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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

An Interpretive Approach to Organizational Learning: The Case of Organization Development

Starting from the classical dilemmas of organizational learning in my dissertation I argue that our thinking about organizational learning has to be grounded in organization theory and the philosophy of science. Here an interpretive understanding of organizational learning is provided, which is fundamentally linked to the social construction of organizational reality. It also integrates processes of organizational power and politicking. The empirical part of the dissertation however focuses on an Organization Development intervention. Based on an interpretive perspective and learning theory, I aim to provide a deeper understanding of the micro dynamics of organizational change. The discussion builds on a study conducted in the CORPORATION, a leading Hungarian insurance company, focusing on its Corporate Culture Program (CCP). In the role of the external OD consultant I myself had been involved in the CCP, later however, already as an interpretive researcher, I aimed to discover the unofficial meanings of the CCP. Qualitative case study methodology was applied, using interpretive-qualitative interviewing and meaning interpretation. The interpretive approach shed a new light on the officially successful OD intervention. The results showed how difficult, even impossible, it was for the top management of the CORPORATION to get through their well-established internal dynamics. It became obvious that culture change on the surface level, e.g. in their rhetoric, did not mean real, deep-seated change. Just the opposite: it signified a re- confirmation and re-establishment of the already existing, but destructive, internal dynamics and top management culture (single-loop learning). As a consequence, chances of a long-lasting and self-maintaining cultural transformation within the whole company became undermined too. The results also show that established forms and methods of evaluating organizational change interventions are close-to irrelevant; and instead, an interpretive approach is called for.