Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Shifting conversations to increase governance effectiveness in a U.S. synagogue
by Koteen, Lois, Ph.D., Saybrook University, 2009, 292; 3368987
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this study was to collaborate with a synagogue board of trustees to improve its governance effectiveness by shifting conversations in three areas that the literature has identified as important to successful governance practice: board management, board development and an awareness of individual and group roles and responsibilities. A second purpose of this study was to understand the process of a collaborative change initiative. Turmoil resulting from the loss of common assumptions about the place of religion in American life served as the impetus for the study. Synagogue boards are ill-prepared to deal with a religious world where individual choice has become the hallmark. Organizations are socially constructed entities where reality is developed through conversation. By shifting conversations, organizations also shift reality.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) was selected as the research method; the study focused on the journeys undertaken by four stakeholder groups to improve governance processes. Data were collected from transcripts of the PAR sessions, board meeting observations, individual and group interviews, email correspondence, a trustee survey, artifacts such as board minutes, and personal reflections.

The findings were chronicled through learning histories, which use the participants’ words to recount the experience. Four themes emerged: (a) The way a board views its role affects how a board carries out its tasks; (b) Changing conversation requires education on both the individual and group level; (c) Effective collaboration requires that the parties understand their roles and responsibilities and engage together in both the task and relationship dimensions of group process; and (d) As an organizational system made up of interconnected parts and processes, successful synagogue change can only be sustained when everyone and everything works together.

This study filled a void in the governance and organizational change literature. Scholars have studied the factors that create effective governance, and consultants have advised ways to develop effective governance; there is little that chronicles the process of that change. For the 3,700 synagogues in the United States, whose boards are charged with leading their congregations, this study serves as a guide through the complexity of religious practice in the 21st century.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Adams, John D.
Commitee: Buchman, Lorne M., Southern, Nancy L.
School: Saybrook University
Department: Organizational Systems
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Management
Keywords: Cultures of collaboration, Governance effectiveness, Organizational transformation, Participatory action research, Systemic change, Transformative learning
Publication Number: 3368987
ISBN: 978-1-109-30543-2
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