History of Organization Development: The Psychologists

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    History of Organization Development: The Psychologists Part 2

    (Guest post from John Scherer, Co-Director of Scherer Leadership International, with Billie Alban, President of Alban & Williams, Ltd. This is the second blog post in a six-part series about the history of OD.)

    Introduction to this Blog Series

    • In our work as OD practitioners, whose shoulders are we standing on?
    • Whose ‘conceptual DNA’ runs in our veins?
    • What are our operating assumptions and where did they come from?

    Believe it or not, there was a time when things like involving people in action-planning, group decision-making, action research, feedback, high-performance/high-satisfaction team development, leadership and management coaching, the stages in the consulting process—and a host of other standard OD practices—did not exist. Who figured them out—and passed them on to us?

    You may know some of the people on whose shoulders you are standing, certainly, you have read the works of earlier ‘elders’ who have shaped your work, but many of those who developed ways to improve their social systems are lost in the mists of time. . .

    NOTE: This site distinguishes the difference between “organizational development” and “Organization Development.” The former phrase refers to the nature and scope of change in organizations, i.e., the change is to the entire organization or to a significant portion of the organization. The latter phrase refers to a field of well-trained people with expertise in guiding successful organizational development.

    In the first segment of this series, we looked at some of our ancient ancestors in the practice of OD, going all the way back to ‘Karg’, the Neanderthal hunter who was looking for a way to kill the mastodon without losing so many of his buddies. Thanks to several comments from readers of that segment, let’s say it was ‘Marg’, one of the women around the fire in the cave who stepped forward and made the suggestions regarding longer spears and a better strategy, the first ‘socio-tech’ intervention.

    Then there was the ancient story of the Biblical conversation between Moses and his Father-in-Law, Jethro, one of the first recorded ‘executive coaching’ sessions. There were also the Egyptian ‘consulting engineers’ who maintained the Nile’s effectiveness, and even later, the court jesters, who made kings and queens laugh, finding ways to ‘speak truth to power’, affecting decisions from a ‘consulting’ position.

    These historical attempts to have more effective organizations were missing several important ingredients, especially the distinction between content (where most of the above ‘consulting’ almost certainly focused) and process (something yet to be discovered). It was up to the unique exploration of more recent minds and hearts to discover and apply the principles that launched what we would recognize today as Organization Development. While many people’s work fed into the formation of our field, as you will see, it was primarily social psychologists (groups and larger systems) and psychologists (individuals and groups) who contributed the most.

    In this blog segment, we will name some of the psychologists whose thinking contributed to their focus on changing individuals to our field, and in the next several segments we will look at ‘The Big Four (or Five)’ from several other fields who more directly shaped OD.

    Psychological Branches in Our OD Family Tree

    Since 1900, these psychologists have contributed concepts important in shaping our work:

    Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), was one of the first to postulate the existence of an inner world that drives what human beings do—something we hold today as obvious as gravity, and his concepts of Superego, Ego, and Id led almost directly to Transactional Analysis’ concepts of Parent, Adult, and Child.

    Carl Jung (1875-1971) postulated the power of archetypes operating in the human psyche and emphasized the role of the Shadow, those aspects of who we are that have not yet been integrated. He also legitimated the world of dreams and intuition and suggested that we were more than rational beings living in a Cartesian or Newtonian world.

    Mary Parker Follet (1868-1933) was a community leader and innovative organizer focusing on what happened in groups and how they functioned long before her better-known male colleagues. Although relatively unknown to many in our field, she was a pioneer in both how groups functioned and the key role of leadership in their effectiveness.

    B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) took the Russian Ivan Pavlov’s salivating dogs to the next (human) level, theorizing that we are not making free-will decisions at all, but are products of what he called ‘stimulus/response-driven operant conditioning’. His principle: what gets rewarded gets repeated. (Today’s field of Performance Management comes directly from this school of thought.)

    Erik Erikson (1902-1994) saw a human being’s life as a developmental journey with predictable ‘epigenetic stages’ or phases that must be successfully traversed in the process of becoming a healthy adult. All the life cycles and developmental models of today owe a debt to his thinking.

    Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) showed that what motivates people varies, depending on where they are in their ‘hierarchy of needs’, and that we should be investigating not just ‘sick’ people, but those who are doing ‘well,’ to discover what makes us tick. (Appreciative Inquiry, one of the more recent innovations in OD, is a direct descendant of Maslow in this regard.)

    Carl Rogers (1902-1987), along with Maslow, initiated what came to be called Third Force (or Humanistic) Psychology, an alternative to the Operant Conditioning of Skinner and the Psychoanalytical model of Freud. Rogers also showed that increasing people’s effectiveness happened within a relationship between the helper and the helpee and that the movement toward wholeness was accelerated by empathy rather than advice-giving.

    Eric Berne (1910-1970), creator of Transactional Analysis, pioneered the current self-help movement by simplifying the principles of personal effectiveness and making them available to lay people. He saw the role of an internal Adult mediating between the internal Child and Parent, and showed people the ‘Games’ they were playing inside their ‘Life Script.’

    But none of these extraordinary people have had a more direct impact on the conception, birth, and early growth of OD than the next four. Frederick Taylor, the first in chronological order, set the stage; the second and third (Kurt Lewin and Wilfred Bion) developed and applied the principles; and the last (Douglas McGregor), made them available to managers of organizations and the general public. They are also the first names on Billie Alban’s very useful Origins of OD Time-Line. Tune in next time for that timeline—and some fascinating facts about Frederick Taylor, ‘The Father of Scientific Management’.

    ? What’s your reaction to this history of OD?

    Reference List of Books from This Series

    For More Resources About Organization Development, see These Free Management Library Topics:

    John Scherer is the Co-Director of Scherer Leadership International, and Billie Alban is the President of Alban & Williams, Ltd. This blog is an adaptation of their chapter in the ‘bible’ of the field of OD, Practicing Organization Development (3rd Edition, 2009, Rothwell, W.J., Stavros, J.M., Sullivan. R.L. and Sullivan, A. Editors). Many colleagues contributed, among them Warner Burke, John Adams, Saul Eisen, Edie Seashore, Denny Gallagher, Marvin Weisbord Juanita Brown, and others. They have drawn heavily from Weisbord’s wonderfully rich, easy-to-read, and well-documented description of the origins of the field in Productive Workplaces (1987 and revised in 2012).