How Should Paradox Be Studied?

[We’re pleased to welcome Dr. Gail T. Fairhurst of  the University of Cincinnati and Linda L. Putnam of the University of California, Santa Barbara. They recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled, “An Integrative Methodology for Organizational Oppositions: Aligning Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Fairhurst reflects on the methodology and significance of this research:]


Does the study of organizational paradox require its own unique methods?

As scholarship on paradox weaves itself ever more strongly into the fabric of the organizational sciences, we take the unusual position in our article that the answer is “yes.” Grounded theory methods have certainly done yeoman’s work in explaining this concept but, like all methods, it has its limitations. There is also a complexity to paradox due to its embeddedness in the daily actions and interactions of organizational life that are hard to capture. This complexity may explain the rampant definitional confusion in the literature over such related concepts as tensions, contradictions, and dialectics. It may explain the relative lack of attention to power dynamics in paradox research and the underutilized data from exhaustive interview or mixed method studies that could tell us something more about the origins of paradox and how it organizes life in organizations.

Our article offers paradox researchers a more refined method in the hopes of addressing some of these concerns. We propose an integrative methodology for studying paradox (and related oppositional phenomena) by aligning grounded theory techniques with the little “d” and big “D” orientations of organizational discourse analysis. This integrative methodology not only aids in identifying and determining various types of organizational oppositions and responses to them, but also fosters assessment of their potential power effects and micro organizing dynamics.

We should hasten to add that we provide an extended example explaining our methodology for the adventurous paradox researcher wishing to give it a try. We also conclude with a discussion of some possible new directions for using this approach, including the study of disorder and disequilibrium in organizations—and moving beyond just the study of paradox. We believe that grounded theory and organizational discourse analysis have some natural compatibilities that could serve other research areas as well. We very much hope to inspire paradox researchers to give this new methodology a try!

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Read the September Issue of Administrative Science Quarterly!

asqa_63_3_coverWe are pleased to announce that the September Issue of Administrative Science Quarterly is now available to read for a limited time.

Check out the editorial which discusses the ASQ Scholarly Award for Scholarly Contribution which was awarded to  Adam M. Kleinbaum for his article, “Organizational Misfits and the Origins of Brokerage in Intrafirm Networks.”

In the research article, “The Structural Origins of Unearned Status: How Arbitrary Changes in Categories Affect Status Position and Market Impact,” included in this issue, the relationship among status, actors’ quality, and market outcomes are discussed. You can find the abstract below.

customer-experience-3024488__340.jpgFocusing on the categorical nature of many status orderings, we examine the relationship among status, actors’ quality, and market outcomes. As markets evolve, the number of categories that structure them can increase, creating opportunities for new actors to be bestowed status, or it can decrease, dethroning certain actors from their superior standing. In both cases, gains and losses of status may occur without changes in actors’ quality. Because audiences rely on status signals to infer the value of market actors, these exogenously generated status shifts can translate into changes in how audiences perceive actors, resulting in benefits for unearned status gains and costs for unearned status losses. We find support for our hypotheses in a sample of equity analysts at U.S. brokerage firms. Using data on the coveted Institutional Investor magazine All-Star award, we find that analysts whose status increases because of a category addition see corresponding increases in the stock market’s response to their earnings estimates, while those who lose status see corresponding reductions. Our results suggest that the greater weight accorded to high-status actors may be misguided if that status occurs for structural reasons such as category changes rather than because of an actor’s own quality.

This intriguing study, “Anchored Personalization in Managing Goal Conflict between Professional Groups: The Case of U.S. Army Mental Health Care” delves into conflict between groups that pursue different goals. You can find the abstract below:

