Learning by resistance : an analysis of resistance to change as a source of organizational learning
This research investigates how resistance to change can trigger organizational learning. In order to structure the elusive concept of organizational learning, a framework is proposed that integrates processes of learning and memory at three levels of analysis. The framework identifies learning as cognition at the individual level, communication at the group level, and formalization at the organizational level. The concept of resistance is introduced by delineating its development from a mere nuisance to the change effort towards a more recent functional understanding. Focusing on the diagnostic qualities of resistance, a functional analysis is employed that concentrates on the effects of resistance, namely its potential function as a source of learning. Informed by an analogy to acute pain, the process is then defined as a sequence of resistance, awareness, and organizational learning across three levels of analysis. This process is examined in an empirical case study of a software implementation at the British subsidiary of a global manufacturing company headquartered in Germany. Methods and data used include personal interviews, repertory grids, and project documentation. Results indicate limited resistance at the individual level, confined awareness at the individual and group level, and no organizational learning from this source. Resistance was suppressed due to a prevalent dysfunctional understanding of the concept among project participants and strong contextual factors, such as a success imperative, the inflexibility of the new technology, and a general disinterest in learning and bottom-up feedback. It is concluded that organizational learning by resistance depends on the understanding of resistance and on the culture of learning in the organization. The results suggest that not heeding resistance will have opportunity costs in the long run. The thesis concludes with hypotheses about the relationship between resistance and learning and its contextual influences.