa.
Antonie van Nistelrooij

7. Change Dynamics

Towards a Recursive Perspective on ‘Resistance’
The intention to change is never enough. There are limits to one’s willpower and desire to do something that we claim is important. There are so many things that happen between the moment of committing to an action and actually following through on it, leading to all kind of human dynamics. In this chapter, we discuss these occurring dynamics on the following three levels: (1) an intra-individual psychodynamic perspective; (2) a social-interactive group dynamic perspective; and (3) a social systems dynamics perspective. Following these levels in this chapter, we introduce and explore the following:
  • How resistance to change as a scholarly concept has evolved in recent decades. That, for example, ‘resistance’ is not per se a nuisance but may also be a resource and that it is not per se a simple one-way concept but can also be seen as a recursive concept that works for both interventionist as well as the receiver.
  • That the ‘resistance’ of a group can also owe to mostly unconsciousness, dysfunctional group behaviour, which come into play when group members increasingly become blind to their own inhibiting personal and interactive patterns. In this regard we discuss and compare, Argyris’ ‘defensive reasoning’, Janis’ ‘groupthink’ and Harvey’s ‘Abilene paradox’.
  • That the ‘resistance’ of people can also be the result of a paradoxical situation in which they are stuck, or through a paradoxical ‘double bind’ message, a double commitment and/or a delay in a feedback loop.
Antonie van Nistelrooij

8. A Complexity Perspective

Consultants Experiences Related to (Their Own) Change Dynamics
Complexity science is studying the nature of dynamics in interacting people and suggests that order emerges without any central or governing control or intention when the whole is operating in ‘edge of chaos’ conditions. This way of thinking invites us to stay in the movement of communicating, learning and organising, to think from within our living participation in the evolution of forms of identity. In this chapter, we explore the complexity perspective regarding the practice of consultancy and intervening. In doing so, we will introduce and explore the following:
  • The historical background of this field, how it relates to change and changing, the contemporary debate in the consultancy literature and its main components as a scientific field of research.
  • How to look at change from a first-person perspective by introducing a narrative, with which we try to make a personal experience meaningful in such a way that the reader can stand in a consultant’s shoes and relate to their own experiences.
  • How research practices such as autoethnographic research and community inquiry can be used as an approach to research to describe and systematically analyse personal interactive experience in order to understand cultural experience in relation to other perspectives regarding this experience.
  • Looking into the first encounters between a consultant and a client, by taking a closer look at the particular challenges and dynamics that are part of the conversations regarding a contracting and the preliminary scoping of the system between a consultant and a client.
  • The concept of a ‘pseudo exploration’, which can cause things to be really complex, giving rise to insurmountable obstructions.
Antonie van Nistelrooij


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