The Human Movement

Here, too, we find the challenge of creating work environments where human beings are free to flourish. This task has occupied some of the greatest minds in management: Mary Parker Follett, Elton Mayo, Kurt Lewin, Douglas McGregor, Eric Trist, Edwards Deming, Chris Argyris and War­ren Bennis—all now gone.

These pioneers were part of the most influential “movement” in management history—the Hu­man Relations Movement.

These were no armchair theorists. They weren’t mere conceptualizers and codifiers. They sought not only to understand, but to remake. They had a vision of what organizations could be that extended far beyond the realm of current practice. For them, the goal of research wasn’t to extract lessons from a handful of exemplars, but to invent entirely new management practices that would transform the world of work, root and branch.

In their quest, they needed real-world laboratories, the equivalent of Edison’s workshop, where they could develop, test and iterate new approaches to job design, decision-making, and the exercise of power. Their vision and passion attracted corporate partners like General Motors, Volvo, AT&T and Procter & Gamble.

Most of their interventions were double-barreled—aimed at changing individuals and the insti­tu­tions in which they worked. At the outset, there was often a sort of “detox for bureaucrats,” using T-groups or other group therapies. But getting “woke” was just the first step. They realized that without systemic change, personal epiphanies accomplished little. So these pioneers were engineers as well as therapists—they built tools, processes and structures. They were the origi­nal management hackers.

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