Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 465–484 | Cite as

Working Within Organizational Cycles—A More Suitable Way to Manage Action Research Projects in Large Organizations?

  • John Molineux
  • Tim Haslett
Article

Abstract

This article proposes that action research projects in a large business context may need to fit within organizational funding and political cycles. It outlines some of the problems that may occur in attempting to implement an action research project in a large organization. It gives a case study of such a project that aimed to introduce a systemic human resource strategy to bring about organizational cultural change. Part way through the completion of the project the cycle changed, funds were cut, and the project was abolished, although significant portions of it had been implemented and other parts were later reestablished. The article establishes a link to punctuated equilibrium theory in exploring the political and funding cycles that influenced the decision to cut funding. It considers whether this could have been foreseen, and gives some recommendations for future action research projects.

action research action research cycles systems thinking causal loop diagramming punctuated equilibrium organizational cycles 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Amburgey, T. L., Kelly, D., and Barnett, W. P. (1993). Resetting the clock: The dynamics of organizational change and failure. Admin. Sci. Q. 38, 51-73.Google Scholar
  2. Ancona, D. G., Goodman, P. S., Lawrence, B. S., and Tushman, M. L. (2001a). Time: A new research lens. Acad. Manage. Rev. 26(4), 645-663.Google Scholar
  3. Ancona, D. G., Okhuysen, G. A., and Perlow, L. A. (2001b). Taking time to integrate temporal research. Acad. Manage. Rev. 26(4), 512-529.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, P., and Tushman, M. L. (1990). Technological discontinuities and dominant designs: A cyclical model of technological change. Admin. Sci. Q. 35, 604-633.Google Scholar
  5. Argyris, C., and Schön, D. A. (1991). Participatory action research and action science compared: A commentary. In Whyte, W. F. (ed.), Participatory Action Research, Sage, Newbury Park, CA, pp. 85-96.Google Scholar
  6. Brown, S. L., and Eisenhardt, K. M. (1997). The art of continuous change: Linking complexity theory and time-paced evolution in relentlessly shifting organizations. Admin. Sci. Q. 42(1), 1-34.Google Scholar
  7. Burns, J. R., and Musa, P. (2001). Structural validation of causal loop diagrams. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference of the Systems Dynamics Society, Atlanta, GA.Google Scholar
  8. Checkland, P. B. (1981). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, Wiley, Chichester, England.Google Scholar
  9. Checkland, P. B. (1985). From optimizing to learning: A development of systems thinking for the 1990s. J. Oper. Res. Soc. 36(9), 757-767.Google Scholar
  10. Checkland, P. B., and Scholes, J. (1990). Soft Systems Methodology in Action, Wiley, Chichester, England.Google Scholar
  11. Chisholm, R. F. (2001). Action research to develop an interorganizational network. In Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 324-332.Google Scholar
  12. Eldredge, N., and Gould, S. (1972). Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to phyletic gradualism. In Schopf, T. J. (ed.), Models in Paleobiology, Freeman, San Francisco, pp. 82-115.Google Scholar
  13. Flood, R. L. (2001). The relationship of ‘systems thinking’ to action research. In Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 133-144.Google Scholar
  14. Forrester, J. W. (1961). Industrial Dynamics, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  15. Gersick, C. J. G. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a newmodel of group development. Acad. Manage. J. 31, 9-41.Google Scholar
  16. Gersick, C. J. G. (1991). Revolutionary change theories: A multilevel exploration of the punctuated equilibrium paradigm. Acad. Manage. Rev. 16(1), 10-36.Google Scholar
  17. Greenwood, D. J., and Levin, M. (1998). Introduction to Action Research, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.Google Scholar
  18. Greenwood, D. J., and Levin, M. (2000). Reconstructing the relationships between universities and society through action research. In Denzin, N. K., and Lincoln, Y. S. (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd edn., Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 85-106.Google Scholar
  19. Gustavsen, B. (2001). Theory and Practice: The mediating discourse. In Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 17-26.Google Scholar
