Lewin, the Practical Theorist

ADLT 620 – HRD Overview – Session 4

Lewin seems to have had a huge influence key practical areas of HRD – action research, systems thinking, unfreeze-move-refreeze, group dynamics, feedback, the learning organization, … I found it very interesting to learn of his theories, experiments, and experiences. So many struck me – his early idea (which was ridiculed) of studying the farmer and his tools, field theory and the Force Field Analysis, the experiment with Lippit on democratic/autocratic/laissez-faire leadership of boys,  with Margaret Mead on woman making food decisions during wartime, and then the T-groups which ultimately evolved into the NTL.

I don’t know quite what to say more, except that I’m fascinated and want to learn more about Lewin. When I read about his experiments, I actually have some deeper insights into my own experiences, especially when I think of groups. The significance of the style of leadership seems to be so important. The finding that when there was more autocratic style of leadership practiced, there was more aggressive behavior in the group of boys. This seems to connect to the need for dignity and respect within each human being. I guess the style of autocratic leadership could be important. Is it benevolent or coercive and cruel? Perhaps, if there were more benevolence there could be different outcomes. I think sometimes of Plato’s idea of the philosopher-king. But that’s an ideal, isn’t it? We haven’t the historical evidence of a human being able to fulfill that role.

And so, then it seems I am left with the equal challenge of learning about both myself and the group, and this includes myself in relation to the group and individuals within the group. Lewin’s parting statement to Lippit is one to keep in mind for me, “We all need continous help from each other. Interdependence is the greatest challenge” (Marrow, 1969, p. 226)

Wiesbord, M. (2004), Productive workplaces revisited: Dignity, meaning, and community in the 21st century. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


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