How to Make Collaborative Research Generative? Play the Cards!

(cc by alegri /

(cc by alegri /

[Editor’s Note: We are very excited to welcome Arne Carlsen as a guest editor of Management Ink. Dr. Carlsen collaborated with Gudrun Rudningen and Tord F. Mortensen on their article “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative.”]

Are you looking for ways to make collaborative research more generative for both researchers and practitioners? Want to escape the rigor-relevance gap and more fully engage practitioners in theory building?

A recent paper suggests a surprisingly easy and effective way of accomplishing that: Try condensing your tentative findings into thin categories where you combine brief stories, definitions and evocative quotes from theory and practice with images. Then produce physical cards with such categories, drop the overarching model – and play the cards. These are the kinds of collaborative processes that are recently documented and reflected upon in the paper “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative”, now online in Journal of Management Inquiry.

The authors explain how playing the cards led to a radical redefinition of the processes of collaborative research. One counter intuitive insight was that thinning of research findings resulted in thickness of joint interpretation. Another is that getting physical and visual was key to participation in theory building. A third was that recruiting practitioners into discovery and wonder are sometimes at least as relevant as pointing to immediate practical utility.

From the abstract:

How can collaborative artifacts mediate processes of researcher–practitioner interactions to make JMI_72ppiRGB_powerpointresearch more co-generative? Research on knowledge co-production has paid little attention to how joint theory building is socio-materially mediated and tends to downplay discovery and wonder as sources of generativity. This article provides an empirical investigation of the use of thin categories on hard-copy A5 cards, combining brief texts and images to communicate tentative theoretical categories and involve practitioners in theorizing. Playing these cards opened up a new discursive space in the dialogue, making it an event of tactile engagement, ludic interaction, and power symmetry. We discuss how the transformed dialogue can be understood as processes of (a) dealing–touching–receiving collaborative artifacts that invite participants into rating, comparing, and combining, and (b) thickening of thin categories by recognition/appropriation and expansion/search. The article implicates a new vocabulary for mediating collaborative research, combining visual and material elements with notions of social poetics.

Read “Playing the cards. Using Collaborative Artifacts With Thin Categories to Make Research Co-Generative” in Journal of Management Inquiry by clicking here. Make sure to sign up for e-alerts and stay up to date on all the latest articles from Journal of Management Inquiry by clicking here.

How Organizations Heal After a Crisis

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Professor Ned Powley of the Naval Postgraduate School, whose article “The Process and Mechanisms of Organizational Healing” was published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science March 2013 issue.

When faced with significant disruption, whether induced through human error, economic downturns, or natural disasters, organizations have the potential to heal. More than recovery or coping, organizational healing draws on positive organizational scholarship to explain how organizations can develop as virtuous human systems. The literature from resilience and post-traumatic growth help explain the process and mechanisms needed to restore trust, satisfaction, and shared leadership.

threephasesThe recent economic downturn in the U.S. real estate market prompted a new way to address the business disruption for one firm, Prudential Real Estate. After losing a combined $210 million between 2008 and 2009, the company had to find regenerative strength to bounce back and recover from the economic setback.  “The Process and Mechanisms of Organizational Healing” explores the process Prudential followed to heal from the downturn. The process of healing is not unlike the physiological process of healing, which includes three phases.

1) Protective Inflammation: A focused response to crisis that activates resources to the wound site. That activation process then stabilizes the trauma, mitigates potential harm, and prepares the wound site for future growth. In organizations, the actions both organization leaders and members take to deploy social, organizational, and material resources to stabilize decline and decreased JABS_72ppiRGB_150pixwperformance, protect against potential threats, and prepare for additional stages of healing. There is a sense of urgency to restore the organization’s effectiveness and profitability, and the initial actions are meant to generate positive energy for change and growth.

2) Relational Proliferation: A rapid increase in connections that thereby begin to strengthen underlying networks, structures, and routines. This occurs through the activity of organization members who draw on and strengthen internal and external networks of relationships. Like the proliferation of collagen and the supportive function of connective tissue, relational proliferation enables the scaffolding for social networks by identifying, building, and strengthening key relationships that support the overall recovery.

fourmechanisms3) Remodeling: With a strong foundation, beneath the surface, additional growth makes the wound stronger than before. The wound does not simply resume a previous state, but increases in strength thus enabling protection and structural integrity. For organizations, remodeling refers to not only the resumption of former function, but generation of core strength in the organizational culture. Organization members engage in practices to cascade the positive culture and shared leadership throughout the organization.

