Action Research Methodology for Organizations and Teams

action research methodologyThere are many research theories that attempt to help us solve problems. Often, they look from the outside in and try to observe, note and manipulate contrived situations in order to understand how people think and act in those situations. These research methods have helped us understand a person’s approach to authority, how animals respond to conditioning and how the brain works. In contrast, action research methodology is a different type of research that involves real people, in real situations, evaluating and attempting to decipher what works and what doesn’t work from the inside. Rather than scientists and researchers controlling the process, those inside of the process help determine the changes and set the outcome.

An important way that action research methodology is used is in developing work teams that have experienced unproductive dynamics in the past. Organizational behavior studies take a practical approach to developing your professional team by evaluating motivation, decision making, team building, communication and more.  Action research methodology can provide a framework within those teams to identify weaknesses, provide a platform for feedback and initiated needed changes.

How Action Research Methodology Works

Action research methodology in organizational development is a potential way that managers can help their teams become more functional and increase productivity and morale. Many teams experience times of low productivity, low morale and various other problems that hinder team members from working well together and achieving the goals set by the organization. When this happens it can be helpful to use action research methodology to identify problems and potential solutions. Once these problems and potential solutions are identified they can be implemented and fine tuned throughout the process of the methodology. Breaking down the system the eight basic steps of action research methodology can be described as follows:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Gather data about the problem
  3. Present the data to the team
  4. Receive feedback
  5. Implement changes
  6. Evaluate changes
  7. Repeat steps four, five and six until a sustainable solution is found

To begin, when teams are faced with a problem, they must identify the problem. This seems easy at first, but it may be more difficult as it is dug into. A team that isn’t productive could be dealing with anything from not having the right access to the technology they need to severe communication issues. In today’s world, there may even be cultural hurdles in the form of expectations or assumptions that are hindering positive team dynamics from forming. This makes the first step of action research methodology for organizations very important. Bringing clarity to what the actual problem is will lead to clarity about what steps must be taken to fix the problem and what goals can be established to evaluate that success.

After the problem has been identified, data can be gathered about the problem. If it is technology, information about what needs there are, how much time is wasted using poor technology, or what training is needed can be gathered. If the problem is communication, the data may be less quantitative, but it will still shed light on what is happening within the team that has led to the problems you are facing. Specific examples of the identified problem will help everyone understand what you are trying to change. This step of data gathering applies to all identified problems and is presented to the team when complete. This presentation leads to one of the most important factors of action research methodology.

One of the key components of action research methodology is the inclusion of active feedback loops. These feedback loops allow all of the people involved in the process to give their thoughts and feedback on the system as it is being discussed and implemented. This creates a cycle of expressing ideas and data, implementing changes, and evaluating those changes and how well they work. After the evaluation of changes the identification of issues within the new system can be evaluated and further changes can be made. This process continues until the team is satisfied with the new structure and results.  Essentially, each new step of change is tested within the team and can either be altered or reinforced based on the feedback that comes from performing the new task.

The above example is focused on changes in team behavior, but action research methodology can be used to identify appropriate marketing strategies, test new policies, even alter student dynamics. The success comes from the inclusion of the people involved in the change and appropriately integrating their feedback in the problem-solving loop.  As they are involved in the action they can identify what is working and what is not working as well as learn new ways of completing tasks and new behaviors that can support the goals that have been identified.

Using Action Research Methodology

Lead your team in successful change, improve dynamics, increase productivity, improve goal achievement and overall success by implementing action research methodologies and opening the door for discussing potential change. When you implement action research methodology you increase the likelihood that your team will learn the new steps and policies because they will be doing them. Instead of hearing a lecture, going to an expensive conference, or reading a manual, your team will be involved in the process, taking notes about the process, providing feedback about how it applies to their daily tasks and helping you understand how changes affect the overall system.

Changing your overall organizational culture is also possible using action research methodology. In order to do so it is important to understand the cultural dynamics that are affecting your organization. This will improve your understanding of the team’s interaction. In today’s marketplace it is common for people from varying backgrounds to all be assigned on a project together and to quickly run into misunderstandings. For example, if you are working with diverse team there may be significant differences in the priorities and values that individual team members are working with and these can make understanding each other and each other’s actions very difficult. When you sit down to talk to your team and develop your change goals, you may identify that the cultural values are what is hindering the team commitment and bonding that will take you to the next level. You can identify the cultural expectations and assumptions of your team members to increase success and to prepare for any necessary changes.

As we talk more and more about changing your team it is important to remember that sometimes people don’t want to change and transitions can be hard to navigate. Make sure results are sustained long-term by being a leader that navigates change well for your team.  The tendency to expect everyone to see what you see or implement change without question often results in hard feelings among team members and a lot of miscommunication. Without the proper understanding of what your team expects and needs to buy-in to the proposed changes, it will be difficult to get everyone on board and can be ineffective in the long-term efforts of your transition.

As you look to bring your team into a new level of productivity, communication, positive dynamics or improved morale and retention your skills as a leader will be used. Your experience and abilities are valuable to the success of any project you take on and none more so than one where you hope others participate and follow you into the new possibilities. It is important to know your own leadership style, your best work environment, and ways to maximize your strength as a leader in order to lead a successful team.