It was Douglas McGregor who said “Managers grow”. They are therefore neither born nor made. The organisations should provide conditions favourable to their faster growth. The executive also needs to grow not only in knowledge but also in his interpersonal and decision making skills.
Sensitivity training is one of the four methods aimed at improving the interpersonal skills of the executive. The other three are role playing, transaction analysis and the conceptual model of Johari window.
For an executive, interpersonal competence refers to the degree to which he is accurately aware of his impact on others and also of the impact of others on him.
The executive must first begin with knowing himself accurately. He should know the root of his interpersonal behaviour. Three interpersonal needs are to be maintained essentially. They are : inclusion – a need for interaction and association; control – a need for control and power; affection – a need for love and affection.
Sometimes an executive may take the initiative to include, influence and express affection. At some other time he expects others to include, influence and recognize him. This gives rise to six types of needs that cause him to develop interpersonal relationships.
Knowledge about an individual’s needs can be acquired by administering to him a culturally valid cross instrument called FIRO-B. This is the acronym for Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation of Behaviours which was designed by Mr.Schutz way back in 1958. Given are fifty-four questions each of which can be answered in six different ways.
However, for increasing the interpersonal competence of an executive, sensitivity training is one sure-fire way. It aims at the individual’s understanding of himself and others realistically so that social sensitivity and behavioural flexibility gets developed during the process of training.
Social sensitivity is also called empathy and it is the ability of an individual to accurately sense what others think and feel from their viewpoint.
The behavioural flexibility is his ability to change appropriately in the light of the understanding he acquires. His repertory will then have alternative behaviours and he is required to select from them the one appropriate in any given instance as indicated by his understanding.
There is no set pattern for offering sensitivity training and it is difficult to predict what goes on in different settings. Generally it requires three steps to be followed. First is “unfreezing” of old values, next is the development of “new values” and finally “refreezing” of the new ones.
The primary requirement of “unfreezing” is that the trainees should become aware that the old values are inadequate. It is possible to accomplish this when the trainee gets to know in a dilemma situation that his old values fail to provide a means for guiding his behaviour. This situation may be simulated in a training programme. When a group of 10-15 people is formed to undergo training and no agenda is given to them, they turn to the trainer for help in this unstructured situation. The trainer should not then assume a leadership role to plan the activities of the group. The group will get motivated to resolve the ambiguity by structuring the situation. A hierarchical structure will be imposed on the group by the group members themselves. Some of them may try to take up leadership roles. This will in all possibility be objected to by some other members of the group. The group members will then realise the difficulty of resolving an ambiguous situation.
They will also realise that alternative ways are possible to deal with such a situation. The process then becomes the initial step for change – “unfreezing”.
As the training programme progresses other values also get unfrozen. An openness when created will motivate trainees to experiment with a range of new behaviours and values. It is possible that, during a day-to-day situation these attempts would have appeared risky. This is the second step in the change process the development of new values.
Inculcating new values and behaviours on job situations will enable the refreezing process to effectively take place. It is experienced, that the trainees will not be able to express themselves before the superior as freely as they do before each other in a training situation. This is also more difficult when the superior could not have had an exposure to sensitivity training.
To get over such difficulties, sometimes “family groups” are formed to impart training which comprises members of the same working group. There could be a problem here also. Long-standing interpersonal feelings can cause great conflict. Formation of “cousin groups” is considered a remedy. These are groups consisting of people working on various hierarchical levels of sub-units selected from diagonal slices of the enterprise. “Stranger groups” consisting of individuals working in other organisations can also be formed to make the training programme less traumatic. The finer aspects of the arrangement deserve separate study.
To summarise, the method that has been developed to assist an individual to learn how others understand their behaviour is sensitivity or T-group training. It was developed in 1947 by Leland P Bradford. It is based on an assumption that a number of people meeting in an unstructured situation in an open climate will develop working relations with each other and know abut themselves a great deal, as understood by the other members of the group.
The crucial pre-requisites for the success of the training are : The group should truly feel the ineffectiveness of its old values; everyone should feel psychologically free to bring their feelings out to the open and try out ways of interpersonal behaviour. Honest and meaningful feedback will contribute to success in the long run. Sensitivity training can only partially solve the organisational problems.
For the changes to become at least semi-permanent the nature of organisational structure, managerial controls, incentive systems and job designs have to be changed. The absence of such changes will cause insurmountable hurdles to transformation.
Social sensitivity implies: