How many unproductive meetings have you presided over or been a part of?
a) none, something I am part of never fails
b) a few, now and then, but never any that I lead
c) all of them, because the group members never know what to do
d) all of them, the group members all think they know what to do
Much current writing, as well as a book I am currently reading, Leading From the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies, by Otto Scharmer, author of The Theory U, offers a sophisticated and compelling argument for increasing collaborative leadership in all organizations.
Certainly the expectation of educational leadership practices that require levels of shared decision-making is prevalent in many school systems, even if these practices more closely exemplify talking the talk rather than walking the walk.
I’d offer that those of you who chose any of the options, a through d, need to think about how or why shared decision-making teams such as strategic planning groups and school improvement groups often flounder and fail. Research about shared decision-making, especially early on, found that these initiatives did not work very well, if at all. At best, these worked in the short-term but rarely the long-term. But why? I believe it is because both the system practices (especially those of team learning, systems thinking, and mental model dialoguing) and the variables of High Involvement were never particularly accounted for.
The almost inevitable failure to meet their lofty goals just as inevitably led to those more disposed to unilateral, hierarchical leadership to smugly pronounce “I told you so,” and proceed to solidify their own top-down, non-collaborative leadership styles in the name of effectiveness and managerial expectations.
Systems practices, exemplified by Demings, Schon, and Senge et. al. are the umbrella thinking that will encompass much of the succeeding several posts. However, it will be the matters of High Involvement that thoughtful school leaders will need to seriously ponder as a complement to systems thinking.
The High Involvement Model of shared educational governance is best associated with Dr. Priscilla Wohlstetter and her colleagues when she led the Center for Educational Governance at USC. Based on Edward Lawler’s work in participative management, the premise is fairly straightforward; an organization is more effective when its stakeholders are highly involved in contributing to how that organization is run.
It seems to me to be a reasonable assumption. However when you look at school organizations and the history of most shared decision-making initiatives, it’s fairly clear that most have not turned out so well. Indeed many have been pretty bad.
Wohlstetter’s research however helped clarify why this seemed to be the case. She found that seven variables, practices, beliefs, and sub-systems, had to be in place in order for a High Involvement team to operate effectively for the students it serves. Her research found that for the most part, schools and school districts often failed to account for these variables and in neglecting them, invariably doomed the shared planning, shared decision-making, and school improvement to failure.
These seven High Involvement variables are (in research order of their strength): Power, Knowledge, Information, Goals, Leadership, Resources, and Rewards. The succeeding several posts will explore each variable through a trial format.
The Trial of Principal Lawrence Lipservice, for failure to use his stakeholder groups to help him make his school work for his students, will convene shortly!
~Richard Bernato, Ed.D.