112. Editorial Note

In January 1967 the Department of State published Some Causes of Organizational Ineffectiveness Within the Department of State by Professor Chris Argyris of Yale University. A condensed version appeared in the January 1967 issue of the Foreign Service Journal under the title, “Do You Recognize Yourself?” Argyris based his report on tape recordings he made of three Airlie House management conferences held by the Department in 1965. Attended primarily by Career Ministers and Class I Foreign Service Officers, their purpose, according to Argyris, “was to help the participants enhance their competence in dealing with people and managing systems (such as embassies, regional bureaus, functional departments). During the discussions the men diagnosed with earnestness and commitment their personal limitations as leaders of people, as well as the problems of the Department of State as an organization.” Argyris concluded that the Department’s interpersonal milieu, its “living system,” predisposed it to ineffectiveness and destined reform efforts to mediocre success at best and failure at worst. Among the system’s norms, according to Argyris, were “withdrawal from interpersonal difficulties and conflict, minimum interpersonal openness and trust, [and] mistrust of one’s own aggressiveness, and aggressiveness of others.” The result was a Foreign Service culture that discouraged forthrightness and risk-taking and encouraged those who played it safe and did “not make waves” either in their behavior or their writing. Argyris offered a series of recommendations for altering the living system so that it would reward risk taking and initiative. (Ibid., pages 21–26) Readers’ reaction to Argyris’ report was printed in the March, April, and May issues of the Foreign Service Journal.

Prior to publication of the report, Robert Peck of the Department of State’s Office of Operations objected to a number of quotations in the report by Foreign Service Officers. He argued in a December 30, 1966, memorandum to Deputy Under Secretary of State Crockett that they [Page 247] presented “a rather dismal picture” of the Department and would incur publicity that would affect it adversely. Therefore they should be deleted. (Kennedy Library, Crockett Papers, MS 75–45, Argyris Report, 1966–67) Crockett decided not to delete any material, however, noting in his preface to Argyris’ report that the decision “to publish it without censoring the quotations was not taken lightly” but that “being honest and open about the problems dealt with in this study offers the best beginning for dealing with them effectively and constructively.” (Some Causes of Organizational Ineffectiveness, page iv)