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The Application of Family Therapy Concepts to Influencing Organizational Behavior

Larry Hirschhorn and Tom Gilmore
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 25, No. 1 (Mar., 1980), pp. 18-37
DOI: 10.2307/2392224
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2392224
Page Count: 20
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The Application of Family Therapy Concepts to Influencing Organizational Behavior
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Abstract

The following article reports on the application of principles of "structural family therapy," a particular family-therapy framework, to an actual case of a planned intervention in a social agency. In the context of organizational intervention for change, our effort can be classified, in Alderfer's terms, as focusing on the problems of relatedness at the group level, using both process and content as focal points. Following structural family-therapy guidelines, we examined the agency from a developmental perspective, identified the coalitional structures that maintained the agency in its dysfunctional situation, and organized tasks for agency members that could help them experience their situation and dilemmas in a new and more productive fashion. The logic and meaning of some tasks were readily apparent, others had a more paradoxical quality. We succeeded in some areas and failed in others. Our failures suggested that the successful transfer of family-therapy techniques to organizational intervention is contingent on understanding four differences between them: first, the politics of organizational life is more complex than the politics of family life; second, a member's exit from an organization is easier than a member's exit from a family; third, it is harder to control the timing of organizational intervention; and fourth, the formulation of developmental tasks may be more difficult for organizations than for families. By addressing these differences, however, we can learn more both about organizations and about theories of intervention.

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