A Practice Perspective on the Social Notion of Collective Reflection in Organisations

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Simone Gutzan and Harald Tuckermann of the University of St.Gallen. They recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Neat in theory, entangled in praxis: A practice perspective on the social notion of collective reflection in organisations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they briefly describe this research:]

It is widely known that joint reflection is important for organisations to survive. However, compared to individual reflection (as a rather individual, cognitive process), we surprisingly do not know much about collective reflection. There is consensus that collective reflection is a more social and dialogical activity. But, what exactly do organizational members step back from when engaging in collective reflection? What is specific in the context of organizations? Can the co-presence of actors for reflecting collectively in highly differentiated contemporary organisations be taken for granted? And how does this social notion of collective reflection looks like in organising? These are important questions – both for theory and practice. In our paper, we aim to illustrate and develop theorizing on this social notion of collective reflection.

We empirically show that the social notion of collective reflection in organising is multifaceted: it involves several activities, each serving a different purpose and enacted according to different temporal rhythms. Our study illustrates that any neat theoretical understanding of collective reflection – as co-present actors jointly stepping back to question organizational givens – becomes messy and challenging in daily organisational life. The challenge begins with achieving the necessary co-presence of actors to enable discursive engagement as organizational members are distributed across the organisation and simultaneously engaged in value creation. Thus, we propose value creation as a point of reference for collective reflection in organising. We draw attention to the rich empirical data available in a single case study and suggest that conceptualising collective reflection as a discursive practice calls for empirical disentanglement.

For researchers, this suggests to focus in more detail on the social notion of collective reflection – particularly in the specific context of organising: first, co-presence for collective reflection cannot be taken for granted, but rather needs to be actively accomplished. Second, the reference to value creating activities is essential for collective reflection in organizations and third, if we conceptualize collective reflection as a discursive practice, we should be able to unveil its manifold and embedded real-life activities. For practitioners, this is encouraging: collective reflection is the interplay of various communicative activities. Importantly, management however has to allow for co-presence of actors by actively creating and further developing such activities.

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