This panel paper presents research on connecting theory to practice and the lessons learned in a change project, with a focus on team formation during the early stages of change making. An important yet often overlooked step in any change project is pulling together individuals to form a competent and efficient team. A functional change-making team requires a variety of complementary skill sets, which may come from different disciplinary backgrounds and/or different prior experiences.
Kotter (1996) uses the term “guiding coalition” to refer to an effective change-making team. He identifies four key characteristics of guiding coalitions: position power, expertise, credibility, leadership. Kotter also goes on to examine the importance of trust and a common goal. In a review of the literature on guiding coalitions, Have, Have, Huijsmans, and Otto (2017) found that though the concept of a guiding coalition is widely advocated in the literature, only one study showed a moderate correlation between the existence of a guiding coalition and the success of a change process (Abraham, Griffin, & Crawford, 1999). Have et al. (2017) conclude that while the literature provides little evidence to the value of a guiding coalition, it does provide evidence that Kotter’s characteristics of a guiding coalition (position power, expertise, credibility, leadership skills, trust in leadership, and setting common goals) individually have positive effects on the outcomes of a change project. However, we don’t know how these characteristics interact.
This analysis of team building and complementary skill sets emerges from our participatory action research with the NSF REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (RED) teams to investigate the change process within STEM higher education. The research-to-practice cycle is integral to our project; data gathered through working with the RED teams provides insights that are then translated into applied, hands-on practices. We utilize an abductive analysis approach, a qualitative methodology that moves recursively between the data and theory-building to remain open to new or contradictory findings, keeping existing theory in mind while not developing formal hypotheses (Timmermans & Tavory, 2012). We find that many of the teams have learned lessons in the early stages of the change process around the guiding coalition characteristics, and our analysis builds on the literature by examining how these characteristics interact. For example, the expertise of the social scientists and education researchers help discern which change strategies have supporting evidence and fit the context, in addition to what is reasonable for planning, implementation, and evaluation. The results presented in this paper connect theory to practice, clarifying practices for building effective change-making teams within higher education.
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