Volume 6, Number 1, Nov 2005
Participation & Involvement:
A Community College
Transforms Its Culture
As part of Lane Community College's effort to develop a more participative culture, a two-day performance-based training program was designed to teach observable skills in conflict resolution and group process. Every employee of the college was invited to participate: faculty, management, and classified. Two hundred and twenty employees have participated in the training. A representative sample participated in the study. The longitudinal research extended over a three-year period beginning six months after the training began. A multi-method research design was used: statistical survey, interviews, and direct observation. The results suggest a substantial cultural shift in which employees are more direct in their communication and more effective at solving problems collaboratively. This article describes the key details of the training program as well as the results and outcomes.
For nearly a decade, Lane Community College has been involved in an institution-wide "restructuring" process designed to prepare the college to respond to changing times including becoming increasingly learner-centered. In 1994, President Jerry Moskus sent all Lane employees a document spelling out the characteristics of the "New Lane." His words gave shape to the new direction: "To continue to be a strong, effective community college, Lane must rethink nearly everything it does, and every staff member will need to consider how to perform his/her job in new ways that are more efficient and effective." This charge was combined with a continued emphasis on staff training at Lane. The emphasis, however, changed from one that had focused almost entirely on individual development to one that sought to develop an organizational capacity to respond to needed changes through teamwork and participation that cut across all employee groups.
A survey was developed to discover how often people at the college were using the skills targeted in the training and what the general outcome had been. To help interpret the questionnaire results, interviews were held with people from across the college. Employees were interviewed over a three-year period. Researchers also observed group meetings over a two-year period to record the extent to which group facilitation and problem solving skills were being used in actual work situations.
A training program was developed to teach conflict resolution and consensus skills to all faculty and staff at the college. The purpose was to prepare them with the skills and competencies for a more involved culture. The intervention spanned a three-year period. The curriculum is built around two key dimensions of teamwork: interpersonal conflict resolution and group decision making and problem solving. The goal of the interpersonal component is to develop among all members of the college community the ability and desire to address and discuss any issue directly, no matter how charged it might be. The objective of the group process component is to teach skills for solving problems creatively and collaboratively. In the conflict resolution curriculum, four sets of skills are taught: responding to criticism non-defensively, raising delicate issues, perception checking, and the power of encouragement and recognition. In the group process curriculum, participants learn how to use group facilitation skills for achieving quality consensus solutions to controversial issues. Each of these modules is taught through a behavioral shaping process which includes direct instruction, behavior modeling, written practice, and behavior rehearsal.
The first phase, direct instruction, involves a brief presentation of the concepts underlying a particular skill. The purpose is to insure that participants understand exactly how and why the skill works. In the second phase, behavior modeling, instructors present role-play dramatizations based on situations and experiences described in pre-training interviews. The purpose is to model the action making up each skill set being taught. In the written practice phase, participants analyze a real-life situation and develop a written response using the target skill. During behavior rehearsal, individuals practice what they have written, in a role-play situation where they get immediate feedback from a neutral observer. This behavioral shaping model is designed to efficiently move learners from knowing to doing. Finally, a trainer-training program was instituted to provide a skilled corps of in-house training experts, representing every level and division of the college. The goal is to make the program an on-going part of the organizational culture.