Organization development and change doesn’t always start with formal organizational leaders. As part of a larger study, I looked at how organizational members can seek change by working together to bring policy changes in their organization. In the case study, I examined a nearly 20-year effort by employees in the University of Illinois System to attain domestic partner benefits.
Throughout the effort, the group of employees used different “social organizing strategies.” In other words, they brought people together using different organization methods differing goals, and differing motivations.
How They Organized:
For the groups involved in this effort, there were times in which they needed a formal organization and other times where it was better to operate in disparate, loosely-organized groups. In a long-term effort like this, they used various approaches. Both types of structures served them well and sometimes existed concurrently.
Seeking Different Goals:
Sometimes it was helpful for the group to focus on the needs of the LGBT community, while at others it was mutually helpful to seek changes that included broader concerns. For example, they sometimes worked with a union that sought better working conditions for a academic professional employees. At other times, they collaborated with groups seeking better policies for women employed at the university.
Utilizing Different Motivations:
Those seeking these changes provided a heavy emphasis on explaining and justifying how these changes would make the university more competitive in recruitment, retention, and morale of employees. This argument was used heavily with decision makers.
However, at other times, the idea of seeking social justice and social change was emphasized. This set of goals was used to motivate and persuade both like-minded activists and to get the attention of decision makers. In fact, the key member of the Board of Trustees who helped this proposal to pass the as motivated on his concerns about inequity. So, seeking and articulating various goals was productive in helping the group to meet its goals.
The group was forced to navigate these differing structures, goals, and motivations. The process was tumultuous among the group. People differed greatly on what was best. But, in the end, the result was that a flexible approach produced a generally successful effort.
The full-length version of this study was published in Human Resource Development Quarterly. The PDF is available by clicking here.