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This study explored the effectiveness of the Tavistock model, an experiential learning approach, in mobilizing change in the perception of authority relations of business executives as they interacted in a group relations event. A secondary goal was to test perceptions about this model as an effective executive development program. Results of prior studies on experiential learning outcomes are inconsistent, and few demonstrate that results match learning goals. This exploratory study used both quantitative and qualitative methods: Q-methodology and a questionnaire augmented by personal interviews, respectively. The results were triangulated in operationalizating the Kirkpatrick model, a widely accepted evaluation method for training and development programs in organizations.
Quantitatively, changes in perception of authority relations were measured using Q-methodology, an objective measurement of subjective responses. The Q-sort was conducted before and immediately after the Tavistock-style event, and again 6 weeks after the executives had returned to their work settings. Participants showed changes in mental models of authority immediately after the workshop, but only a few maintained the changes after 6 weeks. Qualitatively, the results of the Q-sorts were further explored with in-depth interviews regarding the participants' perceptions of (a) authority relations, (b) the experience of this nontraditional learning event, and (c) the utility of this model in executive development. The participants also completed a self-report questionnaire that measured their level of satisfaction and learning. Integration of the quantitative and qualitative methods in the four levels of evaluation of the Kirkpatrick model showed that the participants were generally satisfied with the program, although the majority would not recommend this program indiscriminately for all managers. Attendees realized significant learning and behavioral changes. The impact on business results was limited, primarily because it is the most difficult Kirkpatrick level to evaluate and would have required a more sophisticated evaluation approach.