Saturday 14 July 2018

Models of organisational development - What type of culture does your school or college have?

Earlier this week I came across this headline - which although describing further education colleges - I also get the impression that many teachers in schools would recognise similar 'Soviet' style cultures.

So in this post I’m going to write about Patterson, Nolan, et al. (2011) and two models of organisational development - perform or perish and responsive and relational  which were developed from research undertaken in the health sector and which are described in Table 1.

Table 1 Two models of organisational development – Perform or Perish -  Responsive and Relational

Perform or perish
Responsive and relational
Pace: Quick fix, short term, process driven, pushing and fixing

Relational and responsive Complexity: Longer term, focus on
people and perceptions, brokering

External: Top down agenda, local context largely overlooked, off-the- shelf, one-size fits all approaches applied

Locally contextual factors fully acknowledged and addressed, solutions tailored to situation, existing models modified accordingly

Select few determine goals and direction of change
All groups including users/carers involved in deciding goals and direction of change

Punitive and transactional leadership style from top, little unit level leadership

Empowering, inspiring and transformational leadership style at all levels, especially unit

Metrics matter: Superficial, often quantitative targets for success, e.g. patient flow

Meaning matters, relational, dynamic qualitative ‘indicators’ of success, peoples’ experiences


Impoverished change environment results and the ‘senses’ are reduced

Enriched change environment results and the ‘senses’ are enhanced

What’s the relevance for school leadership and management?

Whilst both of these models are ‘idealised’ extreme cases they do provide a useful way for thinking about different approaches to organisational development.  Although for use in the health-care setting; the various dimensions;  be it focus – short-term vs long-term; external demands vs internal context; scale of engagement – the few vs the many; impoverished vs enriched may ring a few alarm bells for colleagues working in schools.  Especially if my Twitter timeline is as anything to go by.  So what are the implications for teachers and school-leaders who wish to bring about evidence-based/informed/enriched schools.

First, the perform or perish model of organisational development seems culturally at odds with developing and evidence-based school.  Punitive and transactional leadership is not going to create the conditions of trust necessary for teachers and schools leaders to challenge existing ways of working.

Second, to develop and evidence-based school will take time, it’s not a quick fix, and will require a recognition of the complexity of the issues to be addressed. It will require multiple iterations of what we think might work to come up with ways of working which are tailored to the particular requirements of a school.

Third, the evidence-based school is not just about teachers accessing, reading and implementing the latest reports of the Education Endowment Foundation.  Just as important, if not more so, is to engage in genuine and meaningful partnerships with pupils, parents and the community.  Their views and perceptions are an integral part of the evidence-based use to help make decisions.

Fourth, no one action or group of actions will lead to a school becoming responsive and relational, it will require a combination of interventions and challenges across the whole-range of the school’s activities, in order to ensure such an approach is part of the organisational DNA of the school.

And finally  

This model and way of thinking about organisational development may be particularly relevant for those in involved in the senior leadership and management of multi-academy trusts and help those leaders avoid the pitfalls of a perform or perish organisational culture.


Andrews, N., Gabbay, J., Le May, A., Miller, E., O'Neill, M. and Petch, A. (2015). Developing Evidence Enriched Practice in Health and Social Care with Older People.

Patterson, M., Nolan, M., Rick, J., Brown, J., Adams, R. and Musson, G. (2011). From Metrics to Meaning: Culture Change and Quality of Acute Hospital Care for Older People. Report for National Intsitue for Health Research Service Delivery and Oranisation programme.


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