The self-criticism that Neale volunteers is characteristic of the Blake training, but one of the features that some critics find most disturbing. According to P-E, 80% of course participants believe when they arrive that they conform to the 9,9 ideal. They are soon disabused by their fellow students, and in ways which are not necessarily calculated to soothe the individual's "amour propre". As earlier articles in Management Today have pointed out (eg. "Grid on the Grill", September 1970), there is an element of brainwashing in the way the course is structured. On the other hand, "if the level of candour is not high, you don't get results", as Dick Penfold points out.
Penfold is a director of P-E's human resources group and a principal tutor. He says: "The Grid is extremely tightly structured all through the week, and it's hard work. The seminar managers don't intervene unless the group is failing to learn. Initially, when they try to work as a team, the results are worse than the individuals produce on their own, and the best solutions don't get brought out. By the end, the team results are better than the individuals can produce."
Executives going on the course are expected to do 20 to 30 hours' pre-work, in which they read the book and, with the help of questionnaires, assess themselves, their management styles and values. Their answers form the subject of the opening sessions when they have to produce a team answer to each question. "There's a little bit of stress at this point, as we see whether they are starting to synergise," explains principal consultant Tony Gemmell. "Invariably the team scores lower than the individuals."
Team scores are compared so as to introduce some rivalry (which usually means that participants work into the early hours later in the course), and critiques prepared on how their performance might be improved through reference to Grid styles. Case studies are analysed and teams are then set to develop their own models of teamwork. At the same time, further conflict is introduced by pairing course members off, and instructing each to try to persuade his pair of the merits of his model. "This is the turning point, when conflict really starts to arise," says Gemmell.
Whether light as well as heat is generated in these reactions has been questioned by some critics. As a matter of policy, the tutors seldom intervene, so pass up the opportunity of helping the students learn; also (critics say) much time is wasted in interminable discussion over semantic niceties. The Grid boils down to only five behaviour patterns - the four extremes and the middle one. This design is not open to question. Whatever the merits of alternative analyses, and however rare the 9,9 ideal may be among undoubted business leaders at the top of companies, the students are expected to take the Grid as gospel.
Yet judging from the book, the case material lacks an essential element of realism, in spite of 30 years' development and three editions. To overcome the heavy American influences, P-E is currently preparing some cases of its own. Meanwhile reliance is still placed on that golden oldie film "Twelve Angry Men", which offers possible archetypes - Henry Fonda's 9,9 hero being set against Lee J Cobb's 9,1 bully boy. However, these fictional characters could be given quite different valuations in the classroom. The whole point is to open managers' eyes to the consequences of their own behaviour through observing the behaviour of others.