Notes from the Founder

The Preamble - from Rod Napier

The history is very personal. In 1965, I graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Within months and with my first real clients, my good intention of being a therapist evaporated. Then what? 

Panic setting in, jobless, with a wife and two young daughters, I answered an ad within Temple University. There was an opening for a psychologist to be part of a new department called Psycho-Educational Processes - a name that hid the nature of the beast. The study of leaders and teams was seen as increasingly fundamental to what existed within organizations. But, there was a dearth of information for up until that time, organizational leadership was simple: “Do as you’re told!” “Why?” “Because I said so.” 

But, organizational change begun in WWII had gathered momentum. Everything was so old and, yet, at the same time, so new. exciting. It was about leadership and membership, norms and problem solving, conflict and intimacy. No one had ever studied the nature of trust in these contexts - how it was gained or lost. It was truly an exploration of new territory.

Little by little we actually added to the understanding of the nature of groups. This beginning is foundational to the evolution of The Napier Group, since we still believe the heart (and power) of most organizations is the small group. In the intervening years, ours has become a “team-based” society. Yet, most leaders know very little about the nature of teams, and how to turn mediocre group efforts into a high performance teams. 

Blending Theory and Practice 

During those early years that a colleague, Matti Gershenfeld, and I became aware that there was no text focusing on the theory and research in the field of group dynamics. Not being experts, we assumed we would learn a lot by writing a “book on groups.” The adage was true, you learn best that which you have to teach. Our effort resulted in the book Groups: Theory and Experience, now in its 7th edition. 

For ten years, Temple was like an extraordinary sandbox in which my colleagues and I were given the opportunity to learn, to teach, to consult, to test theory and to apply designs in a wide array of teams and organizations. It was a veritable feast of ideas among those who cared about the burgeoning field of group dynamics.

Moving On

It appeared an ideal situation until a graduate student provocatively suggesting that I needed to be in the marketplace of ideas, to be influencing the organizations I wrote about. 

So I left Temple to create my own business. It was an irrational act, giving up the security of tenure for freedom and the opportunity to test new ideas every day within a wide array of organizations. That was the real beginning.

The business we created was predicated on a belief that, at that time, there was no vehicle for helping leaders take a hard look at their own behavior.  We were the only entity challenging leaders to look at their own impact from within their own organizations.  

In the command and control world in that era, we were received with caution and suspicion. There was no rush to the apparent logic of such an idea, since there were few opportunities for leaders to learn or use the skills and tools that accompany greater collaboration, employee engagement and new approaches to problem solving, outside the traditional leadership equation. And, there was little evidence that such participation and teamness would lead to greater efficiency, higher morale or greater productivity. Such data would not show up for another two decades. It sounded reasonable, but, leaders would also have to give up some modicum of control, and that broke 10,000 years of hardwired rules of the John Wayne school of leadership. 

Nearly forty years and a hundred clients later, I remain an academic without walls. The Napier Group (TNG) continues to serve as a laboratory of fresh ideas taking the fundamentals of teams and groups and providing our clients with strategies that fit their particular needs.

-Dr, Rodney Napier, PhD