How to change a culture

This interesting article by physician Perri Klass on the best way to stop bullying in schools is relevant to any organization seeking to change its culture. Just as stopping bullies is a school-wide activity, a key to changing any dysfunctional culture is organization-wide awareness. Focusing solely on the bad behavior is far less effective than encouraging and empowering everyone to intervene when they observe bad behavior, rather than enable it by looking the other way:

Next month, the American Academy of Pediatrics will… [recommend] that schools adopt a prevention model developed by Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway, who first began studying the phenomenon of school bullying in Scandinavia in the 1970s…

Dr. Robert Sege, chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a lead author of the new policy statement, says the Olweus approach focuses attention on the largest group of children, the bystanders. “Olweus’s genius,” he said, “is that he manages to turn the school situation around so the other kids realize that the bully is someone who has a problem managing his or her behavior, and the victim is someone they can protect.”

The other lead author, Dr. Joseph Wright, senior vice president at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington and the chairman of the pediatrics academy’s committee on violence prevention, notes that a quarter of all children report that they have been involved in bullying, either as bullies or as victims…

For a successful anti-bullying program, the school needs to survey the children and find out the details — where it happens, when it happens.

Structural changes can address those vulnerable places — the out-of-sight corner of the playground, the entrance hallway at dismissal time.

Then, Dr. Sege said, “activating the bystanders” means changing the culture of the school; through class discussions, parent meetings and consistent responses to every incident, the school must put out the message that bullying will not be tolerated.

Posted by James on Tuesday, June 09, 2009