Mental-health-2313426_640Organizational life is rife with conflict between groups that pursue different goals, particularly when groups have strong commitments to professional identities developed outside the organization. I use data from a 30-month comparative ethnographic field study of four U.S. Army combat brigades to examine conflict between commanders who had a goal of fielding a mission-ready force and mental health providers who had a goal of providing rehabilitative mental health care to soldiers. All commanders and providers faced goal and identity conflict and had access to similar integrative mechanisms. Yet only those associated with two brigades addressed these conflicts in ways that accomplished the army’s superordinate goal of having both mission-ready and mentally healthy soldiers. Both successful brigades used what I call “anchored personalization” practices, which included developing personalized relations across groups, anchoring members in their home group identity, and co-constructing integrative solutions to conflict. These practices were supported by an organizational structure in which professionals were assigned to work with specific members of the other group, while remaining embedded within their home group. In contrast, an organizational structure promoting only anchoring in one’s home group identity led to failure when each group pursued its own goals at the expense of the other group’s goals. A structure promoting only personalization across groups without anchoring in one’s home group identity led to failure from cooptation by the dominant group. This study contributes to our understanding of how groups with strong professional identities can work together in service of their organization’s superordinate goals when traditional mechanisms fail.

To listen to the latest ASQ podcast click here.

Ranking photo attributed to Free Photos.

Mental Health photo attributed to Free Photos.

Confronting the Digital: Doing Ethnography in Modern Organizational Settings

[We’re pleased to welcome Dr. A. Onajomo Akemu and Dr. Samer Abdelnour. Dr. Akemu recently published a guest editorial in Organizational Research Methods entitled, “Confronting the Digital: Doing Ethnography in Modern Organizational Settings,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Akemu reflects on the significance of the articles featured in this issue in the context of today’s political environment:]

ORM_72ppiRGB_powerpointWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

We were motivated by practical challenges we faced during our ethnographic research. Work in modern organizations is undertaken using computer-mediated means, in ways that are unobservable using conventional fieldwork approaches such as interviewing and participant observation. As ethnographers, we know that the best ethnographic studies engage scholarly audiences when they paint credible, authentic accounts of organizational life. Our inability to directly observe our informants’ digitally-mediated work challenged us to reconsider how we follow the people and processes we study.

As we began exploring different ways of improving how we represent our informants’ lives, we were confronted with another challenge: what we observed in person was different than what we could “observe” digitally. We thus sought to write a paper to make sense of our experiences, to support researchers facing similar challenges, and offer suggestions for designing and undertaking fieldwork that crosses physical and digital sites.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Our research is innovative in the way we relate emergent theory about the unique attributes of digital artifacts (such as email and digital documents) to the enduring concerns of ethnography: authenticity, presence, and representation of informants. Though there is a growing body of literature on digital ethnography or netnography, we are not aware of any methods paper that explicitly problematizes the differences between informants’ physical and digital data, especially within organizations. We articulate these differences, identify two modes in which researchers can be co-present with informants, and then offer practical guidelines on how to improve authenticity in ethnographic studies. We hope that organizational ethnographers will recognize similar challenges in their own research, expand upon our proposals, and identify additional modes of being co-present with informants.

What is the most important/influential piece of scholarship you’ve read in the last year?

The most influential paper we have read in the last year is an article by Gail Whiteman and William Cooper in the Academy of Management Discoveries (Whiteman, G., & Cooper, W. H. (2016). Decoupling rape. Academy of Management Discoveries, 2(2), 115–154). We liked the paper for at least three reasons. First, Whiteman and Cooper’s article is substantively and methodologically rich—an exemplar of qualitative research and abductive theorizing. Drawing on findings from a single site ethnography, Whiteman and Cooper advance our understanding of corporate social irresponsibility as not simply located at the level of an individual firm, but collectively enabled by systemic decoupling within a field of organizational actors. Second, though the central observation of the paper—the exploitation of vulnerable populations—is heartbreaking, the authors achieve a fine balance between narrative power and theoretical abstraction. Finally, the paper is well crafted and presented. By creatively using videos, pictures and sound in the paper, Whiteman and Cooper situate themselves at the heart of the research project while richly describing their ethnographic context to the reader.

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The Use of Language and Group Processes


[Dr. Lyn M. Van Swol of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Dr. Aimée A. Kane of Duquesne University recently published an article in Small Group Research, which is entitled “Language and Group Processes: An Integrative, Interdisciplinary Review.” We are pleased to welcome them as contributors and excited to announce that the findings will be free to access on our site for a limited time. Below Dr. Van Swol writes about the inspiration behind the research, as well as additional information not included in the final publication.

