Kurt Lewin's Theory

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Kurt Lewin's Theory

Kurt Lewin's Theory


Kurt Lewin is generally considered the founder of the discipline of social psychology. He developed field theory based on the position that human behavior was purposeful and a function of internal (individual) and external (environmental) forces. Lewin employed the process of force field analysis to better understand the goal-directed and restraining forces that influence individual behavior. This process was adopted as a means for understanding and explaining organizational behavior by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and is still employed as a continuous improvement, managerial, and leadership tool. Lewin's work formed the basis for much of what is considered “best practices” related to group dynamics and organizational behavior.

Other noted social psychologists were Gordon Allport, who studied stereotypes, prejudices, and attributions, and Art Combs, who focused on individual perception and phenomenology. Allport's work had a significant impact on conflict resolution and interpersonal relationship development. Combs's research has recently come to the forefront and forms the foundation for the “dispositions” movement in teacher education. His work has long influenced research in the area of teacher/administrator perceptions.

Albert Bandura, through his social learning theory, attempted to bridge the gap between social learning theory and behaviorism. His position was that while behavior change was affected by antecedents and consequences, observation of the behavior of others and the consequences associated with that behavior was the primary means by which human learning occurred. In addition, reinforcement in such social learning situations was primarily vicarious rather than direct.

Social climate as a distinctly organizational concept can be attributed to Rensis Likert, whose work expanded Lewin's ideas and still actively influences the ways scholars and practitioners approach organizational climate. While Likert's name is usually associated with the 5-point scales he invented to measure employee attitudes, his greatest contribution lay in his invention of the System 4 model of effective management, or participative management. Building on Lewin's models, Likert contrasted the System 4 management style with System 1 (exploitative authoritative), System 2 (benevolent authoritative), and System 3 (consultative). And, as in the Lewin model, each management style was associated with a corresponding organizational climate. Likert's use of surveys to measure climate—still the dominant approach today—was intended to measure an organizational climate that he considered could not be explicitly known to the organizations's members, nor was it something that could be created artificially. In this respect, culture questionnaire measures include multiple items that tap into a range of organization members' perceptions of their working environment that, together, constitute the members' perceptions of organizational climate.


One of the critical issues in organizational climate is its differentiation from organizational culture. Indeed, the terms culture and climate are frequently and erroneously used interchangeably in the organizational literature. These concepts are, however, clearly differentiated ontological perspectives. Daniel Denison, for example, has pointed out that culture refers to deeply embedded values and assumptions. Climate, on the other hand, refers to environmental factors that are consciously perceived and, it is important to note, are subject to organizational ...
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