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Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I just started reading Amy Edmondson’s book entitled, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. I have been waiting for her to consolidate her research into one book. Although her work is primarily geared towards business, it is highly relevant to the issues we face in education. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in promoting a type of education that empowers our students to be leaders in work and life.

She covers familiar ground in reviewing the management model that worked for a factory system. I have yet to find anyone in education agree that we should manage and organize our schools based on the factory model of management. This intellectual acknowledgement, however, has had little or no impact on changing how schools are structured for our staff and students. What this book contributes is an excellent framework for understanding how we need to change.

She proposes that there are two basic frameworks for organizing a collective endeavor:

• Organize to execute

• Organize to learn

Organize to execute

Edmondson describes how the demands of getting people to perform in predictable, standardized, measurable ways created a system designed to implement and manage predetermined plans (designed by those in leadership positions)to produce desired outcomes. Organizations need their plans to be executed efficiently and workers were evaluated by how well they follow these plans or orders-basically doing what they were told to do. Since the work was often repetitive, tedious and arbitrary, everyone in the organization needs to be controlled usually through rewards and consequences.

Edmondson states: “Many consider the ability to measure and reward the specific, differentiated performance of individuals crucial to good management-a belief that is inaccurate and unhelpful in certain settings…fear worked reasonably well to motivate employees…As a society we are still largely inured to a fear-based work environment. We believe (most of the time, erroneously) that fear increases control. Control reinforces certainty and predictability. We don’t immediately see the costs of fear…In fact many managers believe that without fear people will not work hard enough…Traditional models of organizing emphasize plans, details, roles, budgets and schedules-tools of certainty and predictability… the managerial mindset that enables execution actually inhibits an organization’s ability to learn and innovate.”

Organize to Learn

Edmondson explains that organizations today need to be able to adapt to a complex, constantly changing environment. She says,“ In this dynamic environment, successful organizations need to be managed as complex adaptive systems rather than as intricate controlled machines.” Organizations need to be designed to be constantly learning and growing. “The learning imperative requires relinquishing control as the ultimate goal. Teaming is the way for organizations to learn. Teaming means bringing people together to generate new ideas, find answers and solve problems. Teaming, it seems, requires a new type of leadership that supports speaking up, asking questions, and sharing ideas…learning is a process of action and reflection, in which action is taken assessed and modified to produce desired results…this requires leaders who work to create environments that support and encourage sharing, experimenting and learning.”

She describes how the “organize to execute” mindset is hard to lose: “it frames how we interpret our own and others actions, shapes are expectations for busyness and often determines our response to failure. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, many of us still expect ourselves and others to get things right the first time. We view failures as unacceptable. We issue directives to those below and look for direction from supervisors above. We prefer going along with the majority opinion rather than risk conflict or job loss if we truly speak out.”

“To promote teaming, leaders must trust those they lead…Letting go of outmoded, but taken for granted, concepts of authority and hierarchy takes effort.”

Today’s dynamic environment needs people who “… know how to experiment, how to think on their feet, how to work in the absence of rules, how to adapt quickly”.

Application to Bullying Prevention

You might be thinking, “How does all of this apply to bullying prevention?” My answer would be everything. Bully prevention efforts (no matter how “well executed”) will continue fail, until educational leaders on all levels see this connection and start to change the school environment. We must first recognize that schools are typically entrenched in the “organize to execute” structure designed to control and manipulate administrators, teachers and students. This recognition needs to spark the change process toward something aspirational, something designed to promote the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for “teaming”. The teaming that Edmondson describes, coincidentally, is the type of learning the people welcome and embrace without the need of tight controls and management. It is the type of learning that is intrinsically motivating that develops self - regulation based on an awareness of and respect for the contributions and the needs of others.

I am convinced that students, who are rewarded for compliance to authority and with following the rules being paramount in their minds are not likely to be empowered as bystanders; they will fail to develop the moral conscience that will guide them to doing what is right often requiring them to take risks. Effective bullying prevention requires more than just preventing and reducing bullying; it requires moving from as Amy Edmondson would say from “organizing to execute” to “organizing to learn.” It shouldn’t be a radical idea to assert that schools of all places should organized to learn.

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