10SGR11_Covers.inddThis paper reviews research examining the use of language in small interacting groups and teams. We propose a model of group inputs, like status; processes and emergent states, like cohesion, influence, and innovation; and outputs, like performance and member well-being to help structure our review. We integrate this model with how language is used by groups to both reflect group inputs but also to examine how language interacts with inputs to affect group processes and create emergent states in groups, and then ultimately helps add value to the group with outputs like performance. Using cross-disciplinary research, our review finds that language is integral to how groups coordinate, interrelate, and adapt. For example, language convergence is related to increased group cohesion and group performance. Research on language in groups has been increasing, but the research is often scattered in different disciplines. This review provides theoretical scaffolding to consider language use and attempts to pull together consistent research findings to date.

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Group Communication Photo attributed to Free-Photos (CC)

Fossil Fuel Divestment Strategies

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Chelsie Hunt and Dr. Olaf Weber of the University of Waterloo. They recently published an article in Organization & Environment entitled “Fossil fuel divestment strategies: Financial and carbon-related consequences,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the inspirations, challenges, and related papers to their research:]


The research on this paper has been motivated by the discussion about whether fossil fuel divestment decreases financial returns. This question is discussed controversially in academia and practice. Since the Canadian financial market is very fossil fuel heavy, it was interesting to understand both, financial and carbon related consequences of different fossil fuel divestment strategies.

Another influence is the intensive public discussion about how to mitigate climate change. As divestment is proposed as one way to address the problem, we wanted to understand the effect of this type of socially responsible investment that has been promoted by the NGO However, divestment moved from being a niche political activity of NGO to the center of institutional investing with a number of big institutional investors announcing divestment from fossil fuels.

A challenging part of this research is the quality of climate related corporate data. Though many firms disclose their carbon related data, there are still gaps and the risk of biases because often those with higher carbon performance publish their data. However, I think we used an innovative approach that correlated both financial and carbon related performance to analyze whether divestment really has an effect on the decarbonization of financial portfolios.

The results might influence investors with regard to divestment decisions and also contributes to finance research by adding non-financial risks to the equation. Maybe they also influence younger scholar to conduct research in this field though it is still often seen as a niche in general corporate and financial performance research.

Finally, we would like to mention three other papers in the field that have been extremely interesting. First, it is a paper that discusses why financial implications of climate risks are not discussed in conventional financial journals (Diaz-Rainey, Robertson, & Wilson, 2017). Second, there are two more papers that discuss the consequences of fossil fuel divestment that suggesting no negative financial effects from fossil fuel divestment (Henriques & Sadorsky, 2017; Trinks, Scholtens, Mulder, & Dam, 2018)

Diaz-Rainey, I., Robertson, B., & Wilson, C. (2017). Stranded research? Leading finance journals are silent on climate change. Climatic Change, 143(1), 243-260. doi:10.1007/s10584-017-1985-1

Henriques, I., & Sadorsky, P. (2017). Investor implications of divesting from fossil fuels. Global Finance Journal. doi:

Trinks, A., Scholtens, B., Mulder, M., & Dam, L. (2018). Fossil Fuel Divestment and Portfolio Performance. Ecological Economics, 146, 740-748. doi:


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What Motivates Board Members of Founder-Owned Companies?

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Alexander Libman of Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, Tatiana Dolgopyatov of the National Research University Higher School of Economics, and Andrei Yakovlev the National Research University Higher School of Economics. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “‘Board Empowerment: What Motivates Board Members of Founder-Owned Companies?” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they reflect on the motivations of this research:]


Our study emerged from a puzzling observation we made looking at the development of Russian (and, more generally, emerging markets) companies after the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. The crisis reduced the benefits of having an advanced and transparent corporate governance structure: international investors (who in many cases demanded better governance practices in the first place) became cautious and unwilling to engage even the most transparent companies. Since maintaining a well-functioning formal corporate governance system is costly, we would expect emerging market companies to abandon it in favor of informal management mechanisms. AFK Sistema – the company we study in our paper – did exactly the opposite. After the crisis, it invested substantial effort into improving the corporate governance, including empowering the board of directors, going well beyond the Russian standards in this respect.

