Beyond the learning group the Interventure as a way of new learning in Strategic Managment Development.

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1 Jürg Thölke Ria Kauffman Iselien Nabben Rob Wetzels Beyond the learning group the Interventure as a way of new learning in Strategic Managment Development. Abstract This paper is a work in progress about new ways of learning and facilitating learning processes to a deeper level of sustainable change for the employee/manager and his organizational context. We introduce the interventure project as a new context bound method of learning, applied in incompany programs. We compare traditional methods as Action Learning and Personal Support Groups with the Interventure Method using several important criteria for facilitating change and creating learning processes. As an outcome we hope you will know more about the concepts, competences and conditions with regard to the interventure method. 1. Introduction In recent years the term Strategic Management Development (SMD) became increasingly important for Business Schools and their customers (Rost van Tonningen, 2003). In SMD personal and organizational ambitions are connected and developed within the organizational context. The movement to context bound education (and experience) is related to other schools of thought such as action learning, learning by doing, workplace learning, and competence based learning. Many Business Schools experiment more or less successfully with context bound learning projects. In this paper, we argue that integrating context bound learning in incompany programs requires specific conditions and competences to be in place in interweaving personal and organisational development. In the last seven years we developed a new, integrating approach. We call this new way of learning and working the Interventure approach. Inter-venture is a combination of two words: Intervention and adventure. The first word symbolizes our ambition to organize real change initiatives within a social system. The second word aims at the necessity to experiment with the adventurous in order to discover new paths of behavior and create new patterns of thinking. In combining these words we invite participants to connect in new authentic ways with developing the goals and processes of their organisation. An interventure creates the opportunity to work as a team on a concrete, relevant, yet unsolved case with actual stakeholders. The goal is learning, however, results for the organization are desirable. 2. The Airport in the Sea project as an illustrative example of an interventure project There is no such thing as a typical interventure project. In order to give more insight in the actual practice of an interventure project, we summarize five distinctive phases of the journey of an interventure group within an incompany program of a large Dutch construction company: 1. Starting up the Interventureproject. At the beginning of an incompany program, participants are asked to reflect on personal development issues and strategic challenges, which they would like to explore. These issues are discussed during the first session with their management and the faculty. In the case of the construction company six participants with different backgrounds (construction, street 1

2 maintenance, prefab production, real estate development, et cetera) shared a common concern: They started an interventure group with the title: Co-operation and synergy between company divisions. The participants believed that competition and prejudices among the divisions hindered the exploitation of the commercial potential of the company. Their starting hypothesis was: there are people who want to work together (WE: the young generation) and there are people who pursue mostly their own individual ambitions (THEY: the old generation). 2. Exploration of new dimensions. Exploring within an Interventure project takes two aspects into account: a) why is this particular issue a problem to you and us as a team (the personal and inter-personal dimension) and b) what are other points of view with regard to the interventure theme (content and strategic dimension) that might be helpful. In this early stage the interventure may have more in common with super- or intervision than with a traditional, result oriented project group. The focus on personal drivers leads towards more explicit research questions, such as: Who wins and who loses by not-cooperating? What are the underlying rules of the game? What is my own role in this game?how does it relate to my personal questions, passions and needs? This phase is also crucial to define the interventure group s rule s of the game. The theme changes from a problem out there that needs to be solved, to an issue in which the students and the studied fall together. The particular interventure group came to several, for them new conclusions: Cooperation is not a moral issue and not always desirable. It is important to learn, how to create for each project a new and optimal degree of cooperation. Therefore openness and trust is a precondition. However, stakeholders often rather suboptimalize in order to achieve short term wins for the business units. The corporate accounting and reward systems support this suboptimalization. Once these underlying structures are made visible, people can start to experiment with new practices in order to build openness and trust. As a consequence, the group decided to redefine their goal to making underlying patterns of cooperation visible and facilitating platforms for discussing new practice. 3. Development of the interventure tool Airport in the Sea: The group developed a management game on the basis of the prisoners dilemma. Therefore they visited experts and compared existing simulation games. With regard to their own game, managers were combined in cross divisional teams and asked to write a competing offer for a large scale project: building an airport in the sea. For this project all skills within the company were required. In order to succeed, the participants had to find new ways of calculating (questioning the hard system) and new ways of coöperating (questioning the soft system). Last but not least, each participant received a closed letter with instructions from the heads of divisions. In these letters the executives provided additional information such as a description of historical anecdotes with regard to the cooperation partners, experiences with past relations, but also personal advice with regard to necessary margins to be successful as a division (the informal rules of the game). 4. Experimenting with interventions: The group tested the game within the program group and invited several key players of the organization to join these workshops. It became clear that people who played the game immediately stepped in their old patterns of behavior. Despite of the fact that openness and trust were an important issue and explicitly discussed in the program, the players were not able to translate their mental insights into action. The closed letters stayed closed and people withheld essential information or even gave misleading information in order to get an advantage for the own division. In this particular management program, the first workshop lead to a severe crisis in the learning group, which 2

