Book Reviews

Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations


Reviewed by
Perry Berkowitz
Assistant Professor of Education Leadership and Administration,
College of Saint Rose,
Albany, N.Y.


Richard Axelrod, in his book Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations, adds a new dimension to how leaders effect change in their organizations. He hypothesizes that all members of an organization, or a large percentage of members constituting a critical mass, must be engaged in the change process or the process is doomed to fail.

He summarily rejects the notion that representative committees or focus groups can give the process the power it needs to influence change that is lasting and real. Such short-cut methods produce small insider groups and large outsider groups that lead to internal organizational suspicion, mistrust and little or no real engagement.

Axelrod, who is founder of a consulting firm whose clients include Boeing, Coca-Cola, Corning, Intel and 3M, describes the book as a text that “will help you to engage people in dramatic organizational change … not how to manipulate people so they feel engaged, but rather how to create environments where true engagement is possible.” The book delivers on that promise.

The work is divided into three parts: The Problem and the Solution; Producing the Engaged Organization; and Getting Started.

In examples taken from companies such as Hewlett-Packard and First Union Bank, one can see how important it is to have everyone see the big picture, work collaboratively to identify strategies to fill in gaps in the internal and external systems, and spark creative responses to significant organization problems.

This book is for the school leader who believes that systemic change developed collaboratively by dedicated, engaged and enthusiastic faculty, staff, community members and students leads to the increased organizational capacity needed to meet significant challenges.

(Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations by Richard H. Axelrod, Berrett-Koehler Publications, San Francisco, Calif., 2003, 248 pp., $24.95 softcover)