The 2020 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the most outstanding article on planned change and organizational development published in our winter 2019 through fall 2019 issues.

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This year’s award goes to the fall 2019 MIT SMR article “Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration,” by Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer. This article addresses the issue of employee collaboration on problem-solving tasks when technology that is designed to facilitate interaction instead interferes with results.

Bernstein, the Edward W. Conard Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School; Shore, an assistant professor of information systems at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business; and Lazer, University Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer Sciences at Northeastern University, conducted two experiments to investigate the effects of connectivity and collaboration on problem-solving. The authors make the case that effectiveness requires an alternating rhythm between the “always-on connectivity” of a group and the “heads-down focus” of an individual. “By achieving more and more connectivity,” the authors write, “humans are becoming a bit like passive nodes in a machine network: They are getting better at processing information but worse at making decisions from it. In other words, we’ve designed organizational communication to make it harder, not easier, for human beings to do what we’re being told we need to do in the next decade or two — that is, differentiate our capabilities from the growing capacities of big data, automation, and AI.”

The authors recommend that leadership create conditions for rhythmic collaboration by providing spaces for solitary work, encouraging down time, and not being “always on” themselves. They also explore ways technology itself should be used and improved, including gleaning data on user behavior to provide individual feedback, using AI to encourage better rhythms, and designing new collaboration software that supports a balance of the alternatives.

Richard Beckhard would applaud attention to the unintended human consequences reflected in this work, say the judges, adding that “the evident hyperconnectivity of so many employees these days needs attention not only for better organizational outcomes but for their own well-being. That management should step in with personal awareness and modeling is advice Dick would practice. He would say it is the right thing to do.”

Our panel of judges consisted of the following distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Seley Distinguished Professor of Management Deborah Ancona, Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management John Van Maanen, and retired senior lecturer Cyrus Gibson.

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