  20. Haken, H. (1981). Synergistics: Is self-organization governed by universal principles? In Jantsch, E. (ed.), Toward a Unifying Paradigm of Physical, Biological, and Sociocultural Evolution, Westview Press, Boulder, CO, pp. 15-23.Google Scholar
  21. Hannan, M. T., and Freeman, J. (1984). Structural inertia and organizational change. Am. Sociol. Rev. 29, 149-164.Google Scholar
  22. Haveman, H. A. (1992). Between a rock and a hard place: Organizational change and performance under conditions of fundamental environmental transformation. Admin. Sci. Q. 37, 48-75.Google Scholar
  23. Hedberg, B., Nystrom, P., and Starbuck, W. (1976). Camping on seesaws: Prescriptions for a self-designing organization. Admin. Sci. Q. 21, 41-65.Google Scholar
  24. Huy, Q. N. (2001). Time, temporal capability, and planned change. Acad. Manage. Rev. 26(4), 601-623.Google Scholar
  25. Kelly, D., and Amburgey, T. L. (1991). Organizational inertia and momentum: A dynamic model of strategic change. Acad. Manage. J. 34, 591-612.Google Scholar
  26. Kemmis, S., and McTaggart, R. (2000). Participatory action research. In Denzin, N. K., and Lincoln, Y. S. (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd edn., Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 567-605.Google Scholar
  27. Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolution, 2nd edn., University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  28. Lepak, D. P., and Snell, S. A. (1999). The human resource architecture: Toward a theory of human capital allocation and development. Acad. Manage. Rev. 24(1), 31-48.Google Scholar
  29. Levin, M., and Greenwood, D. (2001). Pragmatic action research and the struggle to transform universities into learning communities. In Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 103-113.Google Scholar
  30. Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems. J. Soc. Issues 2(4), 34-46.Google Scholar
  31. Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving Social Conflicts, Harper, New York.Google Scholar
  32. Lincoln, Y. S. (2001). Engaging sympathies: Relationships between action research and social constructivism. In Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 124-132.Google Scholar
  33. Lyneis, J. M. (1999). System dynamics for business strategy: A phased approach. Syst. Dyn. Rev. 15(1), 37-70.Google Scholar
  34. Martin, A. W. (2001). Large-group processes as action research. In Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 200-208.Google Scholar
  35. McGrath, J. E., and Rotchford, N. L. (1983). Time and behavior in organizations. Res. Organiz. Behav. 5, 57-101.Google Scholar
  36. McNiff, J. (1988). Action Research: Principles and Practice, Routledge, London.Google Scholar
  37. Meyer, A. D., Brooks, G. R., and Goss, J. B. (1990). Environmental jolts and industry revolutions: Organizational responses to discontinuous change. Strateg. Manage. J. 11, 93-110.Google Scholar
  38. Miller, D., and Chen, M.-J. (1994). Sources and consequences of competitive inertia: A study of the U.S. airline industry. Admin. Sci. Q. 39, 1-23.Google Scholar
  39. Miller, D., and Friesen, P. H. (1980). Momentum and revolution in organizational adaptation. Acad. Manage. J. 23(4), 591-614.Google Scholar
  40. Miller, D., and Friesen, P. H. (1982). Structural change and performance: Quantum versus piecemeal-incremental approaches. Acad. Manage. J. 25(4), 867-892.Google Scholar
  41. Miller, D., and Friesen, P. H. (1984). Organizations: A Quantum View, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.Google Scholar
  42. Mitchell, T. R., and James, L. R. (2001). Building better theory: Time and the specification of when things happen. Acad. Manage. Rev. 26(4), 530-547.Google Scholar
  43. Molineux, J., and Haslett, T. (2001). The use of soft systems methodology to redesign an organisational employment system. In Proceedings of the 7th Annual Conference of the Australia and New Zealand Systems Society, Perth, WA.Google Scholar
  44. Molineux, J., and Haslett, T. (2002). An action research project in the use of a systemic human resource strategy for organizational cultural change. In Proceedings of the 6th International Quality, Innovation and Knowledge Conference, Kualalumpar, Malaysia.Google Scholar
  45. Monks, K., and McMackin, J. (2001). Designing and aligning an HR system. Hum. Res. Manage. J. (London). 11(2), 57-72.Google Scholar
  46. Morecroft, J. D. W. (1985). Rationality in the analysis of behavioral simulation models. Manage. Sci. 31, 900-916.Google Scholar
