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June 09, 2006

Looking for Love Organizational Change in All the Wrong Places

The other day I saw a paper from last December's Forest Service National Leadership Team meeting, titled "Barriers to Practicing Adaptive management on National Forests and Grasslands."

The paper begins,

Of all the barriers to practicing adaptive management, one stands out above all the rest. The Forest Service lacks a consistent, credible, and affordable way to monitor current and changing conditions on national forests and grasslands.
Huh? The barrier that stands out above the rest in my mind is a maladaptive Forest Service culture.

I noticed that a colleague had a copy of Chris Argyris' Knowledge for Action on his shelf, so I "borrowed" it yesterday afternoon. The subtitle is, "A Guide to Overcoming Barriers to Organizational Change," The book is only one of several Argyris has written that should be studied along with books by other organizational psychologists like Donald Schon, Karl Weick, Robert Kegan …. Mostly I wondered who in the Forest Service might have studied it, recognizing that "book learning" is not a strong suit of the agency.

Still, the subtitle got me thinking as to the main problem of our maladaptive agency: the inability to overcome barriers to organizational change or adaptive management. Often people don’t even recognize the connection between brittle organizations and maladaptive behavioral routines. So they leap to the conclusion that if they treat symptoms the underlying problems will go away, else if they treat a small problem it will open doors that will afford opportunities to treat bigger problems later.

I would love to see the Forest Service take a serious look at another of Chris Argyris' books : Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning. But I am not holding my breath. It proves much easier to look for quick fixes than to address problems at their root. Or maybe I'm just way off base, and these allegations are just Iversonian pipe-dreams.

Posted by Dave on June 9, 2006 at 09:51 AM | Permalink


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