Organization development consultants and OD researchers have elaborated different concepts of laboratory learning settings within larger groups, such as simulation methods (e.g., Davies, 1993) and conference models including different settings for doing, reflecting and learning as offered with the "Leicester Conference" at the Tavistock Institute (tavinstitute.org); or they can be organized to learn around specific issues of organizational problems, as with the role of power and influence in "power labs" (Oshry, 1999) or the use of models of organizational change and feedback as in the "SYMA-concept" (Rieckmann & Weissen-gruber, 1990). The OLab is different, because the organizational elements set as preconditions for the organization are limited as there are no externally given tasks or a predefined authority to follow than the process which emerges through actions from the participants, the groups which are formed and processes which are developed. We would argue, that the learning is very basic and pure and there is no excuse for whatever happens in the organization and it is parts than the process in which the members of the organization engage.
IMPROVING MANAGEMENT AND LEADERSHIP— WHAT CAN BE LEARNED IN THE OLAB?
Most importantly, the OLab helps participants to alter their knowledge and mindset on process interventions: What should be discussed/decided/ reflected on with whom, when and where in order to move the organization forward? These questions point to a row of individual learning goals but also to typical problem situations in organizations. Although the processes in an OLab are always unique, certain basic problems occur repeatedly, and these can be generalized.
Generally spoken, the capability to act observed by an entire system and its parts is essentially dependent upon how well the system mobilizes its potential for conflict and deals with it as much as possible through conscious reflection. In the OLab there is always the opportunity to look into this potential for conflict closely and to explore the functioning or non-functioning of the organization. This makes the OLab different to "real organizations" in which conflicts arise but one cannot explore them due to time or work pressures. (Krainz, 2005, p. 320-321, translation by the authors)
"The problem with 'growing' our own organization is that it takes time. And experimenters are an impatient lot. What is needed is techniques to influence the rate at which groups develop, but these techniques are scarce" (Weick, 1965, p. 217). Today the techniques are no longer so very scarce as researchers and trainers are usually eager to point out; but one can say that the resource of time plays a great role. In the early days of group dynamics many goals were formulated for the laboratory, not all of which could be reached, as experience showed. However, some of the learning opportunities designed by the Americans for laboratory learning can be partially adapted for the OLab, additionally it offers further learning opportunities: the opportunity to experience and reflect on complex social dynamics and to experiment with a wide repertoire of roles and the behavior patterns related to them.
However, our evaluations and research (see also Auer-Welsbach, 2005) suggest that there are different individual patterns for organizational learning, as some participants prefer acting in groups, some like to communicate with other groups, some take over responsibility and perhaps risks as well, whereas others rather like to remain in an observing position. Each of these types of organizational behavior creates different patterns of learning. But all participants have to deal with complex organizational processes and their role within them, thus developing their "organizational competence" (Grossmann & Heintel, 2000). Based on what we know so far we have identified three different levels of learning, which are related to the multiple forms of growth in effective membership and the mastery of the various difficult situations and conflicts throughout the process of the OLab (see Figure 4.2).