Paul Thoresen, SIOP Blogger
Are there any fans of Chris Argyris out there? I ran across a paper I wrote in grad school where I summarized some of the work of Chris Argyris ….. and critiqued it as well. The paper is ‘interesting’ to read now – about 15 years later. I had recently been thinking about learning organizations and ran across a blog that made reference to his ideas on how organizations develop over time. I really liked his work while I was in school, but found that work not adequately supported by empirical research. Maybe I needed to read more of his books and articles. The paper was not "great" and now of course there is a Wiki with more detail. I share some excerpts from my paper below. I would like to hear from people on how his theories and concepts have influenced your work. Are Argyris’s theories still relevant today? Are they too academic? For example do people accept and apply double loop learning, the ladder of inference, Theory of Action and Espoused Theory? I have not kept up I have to admit, but I really liked his early writings on organizational structure and human development…
Excerpts from the 1997 paper:
It would seem that researchers have a difficult time confirming the theories of Argyris. Argyris tends to have some brilliant conceptualizations. However, in the opinion of this writer, he tends to add a plethora of jargon to his publications that clutter the issues he is presenting. He can take some fairly commonsense ideas (i.e., peoples’ words, thoughts and actions do not match) and obfuscate the issues at hand. I believe readers may be deterred initially by jargon that is at times poorly explained in a number of his publications. Examples of this would include: reciprocal integrity, unfreezing, espoused theories of action, automatic defensive routines, etc.
Argyris has been a major contributor to the field of organizational psychology for forty years. He has espoused theories that are still being researched at the present time. Although he has had difficulty turning theory into reality, he has still offered much in regards to: learning styles, communication skills, developing human potential, increasing organizational effectiveness and challenging the status quo and our assumptions. He has offered a few specific methods of applying his principles for unfreezing and stopping the self sealing process such as the X-Y exercise and reflective practice. It seems though that the most pervasive legacy that Argyris will leave the field of organizational psychology is more subtle, giving us a theoretical framework to hang ideas on.
What are your thoughts? Perhaps if you are in the heavily industrial side of I-O doing selection or performance appraisal work you may never have heard of Argyris. Hopefully, an I-O graduate program would expose you to some of his work in Organizational Psychology and Organization Development. If you have heard of Schein, Deci, Ryan, Senge, etc. then Argyris may too be on your book shelf, your hard drive, or in your cloud. Has he contributed to your applied work as a practitioner of I-O Psychology?