  47. Nadler, D. A., and Tushman, M. L. (1998). Competing by Design, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Ofori-Dankwa, J., and Julian, S. D. (2001). Complexifying organisational theory: Illustrations using time research. Acad. Manage. Rev. 26(3), 415-430.Google Scholar
  49. Pala, Ö., and Vennix, J. (2001). Dynamics of organisational change. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference of the Systems Dynamics Society, Atlanta, GA.Google Scholar
  50. Prigogine, I., and Stengers, I. (1984). Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature, Bantam Books, New York.Google Scholar
  51. Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (eds.) (2001). Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London.Google Scholar
  52. Romanelli, E., and Tushman, M. L. (1994). Organizational transformation as punctuated equilibrium: An empirical test. Acad. Manage. J. 37(5), 1141-1166.Google Scholar
  53. Sarah, R., Haslett, T., Molineux, J., Olsen, J., Stephens, J., Tepe, S., and Walker, B. (2002). Business action research in practice-A strategic conversation about conducting action research in business organizations. Syst. Pract. Action Res. (this issue).Google Scholar
  54. Sastry, M. A. (1997). Problems and paradoxes in a model of punctuated organisational change. Admin. Sci. Q. 42(2), 237-276.Google Scholar
  55. Schein, E. H. (1988). Organizational Culture and Leadership, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.Google Scholar
  56. Scott, W. R. (1987). The adolescence of institutional theory. Admin. Sci. Q. 32, 493-511.Google Scholar
  57. Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G., and Smith, B. (1999). The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, Nicholas Brealey, London.Google Scholar
  58. Senge, P., and Scharmer, O. (2001). Community action research: Learning as a community of practitioners, consultants and researchers. In Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (eds.), Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 238-249.Google Scholar
  59. Sterman, J. D. (1994). Learning in and about complex systems. Syst. Dyn. Rev. 10, 291-330.Google Scholar
  60. Thompson, M. P. (1988). Being, thought and action. In Quinn, R. E., and Cameron, K. S. (eds.), Paradox and Transformation, Ballinger, Cambridge, MA, pp. 123-135.Google Scholar
  61. Tushman, M. L., Newman, W. H., and Romanelli, E. (1986). Convergence and upheaval: Managing the unsteady pace of organizational evolution. Calif. Manage. Rev. 29(1), 1-16.Google Scholar
  62. Tushman, M. L., and Romanelli, E. (1985). Organizational Evolution: A metamorphosis model of convergence and reorientation. In Cummings, L. L., and Staw, B. M. (eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 7, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT, pp. 171-222.Google Scholar
  63. Ulrich, D. (1997). Human Resource Champions, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  64. Van de Ven, A. H., and Poole, M. S. (1995). Explaining development and change in organizations. Acad. Manage. Rev. 20, 510-540.Google Scholar
  65. Virany, B., Tushman, M. L., and Romanelli, E. (1992). Executive succession and organization outcomes in turbulent environments: An organization learning approach. Organiz. Sci. 3, 72-91.Google Scholar
  66. Walton, R. E., and Gaffney, M. E. (1991). Research, action, and participation: The merchant shipping case. In Whyte, W. F. (ed.), Participatory Action Research, Sage, Newbury Park, CA, pp. 99-126.Google Scholar
  67. Whyte, W. F. (1991). Comparing PAR and action acience. In Whyte, W. F. (ed.), Participatory Action Research, Sage, Newbury Park, CA, pp. 97-98.Google Scholar
  68. Wollin, A. (1999). Punctuated equilibrium: Reconciling theory of revolutionary and incremental change. Syst. Res. Behav. Sci. 16(4), 359-367.Google Scholar
  69. Wright, P. M., and Snell, S. A. (1998). Toward a unifying framework for exploring fit and flexibility in strategic human resource management. Acad. Manage. Rev. 23(4), 756-772.Google Scholar
  70. Zucker, L. G. (1988). Where do institutional patterns come from? Organizations as actors in social systems. In Zucker, L. G. (ed.), Institutional Patterns and Organizations, Ballinger, Cambridge, MA, pp. 23-52.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Molineux
    • 1
    • 2
  • Tim Haslett
    • 3
  1. 1.Human Resources ConsultantAustralian Public ServiceMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ManagementMonash UniversityAustralia
  3. 3.Department of ManagementMonash UniversityCaulfieldAustralia

Personalised recommendations