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Action Research and Organizational Development Case Study

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Updated: May 3rd, 2021

I have previously worked for a small chain of stores in a position that involved a lot of intercompany paperwork. I would prefer to keep the name of the organization and position anonymous as it does not pertain to this task. Although my first few weeks at that position were relatively problem-free, I have noticed a large communication gap between the different departments even though they were located on the same floor. Sometimes it resulted in documents getting lost after I sent them to be approved, and in other situations, I would be late to get the message about a report I needed to write because no one knew that I was not informed about it.

When I confronted my manager, she tried to resolve this issue by introducing me to some of the more knowledgeable people of the company who knew the established operations. Unfortunately, some of them already left the company by the time I started working, so those connections were lost. My manager was not aware of the full chain of operation because the person I replaced did all the work for years without telling her the process. After a week of trying to establish all the required communication connections she gave up on it and left me to find them on my own which eventually led to the larger loss of documents and efficiency for the company. I believe she had such difficulty because of two reasons: the company had a poor system of communication, and the manager relied too much on the previous worker.

Although I got a very negative impression of the inner workings of that company I believe that its problems could be fixed through the work of an organizational development consultant. The system of steps presented by Weiher puts the most emphasis on the on the data collection step (2014). This would be appropriate in the case of my past organization as the issues affected documents and communication the most. Through the process of data collection and its diagnosis, the organizational development consultant should be able to find the exact points of communication breakdown. For me, it was clear that people were working there have already adapted to the system despite its inefficiency, so they have not considered changing it.

This is where the problematic step might come in. Lurey and Griffin describe the feedback phase as a cooperative one, where the organizational development consultant would have to work together with the team to direct the process of accepting change (2013). Through my experience with the company, which lasted about six months, I saw a major pushback against change among both the team and the manager of my department. The work process was hectic, and people often considered things only in the short-term. One possible solution in this situation would be strong support from the upper management as the whole department was very careful in following any mandate that came from them. Then the next problematic step might come from the intervention phase. Since the client becomes more accountable at this stage, the chances of proper implementation of plans could be put in jeopardy (Lurey & Griffin, 2013). The team was very slow to implement any changes during my work time, and without constant supervision, I do not believe they would be able to commit to changes.

Large Group Interventions

Large group interventions include such techniques as Open Space Technology and Future Search. Both of the methods involve group communication in order to solve a common problem or establish a plan for the future. One of the issues that could have easily been solved through future search in my past organization is the lack of a scheduled day to provide all the weekly reports needed for the department. My team consisted of 24 store managers responsible for three to seven stores each. Their work involved a lot of travel around the city which did not permit them to visit the office every day. This resulted in a staggered paperwork flow. Some basic papers like travel budgets would sometimes be delayed for weeks due to two or three people who worked in very remote locations.

This issue could be solved through Future Search because it would involve the participation of the whole team. They would be able to discuss this issue as it not only affected the paperwork but their schedules as well. I believe that one or two days could be selected to gather all the required data for the bi-weekly paperwork. In the ideal situation, managers would be able to visit the office on the morning of the selected day, drop off all the required paperwork, and then leave for their other business. I am sure that the issue could have been slightly more complicated, but a compromise could have been found through the use of Future Search (Kaapz, 2010).

Despite the fact that Future Search is intended for use by very large groups with 60 or more members, this issue can definitely benefit from its use (Rogers, 2010). For preparation, I would like to ask the department manager to join me as she was both respected by the team and knew when such an event could be organized so that everyone could come. She would also be able to discuss this intervention with upper-management to secure funding for the event as it would mean a loss of a free day for the team members. The whole department would be invited to the event, which means 27 people. 24 of them would be store managers, one person responsible for paperwork, and one department manager. Everyone needs to be present for the discussion because it needs to be a date that everyone would be comfortable with.

Open Space Technology is a slightly more freeform technique where everyone is free to create a talk on an issue that they want to address. Communication is relaxed, and no one is obligated to do anything specific besides scheduling of the talks (Pashley, 2012). Usually, multiple issues are addressed through it, one of which could be the standardization of spreadsheets. Store managers were not able to provide constantly formatted spreadsheets because of the lack of standard format for the people operating the stores below them. It was common for the managers to stay in office just to fix the mistakes made by the store teams. Open Space could be beneficial because different members of the team could discuss what they need the most out of the format and find a coordinated way to implement it.

Because this type of intervention does not require extensive planning, I would not ask anyone to join me in preparation (Rogers, 2010). All the store managers would be invited, meaning 24 people. Department manager or any other members of the team could come too as they might have their own issues to bring up but to solve the spreadsheet issue I would need the store managers specifically. To facilitate a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, refreshments, coffee, tea, and snacks would be available to the team.