Our paper, therefore, was an attempt to understand how does the company benefit from improving its corporate governance, even if it is created not for investor’s sake? It appears that empowering boards of directors could have another, equally important function: it can increase the motivation of board members, making them eager to invest their time and effort in advancing the cause of the company. This, in turn, opens new business opportunities and new possibilities for growth. These opportunities can be challenged by changes in external environment: after 2014, for example, AFK Sistema faced challenges in Russia related to Bashneft case, which could also influence the further pathway the company will follow in terms of developing the corporate governance. But fundamentally, the approach of empowering boards to improve motivation appears to be sound and beneficial for achieving long-term business growth.

Our argument applies even to companies with concentrated ownership, which traditionally pay less attention to transfer real authorities to the board of directors. In the AFK Sistema, it was the founder, who controls more than 60% of the company’s stock, who triggered and consistently implemented the change towards a more transparent and better organized corporate governance structure.

From this case study, two conclusions follow. First, we show how important it is to go beyond the simple generalizations and to look at more nuanced factors explaining the choices made by individual companies. In some cases, personality and convictions of the key decision-makers can push the company in a new direction, creating avenues from achieving success. Capturing these nuanced factors was, in fact, the main challenge of our research: we had to gain insight into the motivation and the perceptions of the highest echelons of the AFK Sistema (which is one of the biggest Russian companies). It was not enough that the managers and the board members agreed to talk to us to verify facts and to respond to specific questions – we needed to gain insights in their view of how the company develops and why certain decisions are made, without biasing the respondents by our own preconceptions and ideas.

Second, the case of AFK Sistema also shows that the business experience of emerging markets can be used to draw valuable lessons for companies operating elsewhere – the logic of board empowerment as a tool for increasing motivation of directors could be of value for companies in mature markets as well. Emerging markets are not only about hostile business environment – they are (potentially) about managerial innovations with broader relevance

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When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Mieke Koeslag-Kreunen of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, Piet Van den Bossche of the University of Antwerp, Michael Hoven of Maastricht University, Marcel Van der Klink of Zuyd Hogeschool, Heerlen, and Wim Gijselaers of Maastricht University. They recently published an article in Small Group Research entitled “When Leadership Powers Team Learning: A Meta-Analysis,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they discuss some of the findings of this research:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

We are fascinated why some leaders succeed and others don’t in getting the most out of their teams. Knowing that team processes determine team effectiveness we wanted to know how leadership makes a difference in teams. Keeping in mind that one of the fundamental team processes is sharing knowledge and discussing what is shared to build advanced or new knowledge that enable developing the necessary solutions as a team. We were intrigued by the question how team leaders can facilitate this process of team learning without over-structuring it and leaving no space for team members to exhibit the necessary behaviors themselves. Many different leadership behaviors can be effective, but team leaders simply cannot display all necessary behaviors by themselves. Moreover, what can you do as a team leader when your team faces a task that is unstructured or for which you also do not have the answers? What is the best advice for these team leaders? In answering this question, we wanted to identify when leadership propels teams in building new or advanced knowledge.

In what ways is your research innovative and can it impact the field?

After synthesizing the 2000+ scientific hits on the topic, we showed that encouraging, structuring and sharing team leadership behaviors all support team learning. Interestingly, we also found new evidence that the type of team task determines which leadership behaviors can best be displayed to support teams in building new or advanced knowledge. As a consequence, the advice for team leaders is to vary their behavior depending on the team task and to ascertain the specific team situation in their choice. If pioneering ideas and new products of teams are aimed for, team leaders should mainly invest in building trust, creativity and enthusiasm, and not inhibit teams from learning by putting too much emphasis on the task. If advancing existing knowledge and adaptation of the products is enough to reach team success, team leaders who focus on the task, methods and outcomes are beneficial because such behaviors reinforces using known protocols.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

It would be interesting to dig into the reciprocal effect of the team process and leadership behavior, as well as how leadership behavior may shift in style and source over time. We mainly found cross-sectional studies that covered just one or two types of team leadership behavior and examines its influence on team learning behavior. Experimental and longitudinal studies on this topic may bring new perspectives on how team leaders can vary their behavior, what kind of effect that has on team learning, and what team leaders can do to use that information in future team interactions, subsequently.

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