3 resulted after almost stopping the program to a deeper and more constructive learning environment. 5. Transfer, after the management program. The management game was later re-used six times in each of the following in-company programs. Moreover, the project group organized the game for management days and other special occasions within the company. The issue of cooperation and synergy however, stayed an important issue in the following incompany programs and other interventure groups with similar topics emerged. In order to facilitate their efforts, the CEO decided to organize a meeting between all the interventure groups interested in cooperation and synergy. Together they created a new combined project team. In this meeting it was decided to facilitate meet and greet sessions in each of the regions, using the large scale intervention skills learned during the in-company program. For each region one or several ex-members of an incompany program were asked to be the project champions. These meetings are now a yearly event in the different regions of the company. 3. On context bound learning; comparing different approaches There are several theories and practices that are related to learning in organizations. In terms of theories, we think of Kolb (1984), Argyris and Schön (1974), Wierdsma (1999), and many others. In terms of practices, we would like to compare the Interventure approach to the Personal Support Groups (or inter/supervision) and to Action Learning Groups. Table 1 positions the three practices in relation to some criteria that we think are important in an incompany learning process. Table 1: Difference between context bound learning groups Personal Action learing Interventures supportgroups groups Individual and collective individual collective Individual and collective Single, double and double Single and double Double and deutero deuteron loops Kolb circle Experience and reflection Experiment, experience, All phases and integration of personal Game and play with regard to underlying patterns Presence, here and now Impact and relevance for the organization Transfer of knowledge during and after the program Exploring the game Focus on personal matters reflection Focus on play Focus on organizational matters low middle high low middle high development and o.d. Repeatedly experimenting with game and play High flexibility to react on what matters where at a particular moment Personal Support Groups are mainly instruments for individual development. While they focus on making underlying processes more conscious (double loop learning), they leave little room for active experimenting and experiencing the learned in the here and now. In this sense, they focus on raising consciousness with regard to the rules of the game, while playing with the new behavior will take place later, outside the support group. These support groups also do not leave much room for other topics, such as important strategic questions 3

4 or actual business issues. Therefore, we argue, that the direct impact on the organization is low and the transfer of the effects are difficult to recognize. Action Learning Groups, in practice, often have the characteristics of business projects, which are (in the best case) supervised by an expert. They are in this sense instruments for collective learning. and aim at single and (if possible) double loop problem solving. Conceptualizing takes place on a rather superficial level, and exclusively with regard to the business topic. Action learning groups are, according to our opinion, good instruments for professionals to regain playing skills. However, the impact on the personal development and on sustainable results in the organization are restricted. Interventures, are of a more systemic nature, in the sense that interventure projects combine the individual and the collective learning, game and play, the here and now and the there and then. In interventions one deals with the tension between the interests of the individual and the organisation, as well as the tension between the parts of- and the whole organisation. In an Interventure process, the learning group passes all phases of the learning cycle and the goal is next to exploring and solving a particular issue, to learn how to learn (deutero learning). We therefore believe that the Interventure project carries potential for more impact on personal and organizational levels on the one hand, and for more lasting changes in the organization on the other. Facilitating the Interventure asks for specific conditions and competences. In brief: The topic has always a direct link to the strategic development of the organisation. The topmanagement is a sponsor of the program and of the process. Creating the Intervention theme forces the participant to strategic thinking and to make a connection between the strategic performance of the organisation and the performance of him(her)self and the Interventuregroup. The dialogue, discussion or even debate on the direction of the Interventure with the management and the facultystaff and the critical way of inquiring, unfolds the deeper structure of the organisation and it s impact on the performance. Participants choose topics in the central program for a better understanding of their own process and the Intervention-theme. Connecting, connecting, connecting, sharing and integrating is an important part of the process. Facilitators are competent in both personal and organisational development and know how to combine it and make it explicit in the process of the Interventure. 4. Discussion The interventure project draws on wellknown learning methods such as action learning projects, inter personal supervision, and breakthrough projects. However, in this paper we argue that the efficiency and the impact of our method reaches beyond known context bound project groups. We believe that we found a form of learning that combines the individual with the collective and leads to sustainable learning in organizations. In the case of the construction company, the interventure projects are seen as building blocks for creating a learning organization. We share our enthusiasm with regard to the interventure method. However,in the workshops we would like to explore whether the Interventure method is as we believe - really a new phenomenon within executive education and development 5. Literature Argyris, C. en D. Schön (1974), Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall. 4

5 Rost van Tonningen, M.G. (2003), De noodzaak van Strategisch Management Development: een model voor het opbouwen van competitive edge, Tijdschrift voor Management Development, december 2003, 4-7 Wierdsma, A.F.M. (1999), Co-creatie van verandering, Eburon, Delft 5

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