Job Redesign

My current workplace is a much more stable organization, but there are times when downtime affects my productivity and motivation. On certain days of the week, there can be multiple hours of downtime that can negatively affect my workflow. I believe that job enrichment would be a great way to redesign my job. I find job enrichment to be a more substantial approach due to its focus on the two-factor theory of motivation. I have a varied set of skills that I acquired through job experience and education that I would like to use more often. I believe that the sense of achievement would be more beneficial than boredom. However, Griffin reports that there are possible issues with job enrichment that would have to be considered (2007). Perhaps the Job Characteristics approach would be more appropriate.

Out of the five job characteristics, I would like my manager to enrich the skill variety of my job (Griffin, 2007). As mentioned previously, I have a number of skills that are not engaged during my work hours, and I would like to put them to use. It would help me develop them further, as well as show that I am capable of more varied tasks than I currently perform. In theory, by seeing these skills improve, I should feel a greater sense of achievement from my work. I am usually finished with all the urgent tasks by the middle of the workday which leaves me to wait for any issues that might need to be addressed after. Often, these issues only come at the very end of the work day, and in a quite sudden fashion. The urgency of these end-of-day tasks comes right after a long period of aimless sitting during which I lose any sense of preparedness I have had at the beginning of the day. By increasing the variety of my tasks, I should be able to keep my motivation throughout the day, while also feeling more satisfied with my job because I would be able to use more of my skillset than I can right now.

Out of the intervention options presented by Amy Wrzesniewski, I believe the most appropriate would be task crafting. It is the most straightforward approach, but for my specific case, it would suffice as I only need to have a more selection of tasks to feel more satisfied with my job (2014). I feel like I have satisfying work relationships within my organization, and I have a coherent idea of the meaning of my tasks. Despite those facts, I still require a job redesign to solve the issues I currently have at my position. This is why task crafting is the type of intervention I would choose.

Appreciative Inquiry

After the relatively negative experience with my previous work, my current team has greatly impressed me. One of the main positives lies is the culture of transparent communication within the new organization. Through coherent communication within the team, I was able to avoid many problems and have improved my workflow. My current organization uses a proprietary database that I have to use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I was slightly slow to adapt to it, but when I asked a colleague to help me understand it, he not only tried his best to show me the proper procedure but also connected me with a person in IT who was willing to answer any of my questions. Within the week I was able to do all the required operations with the database. What is more impressive is that he listened to my suggestions and proposed them for the future improvement of the system. Another example of the positive work experience came when two of the team members were unable to be at the office at a critical moment in the project. The manager and the team quickly discussed the situation, and the tasks of absent members were quickly divided among the team with minimal increase in stress. Appreciative Inquiry could be used to emphasize the communicative and adaptive qualities of the team in these situations to further improve the team.

My current organization measures performance through a number of mistakes made during the month, the pace of the project, and the positive or negative results that the project achieved on completion. I believe that a traditional development approach would be sufficient to find any issues that my team experiences as well as find a solution to them. A consultant that utilizes the traditional organization development approach could address the issues of my organization through the open space technology. The team is highly communicative which would benefit the discussion of any issues that could be brought up during the intervention. Even just normal socializing outside of the talks could prove fruitful as the team would be able to strengthen their bonds and exchange ideas on how the work could be improved. However, I do not think it would be as effective as the use of Appreciative Inquiry.

Appreciative Inquiry would be the most beneficial to my team because they have already shown a great response to positively charged feedback and actions. When Kelm describes the five principles of Appreciative Inquiry, she shows that a lot of them are based on dreaming and contextualizing events in forms of stories (2011). By focusing on the positive stories, people are able to be inspired to further improve themselves and their workplace. My current team suffers only from minor issues, but this is precisely why Appreciative Inquiry could be such a beneficial intervention for it. I believe that a consultant who utilizes Appreciative Inquiry would be the best hire for our company. This is due to the generative approach of Appreciative Inquiry. The focus of consulting would be not on resolving issues within the team to get to the sufficient levels of operation, but on achieving greater success through improving the team operation. Another factor that leads me to believe in Appreciative Inquiry is its grounded nature. The previously discussed methods had multiple issues that were not yet addressed through academic research when Appreciative Inquiry was created from academic principles of positive psychology and have already shown a variety of positive results from teams that would otherwise be dismantled or just trained to the minimal acceptable levels of operation.

References

Griffin, R. (2007). Principles of management. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Kaapz. (2010). Web.

Kelm, J. (2011). Web.

Lurey, J. & Griffin, M. (2013). Action research: The anchor of OD practice. In Vogelsang, J. (Ed.), Handbook for Strategic HR: Best Practices in Organization Development from the OD Network (pp. 46-52). Saranac Lake, NY: AMACOM Books.

Pashley, S. (2012). Open space. Web.

Rogers, J. (2010). Large group interventions. Facilitating Groups. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education

Weiher, A. (2014). Web.

Wrzesniewski, A. (2014). Web.

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