Supporting the process of organizational healing are four key mechanisms: empathy, interventions, collective effort, and leadership. Each of these mechanisms are at play throughout the process of healing. Empathy, for example, enables to support the inflammatory response. Individual members and organizational leaders demonstrate empathy for employees and customers who have been affected by the crisis. Interventions are required both from within and without the organizations in the inflammation and proliferation stages. For example, internal measures include steps to  keep morale and satisfaction high. Externally, new leadership infuses the organization with new ideas and fresh perspectives that enable new growth pathways. Collective effort is needed from everyone in the organization, not just those from the top. Particularly during the remodeling phase, effort from all sectors within the organization produces energy for culture change. Finally, leaders both at the top and throughout the organization have a special responsibility to sustain each phase of the process. Leaders on every level represent a prime factor to ensure growth.

My work on organizational healing began when I studied a school shooting incident nearly 10 years ago. From that work, I have explored what it means not just to recover but to heal. Healing connotes a positive process of rebound and growth, not simply getting by. What’s potentially interesting here: For each phase of healing, there are both plusses and minuses. Inflammation is good if contained and supportive of the underlying growth, but too much inflammation (too much discussion of the problem, focusing on what is not working, or incendiary language) may indeed undermine the process. Proliferation is about growth and development, but too much, like cancerous proliferation, can overrun and possibly hinder strengthening of important social networks. And remodeling requires appropriate measures to ensure flexibility, without the structural or institutional strength, remodeling is incomplete and in the case of organizations, the culture does not serve as a unifying agent.

The paper concludes with a number of new avenues for research and makes a number of suggestions for leaders of organizations who face difficult situations.

Click here to read Professor Powley’s article, “The Process and Mechanisms of Organizational Healing,” in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science.

A Passion for Work: Part 5 of 5

Part Five: Creating Passionate Hearts

The search for work passion starts with educating our future business leaders to love what they do. Today we conclude our series on work passion with a piece from the Journal of Management Education. Fahri Karakas of Norwich Business School published “Positive Management Education: Creating Creative Minds, Passionate Hearts, and Kindred Spirits” in the April 2011 issue of JME. The abstract:

The goal of this article is to explore positive management education, a practice-based teaching and learning model centered on positive organizational scholarship. Six signs of transformation in organizations are presented: complexity, community, creativity, spirituality, flexibility, and positivity. A model for positive management education is introduced, based on six related JME(D)_72ppiRGB_150pixwdimensions: fostering integrative and holistic thinking, building a sense of community through high-quality relationships, developing creative brainstorming and skill building through innovative projects, integrating spirituality into the classroom, fostering flexibility and empowerment, and designing positive enabling, nurturing learning platforms. This positive management education model is illustrated through selected best practices from a pilot study of an experiential organizational behavior course.

Read the article in the Journal of Management Education. JME welcomes contributions from all management educators who seek to reflect on their professional practice and to engage readers in an exploration of what or how to teach in order for students to learn and practice effective management. Click here to receive e-alerts about the latest research from the journal.

Beautiful Action in Organizations

They’re not always readily apparent, but they make an impact: those small moments in organizations when everything works perfectly and something beautiful is created.

A new study in the Journal of Management Inquiry (JMI) argues that researchers need to understand these moments of beauty– and the unique skills in which they are rooted–in order to advance management practice and address complex problems in the field. Steven S. Taylor of Worcester Polytechnic Institute published “Little Beauties: Aesthetics, Craft Skill, and the Experience of Beautiful Action” on May 17, 2012 in JMI. To see other OnlineFirst articles, click here.

The abstract:

Beautiful action in organizations comes from exceptional craft skill and focuses us on exceptional management skill. Beautiful management action tends to be particular and local—It may only be experienced by a single person within the organization. I call such small moments “little beauties” and offers three examples from a small organization. I conclude that little beauties provide a way to find and inquire into instances of exceptional craft skill and thus offer a Positive Organizational Scholarship approach to practice.

To learn more about the Journal of Management Inquiry, please follow this link.

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