Studying Creative Workers

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Holly Patrick of Edinburgh Napier University. She recently published an article in Management Learning entitled “Nested tensions and smoothing tactics: An ethnographic examination of ambidexterity in a theatre,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Patrick briefly describes her motivations for this research and her findings:]

What motivated you to pursue this research?

The Creative Industries, and the theatre industry in particular, is a thrilling and extremely rewarding arena for research. The content of the work is inherently fascinating to me, and most employees (from the artists on stage to the box office staff) are driven by a love of the art form, and by a commitment to one another. Aside from the pleasure of researching such a vibrant community, there are a couple of reasons why research in this area is particularly worthy. First, the production of art is in many ways the production of society, as it generates new ideas and new understandings of culture, identity and society which diffuse through high and popular creative forms to influence all areas of life. Second, creative workers and organisations are becoming increasingly important to the economy of developed countries as the manufacturing industry shrinks and certain areas of service work become automated.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?

My research is ethnographic – based on observation, participant observation and interviews. It is a lot to ask that anyone allows another person to follow them around and take notes on a regular basis for an extended period of time. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I was a PhD student adopting an inductive methodology – so I didn’t walk into the theatre with a research question. Participants often wanted to know ‘what are you trying to find out?’ and ‘I’m not quite sure yet’ never felt like a very satisfactory answer! Despite being open and honest about this, ambiguity breeds insecurity, and sometimes I had to adjust my techniques and my plans to deal with the discomfort participants felt at my presence in their workspace (which in some cases were usually private, such as rehearsals). The findings I present in this paper about the linguistic tactics used to deal with paradox are some of the most interesting in the project, and resulted from me being able to develop a close and sustained relationship with a production team – but it was not without its challenges. I remember an actor who was having a difficult rehearsal legitimately (if a little uncomfortably) asking ‘what the f*** was I writing about in my notebook anyway’. Accounts of methodology are often sanitised in papers, but doing research is all about understanding and responding to participants concerns, which helps build our knowledge of the field and our reflexivity about the impacts of our methods on others.

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

Paradox is a rapidly evolving area so going to conferences in key to keeping up with the field. IF you are considering research the Creative Industries, it is important to bear in mind that much of the foundational literature was written in an era of investment and political hype around the value of creativity to the economy. We do not live in the same world today, and contemporary research in the UK needs to focus on the value of the creative economy in a post-crash, austerity-driven context.

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Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Dr. Radostina K. Purvanova of Drake University
and Renata Kenda of Tilburg University. They recently published an article in Group and Organization Management entitled “Paradoxical Virtual Leadership: Reconsidering Virtuality Through a Paradox Lens” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Purvanova speaks about the motivation and impact of this research:]


What motivated you to pursue this research?

The academic literature largely paints virtuality in negative overtones, whereas more and more organizations embrace technology-driven work practices, such as virtual work and virtual teaming. This begs the question: If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”? Our central motivation in pursuing this research was to advance a new theoretical lens through which to view virtuality – that of paradox. Our paradoxical perspective details both the costs and the benefits that virtuality offers organizations; furthermore, it easily lends itself to practical applications, especially applications in the area of virtual team leadership. In our paper, we discuss how virtual leaders can find synergies between the various challenges and opportunities their virtual teams face. Specifically, our perspective suggests that virtual leaders should blend various, and even contradictory, leadership skills and behaviors, to address virtuality’s competing and paradoxical demands. Hence, our paradoxical virtual leadership model emphasizes the ideas of balance and synergy. This stands in contrast to traditional leadership models, such as transformational, relational, inspirational, and others, which advocate for an increased emphasis on such leadership functions in a virtual context.

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

Our article focuses on three main aspects of virtuality— technology dependence, geographic dispersion, and human capital—and identifies seven paradoxical tensions that virtual teams face. For example, one of the tensions that virtual teams experience due to their technology dependence is the touch tension: virtual team members’ interactions are simultaneously impersonal but also less biased. Practically, then, the role of the virtual team leader is to acknowledge and balance the two sides of this tension (and all other tensions their virtual team might face). Our article provides specific suggestions on how to tackle these paradoxical strains. Briefly, virtual leaders must first adopt a both-and mindset which would allow them to perceive virtuality through a paradox lens, and see both its challenges and its opportunities. Next, virtual leaders must devise strategies for simultaneously addressing competing demands. For example, in the case of the touch tension, a leader can encourage more personal and friendly communication, while at the same time implementing strategies to keep interactions professional.
Practically, then, our model suggests several applications. First, it suggests that organizations should select individuals for virtual leader assignments who are more likely to develop a synergistic leadership style. Second, organizations should train virtual leaders to reframe their assumptions about virtuality, seeing virtuality as a force to be harnessed, not feared. Finally, organizations should also instill a paradoxical view of virtuality in virtual team members, not just in virtual leaders, either through selection, or through training.

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

In keeping with the core question that provoked this research—If virtuality is so bad, then why do organizations continue to “go virtual”?—our advice to virtuality scholars is to focus their efforts on better aligning our science with the practice of virtual work and virtual teaming. Describing just the challenges or just the opportunities of virtuality only tackles one side of this complex issue. In contrast, understanding the interdependencies between virtuality’s costs and benefits allows scholars to advance and test theories with a stronger grounding in reality, and allows organizations to truly harness the power of paradox.

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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 Organization and Environment’s Special Issue for Free!

challenges-1221258-mCan institutional theorists constitute a society to better the relationship between organizations and the natural environment? What is the current state of the research on carbon disclosure? How have researchers addressed the tensions inherent in corporate sustainability? These topics and more are explored in Organization and Environment‘s Special Issue entitled “Review of the Literature on Organizations and Natural Environment: From the Past to the Future.”

