Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Manifesto -- Part Six (B)


Generative Learning
To that end, an educative element of systems thinking, called ‘generative learning’, has been implemented in our parish. Generative is defined as a “style of learning that incorporates existing knowledge with new ideas based on experimentation and open-mindedness. This style of learning encourages individual and team creativity, resulting in a new way of viewing old methods. Organizations rely on the generative learning style to adjust to changes in the market, technology and society.”

Deacon Dean writes, “Generative learning occurs when we learn in a way that enhances our ability to be creative…Teams can engage genuine generative learning.”

The basis of generative learning is the process by which learners are guided to give up their mental models, their beliefs and assumptions in order to take on and assimilate the beliefs of the organization as a whole. This is a sophisticated technique of manipulation and control in order to gain a certain outcome. In fact, Edgar H. Schein of the MIT Sloan School of Management likens it to brainwashing.

In his essay, “Organizational Learning as Cognitive Re-definition: Coercive Persuasion Revisited,” Schein writes, “I would suggest that generative organizational learning puts most managers and employees into a situation comparable to the prisoner in a political prison. It is not a spontaneous joyful process to give up one’s beliefs, values and concepts in favor of untested and inimical new concepts and anchors for judgment. It is not a particularly comfortable situation to be subjected to re-engineering or culture change programs with the clear threat that unless one participates wholeheartedly one might lose one’s job.”

Schein goes on to say, “It may seem absurd to the reader to draw an analogy between the coercive persuasion in political prisons and a new leader announcing that he or she is going "to change the culture." However, if the leader really means it, if the change will really affect fundamental assumptions and values, one can anticipate levels of anxiety and resistance quite comparable to those one would see in prisons.”

He further states, “It remains to be seen whether the level of organizational change that is implied by "generative" learning can be accomplished without imposed culture change. And if such imposed culture change is involved we must accept the reality that learning may involve some painful periods of coercive persuasion. One of the most difficult aspects of this reality is that we cannot ignore that the same methods of learning, i.e. coercive persuasion or colloquially brainwashing, can be used equally for goals that we deplore and goals that we accept. In making organizations more competitive we may well resort to methods that under other conditions we would deplore.” (Emphases added.)

Understand what this gentleman is saying: that forcefully upending someone’s belief system in order to effect desired change is akin to coercion and brainwashing. Read Schein’s essay here.

This is not the way of Jesus Christ. This is not the way of the Catholic Church.

The Weakest Link
Explaining the rationale for targeted team building, Deacon Dean says, “Ideally, leaders want a team with no weak links, so when faced with weak links, leaders must either work to build up the weak links or eliminate them. People become weak links when they either do not want to move in the direction of the team, have a different value system that orients them in a different direction than the team, or they do not have the ability to keep up with the team. Values and volition are far more difficult to correct than abilities…” (Emphasis added.) The question is: What are the values, the beliefs of the organization?

Contrast the idea of body that St. Paul uses when describing the Church in 1 Cor. 12:12-17, Romans 12:3-8, or Ephesians 4:11-16. This body was not a mindless one-celled amoeba, this was a body with many different parts—Christians from many different points of view and personalities and economic circumstances, and so on. But the unifying factor is that the body is all one in Christ. The differences could be accommodated and worked through because of Christ Jesus. In fact, the differences and weaknesses are exactly what God uses to further His kingdom.

And compare the systems thinking organization with the twelve Apostles—men of differing careers, political beliefs, abilities, temperaments, weaknesses and strengths. They would hardly have survived a systems thinking organization!

Back to generative learning. According to Barbara Grabowski in “From Generative Learning, Past, Present, and Future,” “[A] learner is not a passive recipient of information; rather she or he is an active participant in the learning process, working to construct meaningful understanding of information found in the environment. The importance of asking the learner to generate his or her own meaning is clearly summarized...”  (Emphasis added.) This begs the question: What sort of information is in our parish environment? 

Self-assessment learning events have been implemented in All Saints Parish via such activities as the SWOT assessment presented last year (which can be a helpful process). Indeed, at a recent parish council meeting, members were engaged as a group in a self-assessment activity whereby they asked themselves self-generated assessment questions, which they answered together as a group and then graded their own progress.

As mentioned, some self-assessment tools can be helpful in a parish setting. However, they must always be measured according to whether they turn us to our Catholic faith, or away from it. The idea should not be to tear down our Catholic identity through subtle and persistent “correction” of our values and volitions, but rather to build up the Faith of our Fathers.

According to Wouter J. Hanegraaff, author of New Age religion and Western culture; esotericism in the mirror of secular thought, “In accordance with the ‘generative’ tendency…The idea of a universal process of evolution of consciousness, in which souls learn to evolve by learning self-designed lessons, is central to New Age beliefs about the meaning of existence…and ethics.” (Emphasis added.)

Furthermore, Hanegraaff says, “As for the essence of this New Age phenomenon, Melton has consistently claimed that the movement is held together by a generally shared concern with transformation:

The central vision and experience of the New Age is one of radical transformation. On an individual level that experience is very personal and mystical. It involves an awakening to a new reality of self—such as…the experience of a physical or psychological healing, the emergence of new potentials within oneself, an intimate experience within a community, or the acceptance of a new picture of the universe. However, the essence of the New Age is the imposition of that vision of personal transformation onto society and the world.” (Emphases added.)

Many well-meaning Christians, including Catholics, are unwittingly involved in New Age and syncretistic practices because they have been cloaked in ‘corporate speak’ or skillfully woven into a Christian narrative. In recent years, a New Age-y universalism (Rob Bell, The Shack and so on) has crept into the teaching and preaching of some high-profile Christian leaders, and there is a growing movement within Christendom to identify it and cast it out.

Team Development at All Saints Parish
According to Deacon Dean, Stephen Macchia’s book, Becoming a Healthy Team names the “defining measures” for building an effective team at All Saints Parish. According to Macchia there are five essential traits: Trust, Empower, Assimilate, Manage, and Serve.

On some levels, these traits and goals are good—as long as they reflect a truly Catholic understanding of the Church, the community and the organizational structure. However, when they stray into man-centered methods that focus on the process, an organization’s leaders can fall into a sort of inward hypnotic naval gazing. If the ‘who’ of a human team becomes the focus, it ultimately becomes about serving all the little ‘who’s’, rather than first worshipping and serving God, the ‘Who’ that should be the ultimate focus of a life of Christian service.

Deacon Dean writes, “Who is part of the team is more important than what the team is trying to accomplish.” Really? If nothing is more important than ‘who’ is on your team, I would posit that we have now left the realm of serving the Most Holy and His people, and have commenced a sports game of some sort—a fantasy football league, perhaps.

Later he writes, “Putting the “who” first also requires a willingness to let a person go who is not the right fit. Nevertheless, the time may come when a leader must bless an employee by releasing him or her to find their potential elsewhere…If an employee has been around for a significant period of time letting him or her go may also have negative repercussions in the congregation. However, it is worth the cost if employees cannot be part of a team.”

I can hardly imagine that the people who were ‘blessed’ by being released from employment at All Saints Parish felt blessed. In fact, the harm suffered by All Saints Parish when certain beloved employees were so ‘blessed’ continues to this day. (Continued below.)

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