Stephanie Bertels and Frances Bowen collaborated on the introduction to the Special Issue:

In summer 2015, the Organizations and the Natural Environment Division of the Academy of Management will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first formal oae coverconference program back in 1995. Over the past two decades, a vibrant and engaged scholarly community has generated thousands of empirical and conceptual studies on the complex relationships between organizations and their natural and social environments. Each individual study focuses on specific research questions crafted to meet the rigorous requirements of academic journals. However, too often our journal publishing and professional norms push us to focus on small, incremental contributions to knowledge. Anniversaries can remind us to pause, take stock, and build on the past to shape a new future. The Organization & Environment (O&E) editorial board decided to provide a venue for this anniversary celebration: a special issue where as a community of scholars we can reflect on where we have been, what we have learned, and what remains to be understood to both further our field and help society address pressing environmental challenges.

In this first review issue of O&E, we hoped to draw insight and inspiration from in-depth reviews of specific topics. Our call for articles invited authors to reflect on the state of theory, empirical research, and practice in relation to key questions at the interface of organizations and the natural environment. We sought out comprehensive and analytical reviews of recent research that synthesized, integrated, and extended our thinking. We encouraged authors to anchor their thoughts in detailed retrospection on past and current research, and to identify the key theoretical, empirical, methodological, or practical challenges of future O&E research. There was an enthusiastic response from the community of scholars and in the end, we have assembled a group of six articles. Each offers a stand-alone review of a particular phenomenon within the O&E domain. Together they showcase the wide range of scholarship addressing topics ranging from the macro to the micro foundations of our field.

You can read Organization and Environment‘s Special Issue for free for the next 30 days! Click here to access the Table of Contents. Want to know when all the latest research like this becomes available from Organization and Environment? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

Can We Find the Positive in Academic-Practitioner Tensions?

challenge-862415-mAlbert Einstein is quoted to have said, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” In their editorial essay “Academics and Practitioners Are Alike and Unlike: The Paradoxes of Academic-Practitioner Relationships” from Journal of Management, Jean Marie Bartunek of Boston College and Sara Lynn Rynes of the University of Iowa discuss the tensions resulting from the discord between academics and practitioners and how these tensions could be applied towards furthering research.

The abstract:

In this essay we challenge standard approaches to the academic–practitioner gap that essentially pit sides against each other, treating them as dichotomous. Instead, we identify and suggest ways of working withjom cover such dichotomies to foster research and theory building. We delineate several tensions associated with the gap, including differing logics, time dimensions, communication styles, rigor and relevance, and interests and incentives, and show how such tensions are valuable themselves for research and theorizing. We show that the gap often reflects views of conflicting groups of academics, while practitioners’ voices are not always incorporated; thus we add a practitioner’s voice to the conversation. We describe the dialectical forces that foster the tensions associated with the gap, including initiatives of national governments, ranking systems, and special issues of journals. We then show how the tensions represent fundamental, unresolvable paradoxes that can be generative of new research and practice if appreciated as such. We suggest several implications for research that build on tensions, dialectics, and paradox. We conclude with a brief reflection about the tensions we experienced while writing this essay and what these might suggest about the importance of academic–practitioner relationships.

Click here to read “Academics and Practitioners Are Alike and Unlike: The Paradoxes of Academic-Practitioner Relationships” from Journal of Management for free! Make sure to click here to sign up for e-alerts from Journal of Management and keep up with all the latest news and research!

Making Change Happen: Part 3 of 4

overcoming_resistance_to_changePart Three: Overcoming the Obstacles

UntitledOrganizational change is a complex process. In working to lead change effectively, managers may face difficult decisions, resistance, or uncertainty about how to move forward.  They must be prepared to learn new skills, face paradoxical choices, work with individual behaviors and attitudes, and meet other challenges that may bar the path to success.

Today, we examine research that tackles some of these key concepts:

JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointChange efforts can present opportunity on the horns of a dilemma. Larry Peters of Texas Christian University published “The Rhythm of Leading Change: Living With Paradox” in the Journal of Management Inquiry October 2012 issue. From the abstract:

This article focuses on an interesting type of challenge that can fight against effective leadership in large-scale change efforts. The type of challenge the author refers to is a paradox—alternatives that don’t follow from each other, where both alternatives appear necessary, but where choosing one acts to negate the other.

JLOS_72ppiRGB_powerpointEmployees are critical to successful change; their cognitions, perceptions, and attitudes matter. Eric Lamm of San Francisco State University and Judith R. Gordon of Boston College published “Empowerment, Predisposition to Resist Change, and Support for Organizational Change” in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies November 2010 issue. From the abstract:

This article investigates the extent to which empowerment and dispositional characteristics contribute to behavioral support for organizational change. The study is the first to use a comprehensive intrapersonal variable—psychological empowerment—to represent the interaction between an individual and his or her work environment.

JME_72ppiRGB_150pixWFuture business leaders must develop their skills for leading change now. Amy C. Lewis of Drury University and Mark Grosser of EM-Assist, Inc. published “The Change Game: An Experiential Exercise Demonstrating Barriers to Change” in the Journal of Management Education October 2012 issue. From the abstract:

Students may underestimate the difficulty of convincing others to work toward change; the authors developed the Change Game as a tool to help students experience the difficulties of leading change and identify opportunities for skill development in the area of change leadership.

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